Creating the Car-Wash Business

Industry icon reflects on key changes in equipment and consumers

Dan Pecora, Erie Brush

Dan Pecora

CHICAGO -- Before car culture exploded in the United States, then 4-year-old Dan Pecora got his start in the family business, making brushes by hand with his father in the basement of their Milwaukee home. 

By night Pecora’s father made brushes to sell by day to anyone who would buy them. The year was 1948. Little did Pecora know that, over 60 years later, he would be the owner of one of the largest manufacturers of brush and vehicle detailing supplies to the international car-wash industry, Chicago-based Erie Brush.

The Pecora’s brush business grew along with 1950s car culture and the car-wash industry, as America’s highways beckoned and hot rodders rebuilt their cars and raced them into the future.

In the decades since, Pecora has seen plenty of change--in brushes, in cars, in the car-wash industry and in car-wash customers--and has made his share of innovations along the way.

“I’ve seen the car-wash industry adapt car conveyors from Henry Ford’s Detroit auto plants, when dozens of men labored by hand to clean inside and outside the vehicles,” said Pecora. “I’ve seen the rise of exterior only washes in the early 1960s develop into the automated, express washes with the entry gates of today. I’ve seen self-serve car-wash bays proliferate.”

From White Walls to Wheels

One important change from the car-wash customer’s point of view, according to Pecora, is a shift from a focus on white-wall tires to a focus on wheels.

“In the 1950s, drivers cared about keeping their tires’ 5-inch white walls spotless, which was tough to do when they rubbed up against a curb,” Pecora said. “Today, the focus is less on tires than on keeping custom wheels clean and shiny. That’s equally hard to do, when wheels can have so many hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.”

Having grown up with brushes in his DNA, so to speak, Pecora put his mind to creating two brushes for conveyor car washes specially designed to clean tires and wheels. 

These brushes’ filaments gradually vary in length between four to seven inches to create a wave-like pattern. As a vehicle travels through the automated car wash, the longer bristles reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter bristles clean the tire and wheel surface.

CONTINUED: Material Issues & Enhancing the Experience