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Bravo November » Blog Archive » Please lower antennas and fold in mirrors…

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Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

Warning: mktime() [function.mktime]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 41

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 50

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 52

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 54

Warning: date() [function.date]: It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/New_York' for 'EDT/-4.0/DST' instead in /home/web/blueneon/bn/wp-includes/functions.php on line 55

Please lower antennas and fold in mirrors…

Or, “The Unofficial Guide to Automatic Car Washes”.

Gas is like $3.6 a gallon out here in suburban hell, so gas stations are turning to some interesting measures to stay open and keep making a reasonable profit margin. Quite a few are adding snack bars, bakeries, and one even now has a pizza place in it… featuring delivery! Wild…

One thing that’s changed quite a bit is that a lot of gas stations are installing automatic car washes. These machines offer a great potential for extra sales to the gas station, with a good return on their initial investment. I’m not even going to pretend to understand the economics here. Point is, they’re around, and you can use them to keep your car clean.

Down here in the Miami sprawl, the most common types of automatic car wash are the PDQ Laserwash series, and the Ryko SoftGloss. These are pretty easy to recognize; the Softgloss has brushes, and the PDQ does not.

The PDQ washes use a frame that moves above the car from front to back, and a second frame that moves an inverted L-shaped arm with high pressure spray nozzles to follow the perimeter of a vehicle. These work by applying soap, pausing to let it soak into dirt on the vehicle surface, then rinsing it with a high pressure (but low volume) blast of water. They look pretty cool, but don’t work very well. You will notice a film of road grime is left behind by them, which is further reinforced by the surface protectant the wash applies if you purchased one of the higher packages. Each package can be programmed by the owner to nine distinct cycles, each with a certain function and application speed. This varies, but it’s usually something like this:
Undercar Wash (30 sec… drive over the spray bar on the floor slowly)
Foam Bath (high speed)
Soap (low speed)
Pause 30-60 sec.
High Pressure Rinse (low speed)
Spot Free Rinse (high speed)
Surface Protectant (high speed)
Dry (low speed)

These can sometimes feature “Docking Dryer” which is picked up and jettisoned by the machine as needed, and parked at the front of the bay when not in use. This one works pretty well. The onboard dryer on Laserwash M5 machines might as well be a small monkey waving a paper fan. :P

These are worth using only for the basic wash cycle, to remove accumulations of dust. Don’t buy the higher packages as they’ll leave the vehicle dirty and wax it like that!

The Ryko machines are more useful. The three most common ones you’ll find around Miami are the Voyager, Softgloss XS 1, and Softgloss XS 2.

The Voyager washes usually feature the older filament bristle brushes, which may not clean as well as the newer “FoamBrite” ones. They are, however, capable of lasting nearly forever - I believe the lifespan is 500,000 washes. Therefore, you will still find quite a few in use. The wash features two tall rear brush arms, a single top brush, and two shorter front brush arms. The dryers are large and round, and have round nozzles. These do a pretty good job of cleaning, especially if you buy the highest package, which features a double wash cycle. (This is not needed on the newer FoamBrite brushes, as they just do their job faster.) Drive in slowly if the top package includes an undercar wash. Some of these feature LED displays that show what they’re doing, but a lot of these have gone unreadable. Don’t worry about it if you can’t read the display, it isn’t critical.

Before using a Voyager, inspect the machine a bit. Look at the brushes and make sure they don’t look threadbare. The bristles should all be more or less intact. It’s normal to see a bunch of dirt around the wash bay and on the machine where it’s been slung off of the brushes, but the brushes themselves shouldn’t look dirty. The wheel scrub brushes should look bushy but not excessively frayed. There shouldn’t be any offensive smell, especially not of mold or overheated plastic.

If you find a machine that’s got four short side brushes with thin ‘pinwheel’ brushes above the rear ones, you’ve found a true piece of retro robotics. This is an UltraClean series, and dates back to the 1970s! Most of these seem to have a light/dark blue color scheme, and if there are any left today, they’re probably still perfectly usable. These have a pretty short wash cycle, and aren’t smart enough to do any cool stuff that the Voyager and later models do, such as tri-foam, wheel scrub, or cleaning the center of the front and rear of unusually shaped vehicles. If I recall correctly, they do not feature a dryer unless one’s been added at the exit.

As Ryko Manufacturing entered the late 1990s, they *accidentally* discovered it was possible to polymerize a blend of plastic and cloth to create a material called FoamBrite. (I don’t want to give away any secrets here, but I’ll say that the story of it, related to me by the head of R&D, is that it was a bit similar to the scenario of the creation of the PowerPuff Girls.) This material is used on their newer car washes, and provides a cleaning action more like scrubbing with thousands of tiny cloths, each waterproofed such that its surface will not hold water, dirt, or abrasive contaminants. It’s great stuff, with a superb cleaning action that’s safe for clearcoat finishes, but it’s a little pickier. The wash must be in good working order or it will damage both the FoamBrite and the vehicles being washed!

Before using any FoamBrite wash, be ready to give it a good visual inspection. Check the top and side brushes. You should see many flat strips of FoamBrite, molded into a yellow plastic roller. The roller should only be visible at the tops of the side brushes, and where the strips part at the top of the top brush. Each strip of FoamBrite is split in half repeatedly into individual strands, about 3/8″ in width. DO NOT USE THE WASH if many of these are missing. If too many of these are missing, at best, you will recieve a rather poor wash. At worst, the spinning plastic roller will crash into your car. It’s normal to see *one* row of strips at either side of the top brush missing its little fingers. In fact, I believe it comes this way from the factory, and is a spacer just to prevent the other rows from wearing off against the support arms. Voyager washes have a plastic(?) disk at the ends of the brush for the same purpose. It’s also normal to see a few fingers missing on the top row of the side brushes. They don’t even appear to touch most vehicles, so it’s hardly a problem at all. When the wash is parked, the strips at the bottom of the brush should hang down and reach the floor. If you see a big gap under the side brushes, chances are it’s too worn out to safely use!

Get the highest package on these, if it’s reasonably priced. The tri-foam cleaner and everything are quite worth it.

The Select-A-Wash is like a SoftGloss series with a builtin pressure cleaning system. The pressure cleaning system used by Ryko is much better than that used by PDQ. These machines are supposed to allow you the choice of a touch-free wash, a FoamBrite wash, or a combination wash in which both are active. I have yet to see one with the combination mode enabled, probably because the owner’s really stingy on water usage.

Be careful at Shell gas stations; they seem to really like letting the FoamBrite all fall off, and leaving the wash in use for years like that. I had one of those crash right into my car and burn off paint. Yuck!

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