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Starting Your Own Vehicle Wash Business

Thinking of starting your own vehicle wash business? Car washing and detailing is a great industry in which to build a business. According to

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pressure washing carThinking of starting your own vehicle wash business? Car washing and detailing is a great industry in which to build a business. According to the International Car Wash Association, car wash retail sales in North America are about $15 billion annually, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Between 1994 and 2019, the percentage of drivers using a commercial car wash went from 48% to more than 77%.

Read on for a list of some of the areas a car wash entrepreneur needs to consider to bring your vision to life.

Determine the Type of Car Wash

Full Service: A full service car wash offers both exterior and interior cleaning.

Self Service: This type of car wash provides the customer with the tools to do the job, and they do it themselves. Customers use a wand to clean their car themselves, and can use coin-operated vacuums to clean their interior.

In Bay Automatic: This is the typical car wash found at a gas station or convenience store. Customers decide what kind of car wash they want, they drive in to the bay and stay in the car while the exterior is washed. This type of car wash usually requires less space.

Tunnel Wash Systems: Cars drive onto a conveyor system and the car is pulled through the tunnel. Depending on the wash selection, various steps and options are performed along the way.

Location, Location, Location

As they say in the real estate biz, location is everything! Deciding the location for your car wash is probably the most important factor in your car wash’s success. Scout out locations, pay attention to traffic patterns, population, competition, surrounding businesses, etc. Because of the importance of this decision, consider using a trusted and experienced real estate agent to help you find a great location for your new endeavor.

Taking Care of Business

There is more to opening a car wash than just building the structure and hoping for the best. A car wash works like any other business and you need to prepare as such.

  • Business Plan: A car wash business plan clearly lays out the opportunities, risks, execution, and financials. Your business plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does need to be clear, practical and thorough.
  • Business Model: Will your car wash operate as a franchise, LLC, S corp, or will you run it independently? Find out the pros and cons of each to determine the best fit for you.
  • Permits, paperwork and planning: Before breaking ground or starting any construction, you need to do the behind the scenes work. There will be plenty of paperwork to fill out- licenses, applications, tax forms, permits, insurance, etc. Do your research to find out exactly what you need to do, follow it to the letter, dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s. Don’t let a paperwork snafu be the reason your project is delayed, or worse, not approved.
  • Staffing: Think about how hands on you want to be. Do you want to manage your staff, or do you want to hire a manager? Don’t overlook staffing at a self service car wash. It may be self serve, but you still need someone available for maintenance and repairs.


No matter the type of car wash you open, you’ll need to be prepared with the right equipment and supplies. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.

  • Payment processing system
  • Water treatment equipment like water softeners or reverse osmosis systems
  • Vacuums and shampooers
  • Dryers and blowers
  • Towels
  • Items for detailing like brushes, specialty cloths and sprays, etc.
  • Detergents, soaps and deodorizers

A Reliable Partner Here to Help

Reliable Plus van

At Reliable Plus, we can help you bring your dream of starting your own vehicle wash business to life. We are experts in what it takes to take your car wash from grand design to grand vision. Our team can develop a custom plan for our one-of-a-kind dream that includes site analysis, business plans, design renderings, and assistance with city planning. Contact us today to learn more.

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