Blueprint to effective body maintenance

How to keep vehicles lasting longer and looking good


Today’s vehicles finishes are quite durable and resistant to environmental elements such as dust, acid rain, smog and pollen. However, vehicles still need to be washed on a regular basis to prevent buildup of these and potentially abrasive and corrosive elements, as well as bug residues, bird droppings, tree sap, greasy hands, exhaust deposits, road grime, dirt and so forth that could permanently harm the finish and cause corrosion and rust.

Periodic washing removes road film, explains Michael Hinderliter, president of Fort Worth, TX-based Steamaway, a company specializing in truck washing and industrial cleaning services. “Road film is created when a vehicle moves down the road and develops a static charge. This will actually attract pollutants to the surface.

“The pollutants can sometimes be removed easily and other times it takes more elbow grease. It depends a lot on the type of paint and the strength of the static bond.”

Maintenance operations that don’t do their own vehicle washing have the option of using a mobile truck wash or a stationary truck wash. Hinderliter offers the following advice for choosing a reliable provider.

Mobile truck wash:

Get references. Two of the biggest complainants about a mobile service, he says, are they don’t show up as scheduled and they start cleaning well but the quality drops off as time goes by.

Get a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on the wash detergents and watch out for those that are highly acidic or caustic. More aggressive soaps will speed up the wash process but they will also prematurely dull the paint.

Will/Does the service brush the equipment? Brushing will get more of the road film off the trucks.

Does the contractor have insurance? Coverage should include general liability, workers comp, garage keepers (if contractor moves a fleet’s equipment to a wash area) and pollution insurance (helps protect the property/fleet owner in the event of a pollution incident).

Does the contractor collect and dispose of the wash water in accordance with federal, state and local regulations?

How long they have been in business?

How is invoicing handled? Does the invoice have enough detail to verify the accuracy of the invoice?

Stationary truck wash service:

Do they brush?

Where are they located? Location is a key to saving time for the driver.

How many locations do they have? A wide area of coverage is important when the fleet does not come back to its headquarters that often.

Do they take all the common payment methods?

Will they set up an account for monthly billing?


Vehicle wash water is considered an industrial wastewater discharge and must meet special conditions imposed by federal, state and local agencies. If vehicle wash water is allowed to discharge directly into surface water (e.g., streams, lakes and wetlands) or into the same system that drains stormwater, the discharge is subject to federal permit conditions under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

These regulations, which came into existence as part of the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, require vehicle wash water to be separated from stormwater in its collection, treatment and discharge.

Vehicle washing operations that discharge to surface waters risk Notices of Violation and even fines from regulatory agencies. Under the Clean Water Act, fines can be as high as $25,000 per day for negligent violations and as high as $50,000 per day for knowingly violating regulations.

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