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How To Start a Car Wash Business: Your Step-By-Step Guide

How To Start a Car Wash Business

From the marketing point of view, a car washing business serves the needs of the local community and neighborhood in the first place, including customers and employees. But things are not as easy as asking your prospect around the corner what they are looking for in a shiny new car washing service.

A car wash business today is driven by many factors that are changing customer preferences and how car washes operate, from sophisticated automatic car washes and knowing your water regulations to eco-friendly practices and mobile apps with loyalty points and personal discounts.

All in all, there are many many things that need to be considered when starting a car wash business – and we want to share our findings with you today.

Decide on the Car Wash Type You Want to Start

Study the possible ways to provide car wash services, the main ones include: 

  • Automatic car wash (touchless)
  • In-bay automatic car wash (rollover)
  • Self-service car wash
  • Full-service car wash
  • Other. 

Based on your choice, the cost of equipment, its implementation, and tax regulations will differ.

Think of what car wash services you can provide from the start

You need to identify which car services exactly are most popular in your area and among customers in general – or those you think can be more profitable and have a demand. Popular examples include:

  • Wash package (includes most needed services such as an exterior wash, tire shine, and vacuuming)
  • Undercarriage wash
  • Hand dry
  • Detailing (a comprehensive cleaning service including waxing and vacuuming)
  • Vacuum
  • Tire shine
  • Air freshener.

As in any other industry related to serving cars and their clients, there are growing trends.

For example, did you know that automated and touchless car washes are becoming more widespread? Everyone needs faster and more efficient touchless alternatives for washing their vehicles. An increase of mobile apps that speed up the process of getting a car wash scheduled, and provide loyalty initiatives, payments, and notifications, is a big trend too.

Second, find your appeal to eco-conscious consumers. Eco-friendly car washing products (biodegradable soap, waterless car wash products, microfiber towels) and practices (water-saving wash cycles, water harvesting systems) are getting more significance on the radar of drivers. You can stress all the techniques you use in advertising to build a more long-lasting relationship with customers. 

Simple appointments scheduled in advance for those who are looking for a car wash in their neighborhood is another big thing we’ll be covering in greater detail below.

Pick a business model

In the car wash industry, we’re overseeing significant business model shifts, which you should certainly consider when starting a car wash business. Note that a combination of different models, such as a pay-per-wash model + an option to use subscription services, can be your win-win strategy for a carwash business.

Subscription services

Subscriptions like monthly, weekly or any other that allow unlimited car washes are gaining popularity; perfect for predicting a revenue stream for your business as well as meeting the needs of customers.


The car wash industry is seeing some consolidation, with larger car wash chains acquiring smaller ones to gain market share, or registering a business via franchise. 

Focus on customer experience

No one wants to wait too long anymore, car washes are investing in improving the customer experience with comfortable waiting areas and loyalty programs.


This is a more traditional method when customers pay a one-time fee for each car wash they receive. Suitable for those who wash their car less often or are not local.

Prepaid wash packages

Many customers love to sometimes purchase a set number of car washes upfront at a discounted rate compared to the single car wash price.

Token system

Customers purchase tokens and then use them to activate a wash cycle.

Membership program

A program that allows customers to pay a monthly fee for unlimited car washes.

Write a Car Wash Business Plan & Calculate Expenses

Calculating expenses is hard work, and you can’t do it properly without identifying your strategies, business models, and the labor and equipment involved. 

Choose equipment based on the car wash type you’ve chosen. Try to find and compare prices of different car wash equipment:

  • Conveyor belt
  • Wash arms
  • Hoses and wands
  • Soap applicators
  • High-pressure washers
  • Deionized water
  • Water reclamation system

Legislation & challenges

Knowing whether your car wash service is subject to sales tax is crucial for setting your business prices and complying with tax regulations; this will differ from state to state and country to country. We recommend finding the official website page in the .gov domain that explains the regulation, especially for the car washing services in your area.

Here is an example for the NY area:

  • Taxable: services primarily performed by employees or those not activated by coin-operated equipment (full-service washes, exterior conveyor washes, automated washes paid by credit card, detailing services).
  • Exempt: the customer does the washing themselves using coin-operated equipment (self-service wand washes, self-service in-bay automatic washes using coins).

Also, consider the following challenges when opening the carwash business:

  1. Competition: you need to find and implement a competitive advantage right from the start.
  2. Labor costs: finding and retaining qualified employees is another big task.
  3. Water regulations: Water scarcity and environmental regulations can impact car washes significantly.

Find a suitable location

Your legal options to get started with a car wash business:

  • Build a new property 
  • Find car wash for sale offerings
  • Buy a franchise like Mr. Clean, Tommy’s Express, or Green Shine (compare their offerings, fees, and requirements).

Avoid Queues by Using the Service Booking Software

Still, many car washes generally operate on a first-come, first-served basis, there can be lines of cars waiting for their turn – on weekends, after work, or after bad weather, this situation is especially stressful for the business as well as customers.

To integrate a completely new level of automation into your business and improve the customer satisfaction level, think of integrating a car wash service booking software – which does exactly this – that allows your customers to schedule a car wash in advance, avoiding waiting in queues.

Needless to say, many customers used to quickly schedule a vehicle wash appointment while on the road, and are already expecting this type of service, especially from a brand-new car wash in their neighborhood.

In addition to easier dealing with standard car queues, here is why it can be a smart investment to keep your automotive business ahead of schedule:

  • If you provide detailing services: for more detailed cleaning services that take longer, you can recommend booking an appointment to ensure you have the time and staff available.
  • Serve high-end car washes: luxury vehicles may require appointment scheduling for more personalized care.
  • Embrace the business model shift of subscription services: you can sell one-time or recurring car wash appointments with software for bookings like BookingPress.

To Conclude: Key Things to Focus on when Starting a Car Wash Business

There is a lot of ‘noise’ when you’re trying to discover what things are crucial for starting a car wash business, so we recommend focusing your attention on the essentials:

  1. Decide on what services you want to provide, car wash type, and choose your business model.
  2. Focus on high-end technology and carwash software.
  3. Consider carwash trends and needs in your local area.

Check out related resources: 

Brian is a WordPress expert with a decade of developing experience & technical-writing. He enjoys blogging, movies & hiking.