Keeping Government Vehicles Clean

November 2008, Government Fleet - Feature

by Mike Scott - Also by this author

Public safety and other government agencies can spend thousands of dollars per year keeping vehicles clean, but these agencies can use different strategies to help reduce costs and promote individual responsibility.

Presenting a Clean Image

Maintaining clean vehicles also helps promote a positive image among community residents, in turn, enhancing the confidence residents have in public agencies.

"I certainly hope the value of having clean vehicles is positively perceived throughout the community," said John Pompey, director of fleet vehicles for Leon County, Fla. "We found if our employees receive nice vehicles to use, it induces them to exhibit pride of ownership that will encourage them to keep it clean."

Some public agencies, counties, and states prefer to manage cleaning fleet vehicles in-house. Four years ago, the State of Vermont instituted a streamlined, centralized fleet management program designed to create a safer and more accountable department that stressed cost certainty and environmentally friendly strategies.

"In essence, Vermont developed a business service model for how to handle its vehicle fleets from purchasing to maintenance to cleaning," said Ed Von Turkovich, director of Vermont’s information centers and fleet management services.

"It was determined we needed to provide a motor pool of clean vehicles comparable to what you would get from a rental car agency," Von Turkovich said.

Vermont set up an internal system in which vehicles are cleaned throughout the week by fleet staffers. The cleaning includes detailing on the weekend by part-time employees hired at around $10 per hour. "To ensure this process is handled correctly, the State invested in high-quality equipment for such cleanings," Von Turkovich said.

In addition, the state’s two maintenance facilities — staffed weekdays, but generally idle on Saturday and Sunday — are used by these part-time employees to clean vehicles on the weekends. That arrangement is particularly beneficial during the cold winter months since the facilities are heated.

"We feel we are managing this ability to keep our vehicles clean about as cheaply as we can," said Von Turkovich, who estimated the state spent $25,000 in 2007 on such work, including equipment, cleaning supplies, and salaries.

Outsourcing Cleaning Work

Some agencies prefer to outsource the work to local car washes or more comprehensive cleaning companies. Ecolab Vehicle Care, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., offers a full line of cleaning solutions to keep fleet vehicles clean, protected, and a positive reflection of a business or agency.

Fleet washing conditions vary from location to location, so Ecolab starts with a top-down interior and exterior vehicle analysis. The company works with customers to ensure the right combination of Blue Coral detergents, conditioners, and polishes are used to cut dirt and enhance water conditions, bringing out the shine on fleet vehicles.

The value of keeping fleet vehicles clean is obvious for businesses, but Ecolab does serve public agency customers as well, said Douglas Baker, Jr., Ecolab’s chairman, president, and CEO.

"Having clean vehicles can help cement the reputation of an agency and increase the confidence of local residents in their public safety departments," Baker said. "Each driver should be responsible to maintain the look of his or her vehicle as part of their everyday roles."

Some municipalities and law enforcement agencies choose to pay for one thorough cleaning at a specific time period (e.g. monthly) at a local car wash or gas station drive-through car wash. Such arrangements can come with a discount, said Jason Budyak, franchise owner of a Turtle Wax Car Wash & Auto Center in suburban Chicago.

That type of arrangement can be profitable for the car wash, and often, public agencies ask to use the facilities during early morning or late evening hours when the business is not open. Contracts may be paid in monthly or annual flat fees or via a discounted per-vehicle rate.

Vermont does encourage its employees to use car washes as needed to keep vehicles in good condition, particularly after driving in mud and dirt or on sand or salt-covered roads during icy and snowy winter days, Von Turkovich said. In that case, employees pay for the cleaning on a credit card and turn it in as part of their expense reports.

Leon County uses local car washes. The County was searching for one or more new vendors to contract with for exterior cleaning, according to Pompey. Vehicles, such as graders and dump trucks, require frequent exterior cleaning, even though the public perception is that those vehicles will normally be dirty because of their functioning.

"We want to make sure any [car washes] we use are priced competitively, and those that give us a discount and do quality work are always going to be considered first," Pompey said.

For an extra fee, car washes will also provide scheduled internal detailing, but most public agencies are responsible for vehicle interiors in-house, Budyak said, because of the higher cost charged by his and other similar businesses.


  1. 1. Reginald Primus [ January 28, 2018 @ 10:33AM ]

    I have a hand car wash business and I wanted to know how can I get into cleaning government vehicles?


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