Starting a Self-Service Car Wash: Helpful Tips & Priorities

Dec 4th 2018

Keeping any business running and profitable is always a challenge. Car wash facilities are no different. Equipment and supply costs must be kept low to maximize potential revenue. If you are looking for a new way to make money in the vehicle wash industry, consider starting a self-service car wash.


Because self-service car washes operate 24 hours a day, they can give you a consistent revenue stream with lower overhead. However, they aren’t completely risk-free ventures. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

1. Franchise Opportunities

Joining an established franchise is certainly worth considering, especially if you’ve never owned and operated a car wash before. Although, some entrepreneurs hesitate about going this route because of the residual income that a franchising corporation requires. Franchisees also don’t have the same opportunities as other facility operators to develop a unique experience in their individual businesses.

However, there are several advantages to being a franchisee. As part of an established brand, working with a franchise gives you a strong corporate backing that you won’t get by going independent. This includes a variety of tools to help your business be successful such as marketing, advertising, and access to top quality professional car wash equipment. Not only does being a franchisee eliminate some of the inherent start-up costs you run into with a new facility, but when customers are familiar with the franchise you are working with, you’ll have greater financial certainty.

2. Leasing or Owning

If you’re starting a self-service car wash, you’ll need to decide whether you’re leasing a property or buying it outright. Leasing offers operators greater flexibility. With a lease, you can change locations easily. This is extremely useful if you find out the location of your operation isn’t ideal, or if you decide you need to expand your operation later on. Breaking a lease and paying a penalty is always an easier undertaking when compared to trying to sell commercial real estate that comes with car wash equipment.

Leasing is not cheap, though. Make sure to compare the recurring costs of a lease that doesn’t have an end to payout terms versus making a monthly payment toward ownership of the land. Owning the property can also help you forge deeper ties in your community, which is great for building customer loyalty.

3. 24/7 Traffic Patterns

Location can make or break your business. Whether or not you choose to lease or purchase a property, it’s important to know the surrounding area’s traffic patterns. Make sure to determine what kind of traffic your locations gets during both day and night time hours, too. Doing so will illustrate just how much exposure your facility would get from drivers of all kinds. Regardless of how much advertising you do for your business, drivers won’t use your facility if it’s not convenient.

Overall, the best location for a self-service facility is one that has space for people to comfortably wash their cars. It is also helpful if the facility is located in an area that sees high volumes of traffic during peak business hours and evenings, too. If the neighborhood is busy during the day, but doesn’t see much action at night, then investing in professional car wash equipment for a 24-hour facility may not be practical for your business.

4. Safety Considerations

Speaking about knowing the activity around your property throughout the day and night, it’s useful to know just how safe your facility’s surrounding area is. Whatever area you choose to start a self-service car wash in may be an acceptable part of the city in the day, but what are things like at night? Do people make a habit of not traveling there because of safety concerns? It’s important to remember that public perception of your business’ potential location can play a big part in its success.

5. Car Wash Equipment

For customers, giving them the ability to professionally clean their cars quickly is a huge convenience. This is also beneficial for operators as self-service facilities have few or zero on-site employees. But without workers to monitor and maintain equipment, it becomes increasingly important for each machine to always operate at its peak.

Investing in the very best professional car wash equipment is essential. If something breaks down it could take hours – if not longer – before the malfunction is discovered and taken care of. Having the best equipment available and making sure to perform routine, scheduled maintenance on the machinery is an essential part of self-service facilities to prevent safety liabilities and costly down times.



While self-service car washes may look like a win-win for business owners and operators, how you go about starting a self-service car wash involves some considerations. Are you going to lease or own your property? How about having the financial backing of an established brand by becoming a franchisee? These are all important things that N/S Wash encourages new operators to consider before starting a self-service facility.

If you’d like to learn more about which essential car wash equipment is right for your business, contact us today. Call (800) 782-1582 or leave us a message online.