The Caterpillar D9 is an Awesome Example of Heavy Construction Equipment. And a Lot of Fun to Steam Clean. Photo: Wiki Caterpillar D9

Heavy Equipment Cleaning

Construction companies always have problems with their heavy equipment cleaning needs. It’s your job to find a solution to those needs so they pay you to keep their equipment maintained and operational.

As part of your detailing business, you have most of the equipment you would need to be able to offer steam cleaning and degreasing services to your local construction company customers.

This is a highly profitable business add on service. If it’s done properly. That’s the key aspect of dealing with heavy equipment. You need to know what you are doing. Not to downplay the obvious negatives of damaging cars during a detail, but heavy equipment cleaning is an entirely different ballgame.

For example, here’s a few specs on that Cat D9 picture at the top of this page. First off, it weighs 108,000 lbs. It’s nearly 27′ long, 15′ wide, and 13′ high. That’s massive. And if you want to buy one new, it’ll set you back about $900,000.

Like I mentioned above, it’s much different cleaning a beast like this than detailing a customer’s mini-van.

Your customer needs to keep them operating, otherwise, it’s costing them money. Sometimes thousands of dollars a day. So they are more than happy to pay you a great hourly rate to help them out.

The other fantastic part is when you deal with small to mid-size construction companies, the owner is always right there. Or they’ve got a temporary mobile home with their office in it. You do the service, hand them the bill and get paid. That is a wonderful thing.

If you aren’t cleaning heavy construction equipment yet, you need to start.

Heavy Equipment Cleaning

You’ve got a pressure washer, degreasers, cleaning chemicals and supplies, even buffers if they want them shiny. It’s a profitable niche business that you will enjoy doing. Now it does benefit you to look into hot water pressure washers or a steam generator that can create enough high-pressure steam to melt grease. Adding these high-end pieces of equipment to your arsenal will make you a powerful competitor in your local heavy equipment cleaning market. Using these will also increase your business many times more than your competition.

Picture of Detailing A Cat Excavator

Profitable Niche Business

Heavy equipment cleaning can be a profitable niche business like pressure washing and similar add-on services. Basically it isn’t your main source of income so you can afford to give some good deals out when you are a little slower. The average price for heavy equipment cleaning varies for different kinds of construction equipment but it averages in the range of $125 to $350 or more per unit. It really just depends on exactly what level of cleaning your customer expects since time is money and you need to complete several of these per job.

The Key to Success is Flexibility and Options

Keep in mind that this level of heavy equipment cleaning isn’t detailing an entire bulldozer or crane. The owner of a construction business generally isn’t concerned if his equipment has some dirt and mud on it. That’s what these things are used for. What does concern them is the machine breaking down because of dirt, mud, grease and anything else that gets stuck in the radiator, ending, tracks, wheels and more. They want you to arrive at the worksite and clean their equipment when they aren’t working. This is usually at night or early morning. The key to success is flexibility and options when dealing with heavy equipment owners. Every hour that heavy construction equipment is down due to maintenance problems is costing the company owner thousands of dollars.

Maintenance Cleaning

Understand that I’m talking about the “maintenance cleaning” side of heavy equipment cleaning services in this article. Your customer might ask you to fully detail a piece of equipment that they are selling at auction or trading in on another piece of equipment. That is a completely different service and you would charge much more for that. I would do this frequently for several of my clients and charged anywhere from $1500 to $4000 depending on the level of detail that they needed.
This level of heavy equipment cleaning is for the majority of your potential construction company customers who are simply interested in getting their equipment “maintenance cleaned”. The main thing they are looking for when it comes to heavy equipment cleaning is services:

Steam Cleaning Heavy Equipment Radiators

“Blowing the Rad,” AKA steam cleaning heavy equipment radiators is a highly specialized cleaning service.

This is where a heated pressure washer, if you spent the extra money on it, comes in very handy.

You crank up the heat, lower the pressure and douse the radiator with degreaser while spraying it down with super heated water.

Radiators overheat when they are covered with grease and debris from the engine. So this type of cleaning is needed at least every few months or more often for heavily used equipment.

A service that will really help your heavy equipment cleaning clients, is emergency steam cleaning. In addition to regular maintenance, heavy equipment needs thoroughly steam cleaned and degreased after a hydraulic hose blow-out.

A large excavator, for example, has thousands of PSI pushing through its hydraulic lines. When one of them rupture, superheated hydraulic fluid explodes all over the engine, the radiator, and pretty much every where else.

Radiators might be something we don’t think about too much in regular cars. In heavy equipment it’s a much bigger deal. Hydraulic fluid and engine grease will cover the radiator and make it impossible for air to flow over the fins. Causing the engine to overheat.

As one of my construction company customers used to tell me, “a machine down costs me thousands of dollars a day, I don’t care what your price is.”

It helped that my customers knew I took care of them when it came to my emergency rates. But I still charged a lot more than standard rates. If I got called at 3AM to a construction site to ‘blow a rad and clean a pan’, I would charge $500 to $600 for the first machine. Then I would tell my client, “since I’m already here and setup, if you want me to take care of two or three more I’ll just charge you the standard $300 each for those. And you won’t have to take them out of service for me to clean them later.”

They always went for it because they knew it was easier and cheaper having me steam clean the heavy equipment at 4AM for my regular rates when those machines weren’t being used.

And I was always happy to get up at 3AM and go home four hours later with a check for $1500. I could do those jobs all day and night.

The thing to watch when you are cleaning radiators is to keep the pressure low enough so that you aren’t blowing-off the “fins” of the radiator. Fins are needed to allow air flow and keep the radiator cool which in turn cools the engine. If you accidentally do blow off the fins, you might end up having to buy your customer a new radiator which sometimes can run as much as several grand.

Cleaning The Pan

The rest of the equipment can be cleaned in the same manner, but it’s much faster cleaning the grease off the engine and the body of the equipment because you don’t have to be quite as careful as you do with the radiator. Cleaning the pan is another specialized service. Advance warning, it’s extremely dirty work. The guys who operate the equipment will unbolt or lower the oil pan underneath the heavy equipment. You then load it up with degreaser and spray it with as much super heated water that you can find. It blows back and covers the guy cleaning it. We always wore big hazmat suits with respirators and masks when we did this work. We usually gave this job to one of our newbies. It was our trial by fire. If they stayed on working with us after cleaning the pan, then we knew they were keepers.
If you don’t have a heated pressure washer available, you can do heavy equipment cleaning work with a standard cold water pressure washing unit. The only problem you run into is it is definitely harder work without hot water and it takes a lot more degreaser and cleaning chemicals. More chemicals equal more cost which will cut into your profits on each job. Keep this in mind before you head out to start getting this kind of work.

Heated or Hot Water Pressure Washers are Worth Every Cent

Heated or hot water pressure washers are worth every cent that they cost. They aren’t cheap, but I made back the cost of my first one in about two weeks. And that was a high end Landa that I had spent about $5 grand on. Eventually we added several more Hotsy’s and even a few Karcher’s. Up here in Western Pennsylvania, we needed to be able to do work year round and these hot water pressure washers kept us going year round. Especially with our commercial and industrial customers.

Additional On-Site Mobile Detailing Services

Heavy equipment cleaning is also a great lead in to additional on-site mobile detailing services. When you are on the job site doing heavy equipment cleaning work, you simply talk to the owner and other workers about the fact that your business is detailing and cleaning vehicles. They generally already know this but remind them and offer a discount to do some quick washes on their trucks. Construction workers spend an enormous amount of time in their trucks. Showing up once a week to clean the interiors and spray off the outside of their trucks will keep you in front of them for when they need larger heavy equipment cleaning jobs. With most of these companies it’s unfortunately out of sight, out of mind. You could be their regular guy for any type of cleaning, but until you get them used to frequent visits, they forget about you. So if they only hear from you every few months they feel like they aren’t important enough for you to spend time stopping by. I usually picked a day each week where I would pickup donuts and coffee and drop it off at a few of my regular clients each week. They loved it. I usually got invited to most of my client’s Christmas parties just because they really appreciated me as a vendor.

Your Market is the Smaller Construction Company Not The Big Guys

This is another important thing to remember when it comes to dealing with construction companies. Your market is the smaller construction company not the big guys. Landing a 1,000 employee monster company is nice, but there’s absolutely no loyalty towards you as a vendor. The minute another guy shows up and undercuts you, they will go with him.

The companies you need to focus on are the smaller companies with one owner and 5 to 20 employees. These guys are all about the “stop-in” which is essentially just stopping at their job site to say hi. They don’t like email and usually have a wife or somebody back at the office that does those things. It may sound old fashioned, but construction guys are still part of the old school crowd. The first few times you may show up on a job site to talk to them about heavy equipment cleaning, you may hear some jokes or wisecracks about your shiny truck. After a few times though and they see that you are persistent but polite, they will usually give you a shot.
Here are some tips to closing smaller construction companies:

  • They love coffee and donuts. So find out when they arrive in the morning for their safety meetings and show up 10 minutes earlier with coffee and donuts. The owner or foreman is usually the first to arrive and seeing you there before them will make an impression. Also make sure there is more than enough for everybody. Don’t talk about business, just tell them you wanted stop and say hi and let them know you were in the area so they “didn’t forget about you.”
  • Get special magnet business cards printed. This is important when dealing with heavy equipment cleaning. They don’t keep business cards, but they will put your magnet card inside the cab of the equipment or slap it on the side of a file cabinet. When the front loader is overheating because a hydraulic line blew and they forgot to clean the oil and grease off the radiator, who are they gonna call? Exactly. The owner will yell something like “call that pain-in-the-ass that brings us donuts all the time, his card is stuck to the side of the file cabinet”.
  • Downtime is money to these guys, so be ready when they call. If you tell them you will be their go to guy for heavy equipment cleaning, you need to be ready to drop everything when they call. They’re reasonable and understand you have other customers, so being there in an hour isn’t what I’m talking about. If it’s 2pm when they call though, they will appreciate you missing dinner with your family to take care of them at 6pm that night after you complete your other work. I had a few generators with big spotlights and spent numerous nights taking care of my heavy equipment cleaning customers this way. And they usually always bought me dinner.
  • Be flexible, but fast with your billing. When I was done with a job, I would hand the foreman a bill and say something like “I can fax or email Sally a copy if you need me to.” Most of my clients just walked over to their truck and cut me a check while I was standing there. I was never pushy and never asked for payment while I was waiting there. Leave it up to them and always thank them for their business. Just remember, your $300 to $600 bill is much smaller than the one’s they pay other vendors. So it’s usually not a big deal for them to cut you a check while you are still there on site. Leave it up to them but always be ready with a bill so you don’t have to wait for Sally back at the office to cut you a check in a few weeks.

Heavy Equipment Cleaning Customers Will Become Your Favorites

I can tell you from experience that your heavy equipment cleaning customers will become your favorites of all your customers. They are fun to work with and they are just all around good people. They are also very loyal to people who take care of them. So do a good job, make sure they are always happy and take care of them AND their employees. There’s always going to be one hard case on a job site who isn’t going to like you, just because he’s like that. Figure out a way to make him happy and you will keep that company as a customer forever. More times than I can remember I have stopped at customer job sites before lunch time and they have told me to jump in the truck and took me to lunch with them. And they always buy regardless of how many times you try and offer. You will really enjoy adding heavy equipment cleaning as a profitable service to your business. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

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