How to calculate start up cost for a car wash

Updated February 21, 2017

Starting a car wash can be a profitable business venture. It does require a significant outlay of money to get started, though. The machines are very expensive and all the supplies can add up as well. However, if you have a good plan and estimate your costs correctly, starting up can be a cinch.

Decide if you want to run a self-serve car wash or a full-service car wash with employees and automated machines.

Consider your location. Buying or leasing the land will give you an estimate of how much your mortgage or rent will be. A good rule to follow is that your monthly payment should not exceed 15 percent of the car wash's gross monthly income (you may need to invest in some market research for this estimation). The size of the location will also determine how big your operation will be.

Consult a company that specializes in car wash start-ups. They can help you draw up plans and figure out how much electricity and plumbing you'll need as well as suggest conveyors and other machines. The company can also probably direct you to general contractors. You'll need to contact them for a construction quote. They can lay the asphalt for your parking lot as well.

Think about if you want to add vacuum and air stations or install vending machines that sell different soaps, air fresheners and towels. The cost of these will be the initial cost of the machine plus the refills when necessary and any periodic maintenance needed. You'll need to stock the car wash with regular soap and the like, regardless of whether it's self- or full-serve. Price these items at a car wash supply vendor or a local bulk warehouse.

Research wage requirements in your area if you plan to run a full-service car wash. Depending on your area, attendants, car washers and receptionists are paid minimum wage or slightly more, with managers and supervisors paid a few dollars more per hour (head managers can be salaried). You'll need to spend time and money to hire and train these people.

Go to a graphic designer for help designing a logo and signage. You can get quotes from them before you commit to a project.

Estimate advertising and marketing costs. Coupon books and handing out fliers are cheaper than taking out full color magazine ads and sending direct mail. Think about your target market when doing this.


Check with your county or city planning office to determine if you will be able to start a car wash in your proposed location. Make sure to follow all applicable codes and pull any permits necessary. You might be required to pay impact fees, which tend to be high, so ask about this before you get started.

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