How to Set Up a Car Wash Business

Updated April 17, 2017

There are a variety of car wash businesses. There are fully automated car washes, such as the tunnel car wash, that require very low overhead. Additionally, there are hand or custom car wash businesses that may offer full car detailing of both the exterior and interior of an automobile by individuals. Self-service car washes may have four to six bays where an automobile can be pulled in for the customer to wash his own car. Whether an automated or custom service is provided, setting up a car wash requires developing a business plan, securing financing, finding the right location, and promoting the business, according to the book, "Start Your Own Car Wash."

Write a business plan. The start-up business plan is the business road map and the place where business goals and projections are initially set out. If considering obtaining a business loan, a business plan will be a requirement. Key features to a start-up business plan will include a well-defined business purpose, a breakout of start-up needs and costs, and available resources.

Find the right location. Visibility is critical to the success of a car wash business. Automated car washes are often developed adjacent to gas stations, offering a one stop vehicle care opportunity for customers. Many gas stations, however, operate these types of car washes. High-traffic areas, such as near exit and entry to major highways, or near a commercial shopping mall, may also be good locations to consider.

Secure equipment. Equipment will vary based on the type of car wash being developed. An automated car wash such as a tunnel car wash has a building and conveyor and is a self-contained unit that the vehicle passes through after a customer submits the automated payment. A hand or custom car wash service provider will need a water source for hosing down a vehicle, buckets, special cleansers, sponges, towels and vacuums. Subscribe to industry publications such as "Auto Laundry News" and "Modern Car Care" to find car wash distributors and suppliers, car wash equipment manufacturers, and to keep up with industry news.

Obtain financing for the business. Depending on the type of car wash business established the start-up costs will vary widely. For instance, start-up costs for purchasing or constructing an automated car wash will be much more than the costs for starting a hand car-wash business. Remember that a hand or custom car-wash service requires employee costs that will cost much more in the long run than those associated with an automated car wash. Financing can come from either the personal finances of the start-up owner(s), from friends and family loans, or from a bank loan. If considering a bank loan check out the U.S. Small Business Administration for information on obtaining a business loan.

Promote the business through advertising and marketing. Consider advertising in local publications and on the radio and television. Marketing includes letters, brochures, or e-mails sent to potential customers and the personal network of the business owner. It also includes promotion activities such as the initial grand opening event.

Things You'll Need

  • Facility
  • Water source
  • Buckets
  • Cleansers
  • Sponges
  • Towels
  • Vacuums
  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Copier
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About the Author

Vanessa Cross has practiced law in Tennessee and lectured as an adjunct professor on law and business topics. She has also contributed as a business writer to news publications such as the "Chicago Tribune" and published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Cross holds a B.A. in journalism, a Juris Doctor and an LL.M. in international business law.