What Type of Car Wash Is Most Profitable?

Owning a car wash is one of the safer kinds of businesses for entrepreneurs. Car wash demand continues to climb and cars will always need a wash. Most people don’t want to do it themselves anymore, so a trip to the car wash is a common sight after work. Easy money right?

It is, if you can balance out the costs. Building a car wash is a significant investment. Figuring out which type of car wash is the most profitable can be hard. Here’s our thoughts on this important topic.

The Four Types of Car Washes

Before we say which is the most profitable type of car wash, let’s go over the four major types and their features.

Self-Service Car Wash

As the name suggests, this is a car wash where the customer does all the work. If you’ve ever used a coin-op car wash, it was a self-service car wash. These have low labor costs, but the customer has to get out and wash their car themselves. This makes self-service car washes much more seasonal.

In-Bay Automatic Car Wash

These are the small car washes you see at gas stations. The car wash handles one car at a time. These are great for places with limited real estate or if you already have a gas station and want to add a service. Like the self-service car wash, the labor costs are low.

Tunnel Car Wash

This is a much larger facility that uses an exterior conveyor belt to draw cars through a tunnel for washing. Customers choose which options they want from a kiosk or an employee and the tunnel is programmed to give that service. 

The cost for a wash here is much higher than the other two options because of the costs of operating a tunnel wash, but the level of service is much higher.

Full-Service Car Wash

A full-service car wash offers both exterior and interior cleaning and detailing services. In some, this is all done by people. Others use an in-bay or tunnel car wash for the exterior and people for the interiors. These have the highest revenues, but also higher overhead.

self-service car wash

Operational Costs to Consider for Your Car Wash

Profit is more than revenue, or else we’d end this right now with the full-service car wash as the most profitable type. Only after weighing the costs of each type and analyzing your circumstances can you come to the right choice.

The first thing is land. An in-bay automatic car wash might only take up 7,000 square feet. A full-service wash could be five times that size or more. If you already have a business with sufficient space, installing an in-bay car wash or even a self-serve car wash can bring in extra money without breaking the bank on a land purchase.

There are also the costs of construction and purchasing car wash equipment, and variable costs like utilities, detergent, maintenance, and so forth. You’ll also have fixed costs like property taxes, labor, administration, and more. The costs of financing car wash equipment are another thing to consider.

Factors That Increase Revenue

The single biggest factor for a car wash’s success is where it’s placed. Most people only notice car washes when they drive past them frequently. If you choose a place off the primary thoroughfare, you’ll need to think of a way to show drivers to your business.

You’ll also need to think about how many cars you’re likely to serve each day. Larger cities can support more car washes and closer car washes. More people are better, but you may need to pay more for signage to get attention.

We also can’t forget about marketing and unique service offers. If you go with Washify, one offer you can make is a membership deal for recurring washes. This is a great way to get quick revenue to build up your reserves. This can help you ride out the slower seasons.

A Profitable Car Wash Business Requires Balance

Choosing the most profitable type of car wash requires entrepreneurs to balance the average revenue of their chosen car wash type, the costs of constructing and running the business, and the expected demand for washes based on location and local weather.

Using a modern car wash POS system like Washify can increase demand for your kind of car wash, no matter what type you choose to build. For more information, contact us for a demo.