10 Steps For Starting a Car Wash From The Ground Up (2022)

As a 40 year veteran car wash equipment manufacturer and site developer, we’ve seen it all. We know what a daunting and potentially confusing process starting a new car wash can be. What comes first? Prospecting site locations? Securing financing? Assessing your market? How soon should you begin marketing? How long will the process take?

(Video) Building A Car Wash From The Ground Up!

While we certainly can’t cover everything you need to know to start a car wash in a single post, we can take a few words to cover what we feel are the 10 most important steps to launching your own car wash business.

1) Location is Everything - Go Scouting

Car washes aren’t automatically successful. Great care must be taken when selecting the location on which you want to build. Our Site Model Pages have in-depth descriptions of location criteria to consider (including population, competition, street types, car counts, and more) and our site development services can help you select and approve the best locations available in your area.

Start by driving around your target area, paying close attention to the relative traffic, types of local businesses, and anything that looks for sale. Get a feel for your potential market. You should also visit a commercial real estate MLS like Loopnet.comor many others. Be sure to take your time and never rush into a purchase.

2) Review the Competition

Try to get a feel for the local car washes in the area. How many customers do they have and how aggressively are they marketing? What will they do when you open your wash? Can they afford a multi-million dollar renovation to bring their wash in line with yours? Are they debt free and can they cut prices to outcompete you (with your interest payments) in the short term? Are their customers frequent users and very loyal—or are they waiting for something better?

Entrenched local competition can be dangerous, even for Totally Tommy buildings, and selecting a location with some elbow room between you and competitors is important. But don’t worry too much about single stall automatic car washes or local fundraisers—you’ll be working in a completely different weight class.

3) Do the Paperwork

Find out what local city or county department handles business licenses and request an application, as well as information on local utility usage codes, insurance requirements, tax rates, and other requirements for opening a business. You will also need a Taxpayer Identification Number and you should use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to check your brand then register to claim it.

(Video) How to Start a Car Wash Business in 2022 [ 10 Step-by-Step Guide ]

Each area and city has different rules, so make sure you take the time to understand everything and keep your business in line. If you can, also get information on local sanitary sewers (for your waste water), utility prices, water usage limits, and other regulations.

4) Planning and Approval Process

Set up a meeting with the city planner. Show them a rendering of your concept and try to get verbal approval of the design—or a list of probable issues to address. If you have approval you can set up a formal meeting to present your plans and have them voted on at a city council meeting. With luck, your Totally Tommy building with its modern style, efficient design, and great investment potential will blow them away! Try to be friendly, optimistic, and down to earth. If the city gets on board with your project it can make the whole process move along more smoothly.

5) Research Car Washes

Tour as many successful car washes as possible to see what makes them tick—especially if you haven’t been in the business very long. Check out automatic car washes, partially automatic, express, detailing, and other washes to see how they differ from one another. Operations, promotions, pricing, services, demographics… Try to learn as much as you can and develop as deep a background as you can with operations, staffing policies, equipment repair, and customer management (aka, complaints).

To help out, our team has training available to teach you everything you need to know BEFORE you’re trying to run your wash on hot days with long lines.

10 Steps For Starting a Car Wash From The Ground Up (1)

6) Operations Decisions

Will you run your car wash independently or will you have a franchise, LLC, or S-corp? There are many models, each with pros and cons. Franchises offer support at the cost of a residual. Solo operations offer total freedom but deprive you of much-needed backup and brand awareness. How much personal involvement are you looking for? If you plan on hiring a manager instead of handling things yourself, make sure he or she has the necessary qualifications and is heavily invested in your future success.

7) Make a Business Plan!

Your car wash business plan (click for outline) should focus on both long term and short term operations. Use a professional service and remember that the more detailed, thorough, and researched your plan is, the better it will look to investors or your bank. Include costs (up front and overhead costs), planning for building to long-term revenue management, and marketing strategies (launch and long-term). Professional proforma companies are ready to help and our team is also standing by with years of experience to back up our advice.

(Video) The 6 Steps To Launch Your Car Wash Business

8) Get Financing

This is likely the most challenging step, and your success here will largely depend on how well you’ve researched and prepared your business plan ahead of time. A solid revenue model can help convince investors to put up the capital for your new car wash business, so be prepared to demonstrate that you need enough funding for a truly high quality car wash facility and equipment with great return potential. You will also need a convincing resume with business and/or car wash experience, and a solid marketing plan.

9) Build the Right Wash

Car washes thrive when they capture the attention of the local market and are designed to make turning in, purchasing a wash, and moving through the tunnel as quick and easy as possible. The Totally Tommy building is the best way to do just this, drawing huge numbers ofpassing customers with a great looking building, perfected layouts, and a full and fast service menu. Proven inscenarios around the country, every component of this facility design has been carefully thought out to create a single, cohesive investment that pays off. From our towers to our pay system, deceleration lanes, glass walls, stainless steel equipment, and clear roof, everything is designed to project sophistication, professionalism, and value. So why waste money reinventing the wheel, and why risk building a second-best wash when a Totally Tommy wash is waiting for you?

10) Market your New Business

Customers don’t know what they don’t know, so don’t just expect them to line up without any effort on your part. Make sure to let the community know about your wash ahead of the grand opening with onsite advertising as well as print, radio, local web, and possibly TV advertisements. You’ll begin to build a curious customer base who will drop buy and tell their friends and family afterwards. $15,000 or $1 / car for initial marketing including billboards, mailings to 5 mile radius, promotional washes, and radio commercials is a good place to start at your launch and $.10 / car is a standardballpark long-term rate for the future. One or two daySocial media campaigns(incentivize customers with free washes for best results) can also be highly successful. Be prepared to collect feedback and adapt your marketing program for the greatest possible effectiveness moving forwards.

Launching any business, and especially a brick and mortar car wash filled with high-end technology, is a complex and daunting prospect. But don’t worry. The team at Tommy Car Wash Systems has hundreds of washes behind us with thousands of installations and developments. We know the steps you’ll need to take to get your wash planed, approved, built, and operational, and we’ll help you turn a fantastic business opportunity into an even better reality.

10 Steps For Starting a Car Wash From The Ground Up (2)

(Video) How to Start a Car Wash Business | Including Free Car Wash Business Plan Template

For more info please send your requests to sales@tommycarwash.com or give us a call at (616) 494-0411 with your name, any potential sites or locations you have in mind, an idea of your total budget, and phone number or email address for follow up.

Tommy Car Wash Systems


What are the ten steps to washing a car? ›

How to properly wash your car
  1. Rinse your car with water. ...
  2. Fill up your buckets with clean water. ...
  3. Pick and prep your chosen car polish/wash. ...
  4. Wash your vehicle starting from the top. ...
  5. Section your wash on hot days. ...
  6. Rinse the foam off the car. ...
  7. Dry your car with a microfibre cloth/towel. ...
  8. Wash your windows, windscreen and headlights.

How do you successfully run a car wash? ›

5 Secrets of Successful Car Wash Businesses
  1. Know What You Don't Know. ...
  2. Ask for Help. ...
  3. Select the Best Site Possible. ...
  4. Know Your Competition. ...
  5. Choose the Right Manufacturers and Suppliers.

What is the first steps in car washing? ›

Steps to a Great Wash
  1. Step 1: Spray down the whole car. ...
  2. Step 2: Clean the wheel wells and tires. ...
  3. Step 3: Starting on the top begin washing your car. ...
  4. Step 4: Towel dry your car working in long sweeping motions that follow the contours of the car body. ...
  5. Step 5: Treat special areas as needed.

How do I wash my new car? ›

First, use a bucket of soapy water and rinse the car with it to remove any loose dirt. Then rinse the soap off the car with a hose. Next, fill a bucket of clean water and use a sponge to wash the car. Then, remove any soap residue with clean water before drying the car and finishing up.

How do car washes attract customers? ›

5 Tips to Attract More Car Wash Customers
  1. Use the Internet and Social Media. ...
  2. Implement a Frequent Buyer Program. ...
  3. Host a Fundraising Event. ...
  4. Make up Contests and Giveaways. ...
  5. Offer a Referral Program to Your Car Wash Customers.
Jan 22, 2013

How do I manage a car wash business? ›

7 Car Wash Business Tips to Improve Your Bottom Line
  1. Step 1: Eliminate Unscheduled Repairs. ...
  2. Step 2: Eliminate Labor. ...
  3. Step 3: Reduce Operating Costs. ...
  4. Step 4: Improve Wash Consistency. ...
  5. Step 5: Get in Control of Marketing. ...
  6. Step 6: Increase Average Ticket. ...
  7. Step 7: Increase Customer Frequency and Loyalty.
Jul 13, 2017

How can I increase my car wash sales? ›

5 Secrets to Generating More Revenue at Your Car Wash
  1. Carefully calculate the base wash price. There is an exact operator cost for a single car wash. ...
  2. Price car washes for the area you serve. ...
  3. Add features to enhance the wash. ...
  4. Turn an errand into an experience. ...
  5. Incentivize customers to purchase a membership.
Mar 13, 2020

How do you wash your car like a professional? ›


How much is a car wash? ›

Hand car washing is around $30 to $60. Full-service washing and interior cleaning is around $60 to $150 for regular-sized cars and $100 to $175 dollars for the bigger SUVs and vans. And detailing is around $125 to $275 for regular-sized cars and $175 to $325 for the bigger SUVs and vans.

How long does it take to wash a car? ›

On average, automatic car washes can take up to 5 minutes to wash your vehicle. However, the timing can differ based on the type of equipment used in the wash bay. Automatic washing is affordable and saves you a lot of time than traditional hand wash methods.

How do you wash your car with water? ›

How to Wash Your Car the Right Way - AutoZone - YouTube

What is a car pre wash? ›

Pre washing and snow foaming is a non-contact step. It softens dirt and surrounds the larger dirt particles, when the bubbles pop and slide they draw the dirt particles away from the surface of the paintwork. This includes traffic film, grit, insects and bird droppings. The snow foam is then rinsed off.

How do you use detail? ›

How to use Detail in a sentence
  1. He should try and remember every detail he sees. ...
  2. While they didn't detail their crimes, both spoke of ruining their lives because of sins of the flesh. ...
  3. None the less, we were elated at the detail he'd gathered. ...
  4. I'll go into as much detail as I can, Dean answered.

How do you polish a 3 stage car? ›

How To Remove Scratches & Polish A Car Using 3M Perfect-It 3 Step ...

Which type of car wash is best? ›

Soft-touch washes offer a more thorough cleaning. If the car wash uses brushes, they usually reach every part of the car and are good for getting rid of dust and pollen.

How do you wash a black car? ›

How To Wash A Black Car PROPERLY! (No Swirl Marks!)

What kind of soap should you use to wash your car? ›

Specifically, use mild laundry detergent that isn't too strong so it doesn't strip away your paint. Mild laundry detergent can get rid of almost any dirt or grime on your vehicle (as it should, considering it's the stuff we rely on to clean our clothes).

How do you attract new customers? ›

Every small business owner wants to attract new customers. Here are 10 time-tested ways to help you bring in “new blood.”
  1. Ask for referrals. ...
  2. Network. ...
  3. Offer discounts and incentives for new customers only. ...
  4. Re-contact old customers. ...
  5. Improve your website. ...
  6. Partner with complementary businesses. ...
  7. Promote your expertise.
Apr 6, 2017

How do car washes increase traffic? ›

Powerful Ways to Increase Car Wash Sales
  1. Promotions. Having regular promotions can bring in regular customers. ...
  2. Cross Promotion. Cross promotion is an excellent way to gain more traffic to your car wash. ...
  3. Keep the Prices Competitive. It is important to keep your prices close to the other car washes in your area. ...
  4. Fundraisers.
Mar 27, 2014

What are the duties of a car wash manager? ›

Duties of Position:

The Car Wash Manager will be required to manage the day to day operations by ensuring the smooth operations at the car wash, and is responsible for the daily operations, manage Inventory and handling Customer enquiries whilst liaising with the Owner on a regular basis.

What does a manager do at a car wash? ›

The responsibilities of a car wash manager include overseeing daily operations at a business that provides motor vehicle washing and polishing. Duties include managing staff, responding to customer complaints, and maintaining inventory.

Is opening a car wash a good idea? ›

Opening a car wash at your store may not seem like a profitable business venture at first, but a car wash can turn out to be a great investment. Whether you want to stay competitive, need extra income or are looking to attract new customers, a car wash is a great opportunity you don't want to miss.

What is the best way to dry a car after washing? ›

Best Car Drying Tools: Towels / Chamois / Blades / Blowers

How do you wash your car like a professional? ›

Wash Your Car Like a Pro at Home
  1. First clean the interior. ...
  2. Tackle the floor mats and the tricky spots. ...
  3. Dust cracks and crevices. ...
  4. Vacuum the floor and the upholstery. ...
  5. Wipe down the dashboard using a damp microfiber cloth. ...
  6. Clean the seat belts.
Apr 28, 2015

Do you apply wax after washing car? ›

As a general note, always wash a vehicle before waxing it. Doing this removes surface dirt, debris, and grease so that you can apply the wax cleanly and evenly over the vehicle's clear coat. Not washing a car first can cause the wax application process to grind dirt and other particles into the paintwork.

Do you wash a car from top to bottom? ›

You should wash your car from top to bottom. Most of the dirt on your car is on the lower sections so washing from top to bottom avoids dirt being transferred to cleaner areas of the paint. It's important to avoid rubbing dirt into the paintwork because this causes scratches and swirls marks in the paint.

What equipment do you need to wash a car? ›

You will need a clay bar (more on this in a moment), clay bar lubricant, a bucket of water containing car shampoo, a wash mitt, microfibre cloths, a pressure washer, vacuum cleaner and your preferred wax, polish and alloy wheel cleaner.

What order should you wash your car in? ›

First up on the exterior wash "hit list" are the wheels & tires. You'll want to clean these before the paint because they're typically the dirtiest part of your vehicle. Plus, if you wait to clean them until the end of your wash you'll run the risk of splashing dirt & brake dust back onto the clean paint.

How much is a car wash? ›

Hand car washing is around $30 to $60. Full-service washing and interior cleaning is around $60 to $150 for regular-sized cars and $100 to $175 dollars for the bigger SUVs and vans. And detailing is around $125 to $275 for regular-sized cars and $175 to $325 for the bigger SUVs and vans.

What kind of wax do car washes use? ›

Unlike automated car washes, we use professional-grade carnauba wax with an orbital buffer for a consistent application and finish up by wiping it down with a microfiber towel. The end result is a showroom shine and over 90 days of protection from the elements.

Is ceramic spray better than wax? ›

Ceramic protectants are better than wax at resisting heat, UV rays, bird droppings, environmental pollution & road grime. On the other hand, wax is safer (even when not applied properly) both to you and to your car's paint job, while also being less harmful to the environment.

How do I make my car shine like glass? ›

How To Give Your Car A Glossy Shine - Chemical Guys Car Care - YouTube

How do you wash tall cars? ›

How To Wash REALLY Big Trucks! - Toyota Tundra - Chemical Guys Car ...

What kind of soap can I use to wash my car? ›

Specifically, use mild laundry detergent that isn't too strong so it doesn't strip away your paint. Mild laundry detergent can get rid of almost any dirt or grime on your vehicle (as it should, considering it's the stuff we rely on to clean our clothes).


(Jakers TV)
(Joseph Tittel)
(Car Wash Chronicles)
4. How to Wash a Car (10 Steps)
(Canadian Tire)
(Pan The Organizer)
6. How I Started My Auto Detailing Business From The Ground Up Coming From A Poor Family Background

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Last Updated: 10/15/2022

Views: 5697

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Birthday: 1999-05-27

Address: Apt. 171 8116 Bailey Via, Roberthaven, GA 58289

Phone: +2585395768220

Job: Lead Liaison

Hobby: Lockpicking, LARPing, Lego building, Lapidary, Macrame, Book restoration, Bodybuilding

Introduction: My name is Sen. Ignacio Ratke, I am a adventurous, zealous, outstanding, agreeable, precious, excited, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.