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How To Start A Car Wash


Here’s something you might not know: nearly 8 million vehicles are washed every day. Is your entrepreneurial spirit tingling? It should be. After all, $5.8 billion is spent at carwash businesses every year, and with 90% of car washes owned by small business owners, you could be cashing in on a highly profitable business.

Why should you start a car wash?

Consumer interest in car washes continues to grow as we search for more ways to save time. Washing your car at home could take hours of your day, especially as you get into the nitty-gritty of detailing, tire care, and interior cleaning. The average price of a full-service car wash is roughly $15. How many people do you know who would easily trade $15 for a few hours to relax on the weekend?

But let’s take a look at it from a small business owner’s perspective. A study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the same full-service car washes that charge around $15 per wash can generate an average of $686,250 in revenue every year.

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How much does it cost to start a car wash?

Before we can get specific about startup costs for car washes, you’ll need to know what level of service you’d like to offer your clients. The full-service car washes mentioned above account for to smallest portion of car washes in the nation. The reality is that, nowadays, drivers are looking for a quick clean at the lowest possible cost. They’re willing to forgo having the interior vacuumed and the exterior hand buffered for something they can do on the go.

In-bay automatic car washes account for the majority of the car washes in America. You’ve probably used these before at convenience stores or gas stations – you pull your car up to the starting point, and a conveyor belt pulls your vehicle through the car wash while you wait outside. It’s the car wash of choice for most entrepreneurs because it takes up the least amount of space and requires very little labor.

Your other options include exterior conveyor car washes, where you can stay inside the vehicle while it is washed, and self-serve car washes, which allow owners to use a wand to spray their vehicle with soap and water.

Land acquisition can vary greatly depending on your location, so for ease of estimation, we’ll focus more on the cost of startup assuming you already own the land. Other costs that you’ll run into are:

  • Paperwork: rezoning or maintaining a special-use permit.
  • Site work: laying asphalt and building foundation.
  • Construction: electrical and plumbing, tapping into public utilities.
  • Equipment: determined by the type of car wash you choose and the brand. Should be replaced every ten years, or more often if it’s improperly maintained.
  • Marketing: signage and other forms of advertising.

What type of equipment does a car wash require?

This is the one area where it doesn’t matter what type of car wash you choose to open. At a minimum, your facility will require not only the initial washing system, but chemicals, dryers, vacuums, brushes, towels, a water system, and a payment processing station.

The cost is where you will see the biggest difference. For example, a self-serve car wash may only cost $8,000 per bay, whereas an automatic unit could run up to $49,000 per bay. It’s important to do thorough market research to understand what level of service your local consumers will expect. Going with self-serve may seem like the easy choice to keep your costs low, but if no one in your community is willing to sacrifice the benefits of full-service, you’ve alienated your customer base.

Arguably far more important than the initial equipment you’ll need is the labor. A full-service car wash will have up to 14 employees on average, whereas an automated conveyor car wash only employs about four. If labor is a major concern, in-bay automated car washes can run unmanned around the clock. However, you’ll either need to employ someone to run equipment maintenance regularly or do it yourself.

How can I save on maintenance costs?

Preventative and reactive maintenance can cost a great deal when you’re dealing with the intricate equipment required to run an automated car wash. The best way to ensure that your maintenance costs are kept to a minimum is to protect and maintain your equipment from the get-go. That means not only running routine checks on your equipment but housing it all in a reliable structure that will be protected from the outside elements.

Building with Steel

Start by choosing a sturdy building material that won’t need replacing. For example, a prefabricated steel building provides strength and durability to protect against everything from hurricane-force winds to pests. The weight-to-strength ratio allows for a clearspan concept without support beams to break up the interior. You won’t waste any space and can customize with overhead doors for multiple bays on any side of the structure.

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