How Much Does It Cost To Start a Car Wash Business

Starting your own car wash business can be a dream career move. We all love a shiny clean car, yet never have the time to do it ourselves. Starting up your own car wash could be the solution to this problem!

Once your business has taken off, it can be an incredibly rewarding venture. Not only will you get to work in an environment that you love, but owning a car wash could mean big earning potential.

As exciting as the prospects may be, you will probably find yourself thinking “how much does a car wash cost though?” Here is our guide to help you answer this question, as well as prepare you for taking the leap and opening your business.

Start With A Budget In Mind

Starting any business, including a car wash business, should always begin with establishing a budget. This is where you will get to figure out exactly how much capital you can invest in it when starting out, and give you an idea of your limitations and opportunities.

With a figure in mind, you need to establish exactly what kind of car wash you will be operating, where it will be, and what kind of facilities and equipment you will require. See how your budget fits in with all of these factors.

Starting this sort of venture often costs more than many people may think. However, there are ways to enter the market with a fairly low investment. For example, starting a mobile business or opening a franchise both cost less to get off the ground than a traditional format car wash.

A car inside a car wash being sprayed water
A car inside a car wash being sprayed water

Franchise or Independent Business: How Much Does a Car Wash Cost?

Type of Business

To really answer the question of “how much does a car wash cost?”, you first need to narrow down the options. 

Firstly, you should decide between a franchise or an independent business model. Both of these have their own unique pros and cons, offering different risks and opportunities. The costs involved in starting them will also differ.

If you’re thinking of taking the latter option, you may want to consider “how much does it cost to buy a car wash”, as this is very different to “how much does it cost to build a car wash”. Buying an existing business with the necessary infrastructure can make starting out a bit more simplified.

Next, you need to look into the area in which your car wash will be, and how this will affect your product offering. Depending on your potential clientele, you will need to make important business decisions.

    Will you be providing a luxury service?

    Will it be an environmentally friendly practice?

    Fully automated or self-serve?

    How many bays will you need?

If you will be operating a fully automatic service as opposed to a self-serve business, the space requirements will be vastly different. A single bay for an automatic car wash is about 5,000 square feet -which is way more than that of a self-serve bay. Of course, this will change your costs greatly.

Expected Fees Prior To Opening

Then you also need to look at permits, licensing and fees for getting a business running. On average, permits and licenses come up to around $150 – $200.

However, if you are looking at building from the ground up, the costs can shoot up to around $50,000 – $150,000. This is because you will need to factor in things like studies and appraisals, engineering fees, building permits, etc.

How Much Does It Cost To Start a Car Wash?

You have done your planning, and you know what kind of business model you want to set up. Now, the question is how much does a car wash cost?

A mobile business service can be started for as little as $15,000. This is because you will save greatly on renting or purchasing a location, as well as developing an establishment. While this may be a more affordable business starting out with a limited budget, it is not your classic car wash that many have in mind.

Your more traditional car wash business could cost you between $500,000 to $1,400,000 all in. This can be broken down by estimating $80,000 to construct and equip each bay (if you do not own the land). As a budget, this figure includes factors such as land costs, building, planning, equipment, marketing, and other startup costs.

If you’re starting with an existing shed construction but no equipment, then self-service equipment on its own will be approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per bay, while automatic can set you back up to $30,000 to $50,000 per bay.

Then there’s also the water recycling system to consider if you want your business to be environmentally friendly and not waste water. One of these ranges between $35,000 and $100,000 depending on the size of the system.

Opening a franchise can be a great way to cut down on costs, though again this will depend on the type you choose to open. The benefit here is having the backing of an established brand to work from, cutting down the need to do as much marketing.

Running Expenses: How Much Does It Cost To Own a Car Wash?

Starting a car wash is one thing, but owning one is a different story. While you require significant startup capital to get your business up and running, naturally, there are also operational costs to consider too. 

It has been suggested that your initial marketing campaign could set you back between $1 to $10,000 per car. Once your business is well established though, this should cost you around 10 cents per car.

Operating costs will include your staff – a full-service car wash usually employs around 14 people. Then you will also need to pay for cleaning products, rent, marketing, insurance, and regular maintenance of your equipment.

Final Thoughts On Starting a Car Wash Business

As you have probably realized, asking how much does a car wash cost, makes for a broad range of responses. Ultimately it will depend on the kind of car wash you want to own, whether you will be building it from the ground up, where it is, how big it will be etc.

This can be a highly profitable business and taking the step to becoming an entrepreneur is a fantastic move!



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About Me

Hi there, I’m Rod. Honestly, I don’t do much cleaning around the house (and until recently – my car)…

But I’ve always been strict and disciplined in keeping with my workspace clean and organized; my office, my desk, my bookshelfs, etc. A lot of that discipline comes from studying Lean methodologies in the past.

One thing I’ve struggled with has been keeping my car clean! So lately I started buying a few items and putting in some work!

I became interested with “best practices” for detailing a car, and that’s what you’ll find on this website. Hope this information helps you!

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