How to Start a Car Wash Business

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How to Start a Car Wash Business

Do you live in a busy city or commuter town which sees a lot of traffic?

If so, starting a car wash business could be a great business idea which could generate a lot more cash than you think. As long as can get traders insurance, starting a car wash is an effective way to make money. Startup capital is low, overheads won’t run too high, and if the volume of traffic is right in your area, it’s something that will always be in demand.

So what does starting a successful carwash require? Honestly, it’s pretty straightforward!

Step 1: Reconnaissance & Research

Before starting any business it’s always good to gather as much information as possible. Starting a car wash is no exception. You’ll need to:

1) Analyze the competition. Finding out who else runs a car wash in your area is a good first step. Figure out where they’re located, what they’re charging and what other services they offer. Think about what value you can bring to the market in order to compete. If they’ve been established for a long time in a small market, you’re going to have to offer something special to prize loyal customers away and break their entrenched habits.

How to Start a Car Wash Business

How to Start a Car Wash Business

2) Discover possible locations. To succeed in the carwash business you’ll need a suitable location. It should be convenient for drivers and passersby to find and get to, should be able to facilitate multiple vehicles of various kinds at once, and should not be near any environmentally sensitive areas since there may be some runoff from water, soap, and other cleaning materials. Ideally, it should be near another business which sees a high volume of traffic (think supermarkets, malls, or highway service stations). A friend of mine suggested that it might be a good idea to get a van with a car vinyl wrap to improve company visibility when going between locations for jobs.

3) Crunch the numbers. Once you’ve decided on potential locations and made a list of necessary equipment and running costs (see below for further details), it’s time to crunch the numbers. What will you need to charge in order to beat the competition and make a profit at the same time? Will you need any loans or finance to get started? Work out the math before you launch. Its also a good idea to make sure you get the right insurance as well. Insurance 4 MotorTrade did a great deal for another friend on their car wash insurance.


Step 2: Get a Business Permit for your Car Wash Business

While you won’t need any formal qualifications to operate a carwash, it’s almost certain you’ll need a government license or permit.

Environmental regulations vary from state to state and country to country, but almost everywhere you decide to do business these days you’ll have to meet minimum criteria proving you have a proper drainage system and dispose of any chemical waste like cleaning products or paint in an appropriate manner.

For carwashes, this shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain since soapy water makes up the most of what will be waste material.

Check with your state business register to see which permits you need to legally operate before starting up.

Step 3: Set Up Shop: The Minimum to Start a Car Wash Business

Once you’ve decided on a location and secured a lease you’ll need to set up the physical carwash. You don’t have to install expensive drive-through car washes unless you have the funds to do so. One of the most attractive things about this business is that it’s possible to get started with very little equipment and capital.

Mobile Auto Detailing Setup – The Basics

At a minimum you’ll need:

A Billboard/Signs – Get one professionally made and make it as attention-grabbing as possible. You want drivers to know exactly where your carwash is. If you’re positioned near a highway or busy road, consider talking to the local council about placing several signs for a few hundreds metres before your location to give the drivers time to make a decision to stop.

Cleaning Materials – Soaps, waxes, cloths, buckets, and power washers will all be needed. Power washers can be powered by either electricity or air, depending on the type and model. In either case, you’ll need to ensure a supply outlet exists at your site or have one installed.

the minimum car wash business startup

the minimum car wash business startup

A Water/Air Source – You’ll need to have an abundant supply of water to run a busy carwash. Depending on where your business is located, this may be an added business cost which you’ll have to factor in. Make sure you have a steady supply of clean, fresh water as contaminated water will leave residues or damage paintwork. A pressurised air supply may also be needed and can allow you to offer add-ons or extras such as tyre inflation.

You might want to think about going mobile, as well. This means having all of the above, but being able to transport them and use them away from the shop. Most of the successful car washing businesses have done this – for example, there is a company who provide car detailing in Toronto who offer their services whilst you are at work or at home. By doing this, you open up your business to people who don’t have time to come to you.

Step 4: Launch Your Car Wash Business

Congratulations, you’re ready to launch.

If you live in a small town or city, word of mouth should do the trick as far as marketing goes. That being said, if you live in a larger city or just want to give your marketing an extra boost, consider billboards, flyers, advertisements in local newspapers and magazines, and social media as forms of acquiring, retaining and growing your customer base. Loyalty will be the key to growing this business long-term, so think of ways to delight your customers.

Pro Tip: Consider offering other services to boost revenue. Many carwashes also offer full valets, cleaning the inside of cars, in addition to exterior cleaning. You’ll be surprised how many people will go for these add-ons if they are reasonably priced. People transport all kinds of things inside cars from dogs to flowers to food, all of which leave the interior needing cleaned regularly.


As you can see, launching a carwash is simple and easy-to-implement.

With low margins, you’ll be relying on volume to make big bucks in the carwash game, but if you’re in a small town where that’s unlikely, don’t be discouraged, this could make for a profitable side business run on the evenings and weekends.

One thing is for sure: there will always be a demand for carwashes. As the world gets busier and people have even less time, expect that demand to grow.