Start Your Own Truck Washing Business

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Your independent truck washing business can compete with mechanized washers if you focus on the trailer exclusively.
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A well cleaned truck, top to bottom.

If you live within commuting distance of a truck stop, you
could be in business for yourself–and making more
than $100 a day–within two weeks from right
now
. How? Well, by taking advantage of dirt!

Trucks that travel 2,000 miles or more each week can get
downright filthy, and there’s money to be made in
cleaning the dirty diesels. Furthermore, before
you get turned off by the thought of scrubbing down
behemoths that are 55 feet long and 13 feet high, consider
this: Most drivers will want to have just their
tractors washed, not their trailers.

Many load-haulers (even the independents) switch trailers
regularly. The big, mechanized washers do a
pretty fair job of keeping the “boxes” clean but
not the truck cabs. An
entrepreneur who runs a “Tractors Only” business can stay
competitive with the “big guys” by lavishing special
attention on each vehicle.

Then, too, most 18-wheeler drivers take a lot of pride in
their equipment. In many cases, their trucks are virtually
their homes, and so the men and women want those traveling
dwellings to look good as they churn down the
freeway.

Sell Your Service

To get started in truck washing, you’ll first
have to make an appointment with the manager of your local
truck stop and do a little selling. Explain your concept,
and tell the boss that you don’t want to set up as
an employee, but–instead–as an independent
contractor. Stress that you intend to be the best truck washer on the interstate, and that your
reputation will increase his or her business. (It’s true!
If drivers can get a top-notch wash job while they stop for
a bite to eat, they’ll be more inclined to choose your
location regularly. ) If the manager is unwilling to
let you open up shop for no charge, perhaps you can work
out a rental arrangement covering space and water.

Once you and the truck stop operator are able to come to an
agreement, choose the exact location of your “wash rack”
carefully. The spot should be paved, have good drainage
capabilities, and–of course–be easily
accessible to the monstrous vehicles.

Inexpensive Equipment

If you make a small investment in
washing equipment–right at the start–your job will be
easier and the quality of your work higher. First,
unless the truck stop provides it, you’ll want to purchase
a good stout hose that’s long enough to do the job. (A
garden hose will work, but it’s likely to be
damaged the first time 37 tons of truck rolls over it!)
Also, be sure to get a trigger-controlled spray nozzle and
a good-sized bucket or two.

A couple of soft, fleecy “wash mitts” (available at auto
parts stored will be easier to use and more
durable than sponges. (To do a better job and prolong the
life of your mitts, use one for the worst of the gritty
dirt and reserve the other for follow-up work or less
severely soiled areas.

You’ll need some kind of soap or detergent too. and my
experience has shown me that an ordinary dishwashing liquid
works as well as any of the more “exotic” suds.

Finally, a soft-bristled brush with a long handle is
necessary to reach hard-to-get-at spots, a tall
stepladder will be a lot of help, and a good pair of
waterproof boots is almost mandatory.

The Added Touch

You might also decide to offer a couple of extra services,
such as “degreasing” and interior cleaning. The former task
requires a small sprayer with a hand pump, and a supply of
kerosene to remove the grime and oil from wheels, exhaust
stacks, fuel tanks, engines, and frames. (Simply spray a
light coating of kerosene on the affected parts, and then
wash them with your regular detergent.)

If you (or an assistant) would like to earn extra cash by
doing interiors, get some window cleaner, plus a couple of
cans of furniture wax to use on the instrument panels and
upholstery. (Both Pledge and Behold work well, and either
one can help remove stubborn, salty “white spots” on the
tractor’s exterior, as well.)

After you’ve been working for a few weeks, you might find
it worthwhile to buy or rent a pressure washer. Many
hardware stores (and spray equipment supply outfits) will
lease–at low cost–machines that’ll pump a water
and soap mixture at a pressure of about 200 pounds per
square inch. (A pressure setup won’t allow you to
forgo handwork, but it can speed up the
whole washing process )

Contenting Customers

It shouldn’t take you long to learn how to clean a truck
well. First, drench the machine with clear water, to
prevent grit from scratching the paint as you work. Then
apply your degreaser, if necessary (avoid getting it on
the glass).

Now shove your mitts and brush into the suds and go to it. Work from the top to the bottom, rinsing each
area thoroughly before the soap can dry. (You’ll
soon discover that trucks help to control the summer insect
population. Bugs will often be plastered on the grilles and
bumpers. Getting them off is relatively easy if you use a
sponge wrapped in nylon mesh.)

Very few mechanized truck washes clean the roof of
the cab. So if you can get up there with your ladder and
brush, it’ll be noticed–and appreciated–the
first time the driver runs into wet weather, since there’ll
be no rooftop dirt streaming down his or her windows.

In order to attract and keep customers, you should try to
establish regular working hours. It’s best to be
on the job during the early evening, since most drivers
like to take a break at that time. (Early morning Is fairly
slow, because many truckers are busy loading and unloading
then.) Don’t try to wash in the dark, though, or
you’ll miss too much. You won’t be able to work when the
temperature drops below freezing, either, but heavy rubber
gloves will let you keep on cleaning in marginal
weather.

Once you’ve cultivated a few “regulars,” you might want to
have one of them show you how to operate the big vehicles.
If you can learn to move the trucks around the parking lot,
your business will increase because drivers will be able
to leave their trucks, get some supper, and return to clean
machines. (But for heaven’s sake, don’t start jockeying the
beasts about until you know what you’re doing! Even a minor
parking lot accident is likely to cause more grief than you
can imagine! )

The Pay Dirt

How much can you earn as a truck washer? Well, you’ll have
no trouble finding customers if you price your service
between $8.00 and $12.00 per tractor. (Those with the long
nose and hood are usually harder to wash than are cab-overs,
so it might be smart to charge more for the “difficult”
types.) Then you should add $2.00 or $3.00 If you do any
interior work.

Once you’ve got the knack, you should have no trouble
washing two tractors per hour. It doesn’t take a lot of
fancy math to figure out that an income of $100 a day is a
conservative estimate.

The most important thing to remember is to maintain the
quality of your work. If you can’t do a better job
than the automated cleaners, you won’t last long. Remember
that the CB radio spreads information fast. And, although
it’s illegal to advertise your business over the airways,
truckers do talk; one dissatisfied
customer can put a crimp in your income to a real hurry.

In fact, I’ve found that I can assure a steady stream of
business by offering a guarantee. I let truckers know that
I won’t let unhappy customers drive away, and that
I’ll keep washing until they’re satisfied. Try it yourself.
Before you know it, word will spread like chicken pox in a
second grade classroom… and the tractors will be lined up
and waiting!