How to Start a Car Wash Business

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Whether you’re simply interested in trying something new and think a car wash business could be a viable option or have been interested in opening a car wash for some time now, the process isn’t as easy as snapping a finger or making a few calls. It takes serious work and effort, some of which you may not even be aware of, in order to open a profitable self-service car wash business. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about how to open a car wash.

Why a Car Wash?

Car washes fulfill a need. While the figure varies in different locations – especially those served by public transportation – in America, 95 percent of adults own at least one car. Those cars transport them to work, to activities and to vacations. They are used as a major source of transportation on a daily basis.

However, cars don’t run or sustain themselves; they require upkeep. While some of this comes in the form of mechanical maintenance and service, some of it is cosmetic: Cars get dirty. Regardless of location, weather or usage patterns, cars require cleaning to maintain a pleasant appearance.

This basic fact creates a need: For car owners to be completely satisfied with their vehicles, car washes are a necessity. This means that car washes can be a profitable, rewarding business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking for something new.

Wondering if you’re up to the task? Not sure if you have what it takes to start a business and see it through to ensure success?
Answer the following questions:

  • Do you enjoy working with your hands?
  • Do you like meeting new people?
  • Are you comfortable reaching out to potential business partners and contacts?
  • Are you financially secure enough to be willing to take a bit of a risk?
  • Are you willing to learn about the mechanics behind how certain machines work and to do research to keep your business and its components running smoothly?
  • Do you have prior business experience or a desire to learn?
  • Are you able to be financially transparent and to keep solid records?
  • Are you able to put in long working hours away from family to ensure your business gets off the ground?
  • Are you able to leave a steady 9-5 income for something that’s more of a variable?
  • Are you self-motivated?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, opening a car wash business may very well be a viable option. You have the basic traits needed to succeed. If, on the other hand, you answered no to more than one of these questions, you’re probably looking in the wrong area.

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Getting Down to Details: Crafting a Car Wash Business Plan

A car wash business plan is similar to any other business plan. It’s absolutely essential for success. Starting a project without a written plan for seeing it through is asking for failure. A plan creates goals and objectives and sets benchmarks that take the guesswork out of opening a business and keep you in control at all times.

Many online templates exist for crafting a business plan. However, at the bare minimum, your car wash business plan should include:

Icon-Exec-SummaryAn Executive Summary. An executive summary helps in organizing your thoughts regarding your business. Why do you want to open a car wash business? What will that business look like? What are your objectives? What is    your mission? These should be presented in the very beginning of your plan.

Icon-Comp-SummaryCompany Summary. A company summary details the background of your business. How will you legally classify your business? As a limited liability company? A partnership? Understanding this setup is critical for moving  forward. From there, discussing ownership, startup financial needs and projections is important. List your requirements for getting started and be as specific as possible. This allows you to determine where needs exist and to decide  how to meet them.

Icon-ServicesServices. What services will your car wash business offer? Will it be a self-service car wash business? A full-service car wash? Will you offer other services or amenities on your property?

Icon-Market-analysisMarket Analysis. The market analysis is not only important for your own sake, but also to satisfy the questions your potential investors – if applicable – may have. Take the time to determine who falls into your target market. What does the community look like? Where do they spend money? What would they be willing to pay for a car wash? At what frequency could you expect each customer to return? Understanding your target market is a critical aspect of any business plan, especially a car wash business plan.

Icon-StrategyStrategy and Implementation Summary. If you’ve gone according to plan, you know your mission, you understand how you’ll create your company, you’ve clearly detailed the services you will offer and you understand your target market. Now it’s time to pull it all together. By creating a strategy and implementation summary, you can write out how you plan to make your business a success. How will you take it from paper to reality?

Icon-ManagementManagement Summary. If not you, who will manage your company? How many employees will you realistically need to run your business effectively? Who will handle human-resources needs? What can be done in-house and what will need to be outsourced? Management is critical for the successful running of a car wash.

Icon-Financial-PlanFinancial Plan. In your company summary, you should have listed the financial needs you will need to start and run your car wash business. The financial plan takes this one step further by detailing how you will obtain the necessary financing. Will you look for investment partners? What can those partners expect from you? How much ownership are you willing to share? Are you looking for a loan instead of a partner? These questions should be answered in your financial plan.

A detailed business plan is the first step in turning a basic business idea into a tangible action plan. It clarifies the process and the opportunity for every individual involved in it and creates action steps for moving ahead.

Figuring Out the Investment

With your business plan in hand, you can now move on to actually securing the funds necessary for opening your car wash.

Investment capital refers to funds invested in a business enterprise – like a car wash business – that are designed to further its business objectives. These funds can go toward the purchase of equipment, the hiring of employees or any other business needs that are essential, especially during the startup phase.

Sources of capital investment could include private investors, banks or other financial institutions, venture capitalists or angel investors. If you’re unsure of where to start, the best first step is to take your business plan to a bank or to a private investor – and to present why you think your business could be a viable, profitable endeavor. These individuals may have comments, questions or concerns. Take everything to heart – they may have more experience than you – and move forward accordingly. Are you interested in starting your own business? Get a quote today!

Research Thoroughly

You have a plan and you have the funds necessary for pushing forward. It’s now time to find your ideal location. Location can make or break a business, especially one that depends on visibility, like a car wash business.

Because car washes are generally not planned in advance, they can benefit from spur-of-the-moment decision making. This means that the more highly trafficked your location is, the higher your chances of success will be. Look for a location that is easy to access from either side of a road – a red light makes this an even better situation. Maybe an existing, locally owned gas station or other business has extra land that they’d be willing to allow you to lease; the possibilities are endless.

Research your location options and push forward accordingly.

Secure the Location and Other Essentials

Once you know that you want to start your own business where you want your business to be located and have signed the necessary paperwork, you can secure the location and handle a few other essentials.

Start by obtaining all business permits that are necessary for building or starting a business. Look into what’s required of your country and state as far as zoning variances, safety and environmental inspections, and tax registrations and certificates are concerned.

For your business permits, look into which department in your municipality handles licenses and request an application. To keep the process moving smoothly, it’s recommended that you go to the office in person; this allows you to have an actual conversation and to ask questions, instead of relying on online information.

If you’re still unsure, set up a meeting with your local city planner. By showing them your design plans, you can get an idea of whether any changes are necessary. You may need your plan to be approved by the city council or other governing organization.

For tax purposes, filing the necessary paperwork for a federal tax identification number and employer identification number from the Internal Revenue Service is critical. This can be done on the IRS website. Additionally, looking into liability insurance and purchasing a policy that protects you personally from any instances that might arise is critical. Protecting yourself and your customers should always be a top priority.

Buy the Tools

By putting in the money upfront to be sure you have the equipment that will help your car wash function to the highest of standards, you’ll save yourself a hassle in the future.

When constructing your actual building, invest in longer-lasting features that are visually appealing – trying to cut down on costs can lead to unexpected expenses in the future. This doesn’t mean that you need to start from scratch; prebuilt self-service car wash structures and automatic car-wash enclosures are available that save you time, are attractive and are designed to facilitate the opening of your car wash on the schedule you desire.

Purchasing equipment that is easy to use and comes with warranties and guarantees means that your customers will be more satisfied with their experiences with your business. Satisfied customers are loyal customers, so buy the tools that work the best, not the tools that save the most.

Hiring the Right Employees

A business is only as good as its employees. The advantage of a self-service car wash business is that employee needs are minimal. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to leave the building unstaffed. When potential issues do arise, having employees that you trust on hand to handle the situation is critical.

Consider your needs and hours. How many shifts will you need to cover? What can you handle on your own in the beginning to save costs? What do you need to supplement your own efforts?

Think about the qualities you’d like your potential employees to have: trustworthiness, loyalty, willingness to tackle a variety of tasks, high levels of customer service and so on. Your employees are a reflection of your business; only the best of the best should satisfy you.

Put together a job description that suits what you’re looking for. Explain the responsibilities that exist and what qualifications you’d like your employees to have. From there, advertise online for free on sites like Craigslist, and look into advertising in your local paper – especially if it has an online directory. Collect your applications and separate them into no and interview piles.

Set up phone calls with the applicants you are interested in and respond politely to those who will not be receiving interviews. Go with your gut feeling; if it seems like a good fit, it probably will be. If you have doubts, it’s best to keep looking.

Once you’ve assembled a team, set up a training program that can be standardized for all future employees. Allow them to shadow you for a shift and teach them the ins and outs of the equipment. The more knowledgeable your team becomes, the easier your job will be going forward.

Marketing Your Self-Service Car Wash Business


Your dream is about to come true. By creating a solid business plan, building your physical location and hiring your team, you’re just about ready to get started. Next on the list? Marketing. Serious marketing.

If your target market doesn’t know about your business, they won’t come; it’s as simple as that. This means it’s time to write another plan: a marketing plan.

Your marketing plan should include:

  • A review of your target customers. Who are they? Where do they spend their time? How are you most likely to reach them? Through online advertising? Social media? Email marketing? Billboards?
  • A marketing budget. How much can you realistically spend on marketing to drive business to your new car wash?
  • Your time. How much time can you put into marketing? Can you spend time on social media every day?
  • Do you need to hire outside assistance? If you cannot put time into marketing, the answer is yes. By working with a digital marketing firm, you can be sure your marketing needs are met and that your message is spread effectively.
  • Methodology. If you are unable to hire an outside firm to market your product, you need a plan for following through on your own. How will you design a website to market your car wash? In what ways will you reach out to potential customers? How will you engage them? Will you provide special offers online? Will you create relevant and informative content to drive traffic and to increase interest? The options are in your hands and should be determined by your target market. Methodology is important.
  • A calendar. Leading up to your grand opening, how will you start to attract interest? What about during the first three months of business? How many points of contact will you have? The more specific you can be, the more effective your marketing plan will be.

Once your plan is in place, it’s time to open your business. Create a special event around a grand opening, offer a special discount or promotion and go from there. The more excitement you can generate and the more pleased your customers are on their first visit, the more likely your business is to be a successful endeavor in the future.

Interested in learning more about how to open a car wash business? Want to make sure that you get started on the right foot and that your efforts pay off? Want to become your own boss while providing a solution to a true need in your community? The time to start is now.

Request more information from New Horizons Car Wash today. A trained professional can help you take the first step in starting your new car wash business. We look forward to working with you to make your dream a reality.

Our team of experts are always happy to help and answer your questions. Speak to someone about starting a car wash today!