Considerations For Owning a Self-Service Carwash Business

Owning and operating self serve and self serve automatic carwashes, can be profitable and enjoyable as well as a good investment. However, there are several factors that need to be considered to maximize your return as well as operate your wash efficiently. The following are major considerations when you are planning to invest in the car wash business.

What Location should I chose?

Like real-estate and retail, location is critical for maximizing profits. Having a carwash out in the middle of nowhere obviously will result in low traffic. You want to be located in high traffic residential areas near retail centers. The ideal location is a corner lot where the carwash is easily accessible from east-west traffic and north-south traffic. The streets should have 30-35 mile per hour speed limits. Often times, a location can be cut off from traffic on the opposite side of the street. A potential customer who has to drive a block past your place and make a u-turn to get to your carwash may opt to find a different wash.

You also need to investigate all known future changes in the location. Are there any changes to traffic flows, is a major retail store leaving (or coming), and are there any potential changes in local zoning laws or ordinances. Are there any potential road construction projects that could affect traffic?

The property should be large enough to accommodate the size wash you want to build as well as have enough room for several vehicles to wait in line safely. City or local ordinances may apply as well. Avoid industrial areas.

What Carwash Equipment should I Buy?

Choosing a low maintenance high reliable carwash system is extremely important for generating revenue and keeping your costs down. A carwash that breaks down frequently will lose customers and drive your operating cost through the roof. A carwash that does not effectively clean the vehicle will lose traffic. There are many types and styles of Carwash systems, but the two most important considerations are 1- good cleaning ability, 2. Reliability. One should do a fair amount of research when selecting the equipment, getting references and field data will be helpful in making your best choice.

Make sure that there is a local dealer or distributor that is qualified to service your equipment. Having someone available for fast service or repair is a must for maintaining a continuously open carwash.

How Much Time to Invest?

One needs to be prepared to do daily maintenance, cleaning and inspection regardless of type and make of equipment. Keeping your carwash clean and attractive looking will keep customers coming back to your car wash. Conversely, dirty, run down carwash will turn away a lot of potential clients. One needs to maintain the coin machines regularly, and keep chemicals and other items in supply. It is not unreasonable to expect to spend 2-3 hours every day at a 4 stall carwash; you should assume some part time help on the weekends as well. There is also scheduled maintenenance that needs to be done. Changing oil in pumps and replacing filters are a couple of examples of maintenance activity that needs be done a few times per year. Maintenance intervals will depend on equipment and amount of traffic, your carwash manufacturer will supply you with the recommended maintenance intervals.

One should not expect to do equipment overhauls or part replacements in the first year of operation, but any one in it for the long haul should be prepared for equipment updates and overhauls periodically. Having a local distributor/ dealer will be very important for keeping your carwash operational.

Having a good preventative maintenance system will go along way to ensuring maximum profitability and customer satisfaction.

How should my carwash be configured?

The more options your carwash has and the larger variety of vehicles that you can handle, the more traffic you will get. One should probably have 2-3 self service “manual” stalls with a stall equipped with an automatic system. Many customers prefer the do-it- yourself system.

Your automated system should also offer several options, allowing a lower cost “quicker clean” and a higher end clean with wax options will attract the most customers. Make sure you don’t compete with your do it yourself stalls on the low end, nor with the “high end” full service carwash down the road.

Most new carwash systems can handle the larger SUV and trucks, but one should make sure that your automated carwash system can handle a variety of vehicles.

What kind of Traffic Can I Assume?

Traffic will vary greatly depending on location, season of the year, day of the week and even time of the day. In the Upper Midwest, November through February gets much heavier traffic than the other months because the cars get dirtier faster in the winter. One should expect 20% to 30% more traffic during these peak months than the off months.

The weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) are the busiest days of the week and you may require additional help to manage your carwash during this time. Car wash traffic will drop off when the sun goes down, so you can expect higher levels of traffic in the 9:00 am to early evening times.

One estimate of number of vehicles washed during a day would be 20 to 40 cars on a week day and 50 to 70 cars on a week end day. This of course can vary greatly based on location, car wash configuration and seasons of the year and of course weather.

How Much Can I Charge?

Rates do vary depending on area of the country and local competition. For example some car washes on the West Coast have a greater start up cost than car washes in the Midwest. To make sure that you are competitive be sure to check out your local competition to justify your start up time.

Adding vending machines can also increase revenue. Wiping towels, car cleaning supplies and fragrances are some options for your vending machine.

What are My Operational Costs?

Taxes, property and facility costs, interest on loans, supplies such as chemicals, equipment maintenance and upgrade costs along with part time help for weekends and peak times need to be investigated before starting a carwash business. You should be prepared to pay an attendant 8-16 hours per week for weekend coverage.


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