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How Much Does It Cost to Open a Self Service Car Wash? (Sales Forecast and Breakeven Analysis Included)

The cost of opening a standard self-service car wash in the United States could range from $75,000 to over $200,000. The truth is that the facility, and equipment needed to open a self-service car wash don’t come cheap hence the reason why it may be expensive.

If you understand how a self-service car wash works, you will know that it will cost several thousand dollars to get the business up and running. A self-service car wash is a facility where customers can wash their vehicles using provided equipment and supplies.

The major equipment you will generally find in a self-service car wash includes high-pressure hoses, foaming brushes, soap dispensers, water sprayers, vacuum cleaners, and coin-operated payment systems. Customers can choose and pay for specific services, such as washing, rinsing, and vacuuming.

As much as there is no fixed amount when it comes to how much it will cost to open a self-service car wash, there are certain factors that can influence the overall cost of opening a self-service car wash. In this article, we will discuss some of these factors.

Estimated Cost Breakdown for Opening a Self Service Car Wash

Opening a self-service car wash business with a $200k budget will involve various costs, which can fluctuate based on location, size, and specific business needs. Below is a simplified cost breakdown, assuming a modest-sized operation:

  1. Land Acquisition or Lease: $30,000 – $70,000
  2. Construction and Installation: $80,000 – $120,000
  3. Car Wash Equipment: $25,000 – $40,000
  4. Permits and Licensing: $2,000 – $5,000
  5. Utility Connections like Water, electricity, sewer, and possibly gas: $5,000 – $10,000
  6. Marketing and Grand Opening: $3,000 – $5,000
  7. Operating Capital: $10,000 – $20,000
  8. Insurance: $2,000 – $4,000 (annual)
  9. Miscellaneous Expenses: $3,000 – $5,000

3-Year Sales Forecast and Breakeven Analysis

Assuming the average price per wash is $10 and the average number of cars washed per day is 20; and your car wash will be in operation 360 days a year. With a yearly growth rate in the number of cars at 5%, here is a simplified 3-year sales forecast:

  1. Year 1:
    • Revenue: $72,000
    • Total Costs: $52,600
    • Net Profit: $19,400
  2. Year 2:
    • Revenue: $75,600
    • Total Costs: $53,680
    • Net Profit: $21,920
  3. Year 3:
    • Revenue: $79,380
    • Total Costs: $54,814
    • Net Profit: $24,566

Breakeven Cars per Day is Approximately 10.3 cars

What this means is that you need to wash slightly over 10 cars per day at an average price of $10 per wash to cover all fixed and variable costs.

Your self service car wash business is projected to be profitable from the first year, with net profits increasing each year due to a 5% assumed annual growth rate in the number of cars washed.

The breakeven point of slightly over 10 cars per day is well below the average expected cars washed per day (20 cars), suggesting the business model is financially viable under these assumptions.

Factors That Influence the Cost of Opening a Self-Service Car Wash

  1. The Location of the Self-Service Car Wash

We cannot overemphasize the impact the location of a business has on the start-up and operational costs of the business.

The bottom line is that the cost of real estate or lease agreements can vary significantly depending on the area’s demand, accessibility, and proximity to target customers.

The farther away the location is from your target customers the cheaper the facility will be, and the closer the facility is to your target customers the more expensive the rent or lease will be.

  1. The Equipment, and Supplies You Will Need

You know that without the needed equipment and supplies, you will not have a self-service car wash. Hence, you should draw up a budget that can take care of equipment and supplies such as:

High-pressure washers, foam brushes, soap dispensers, water sprayers, vacuum cleaners, coin-operated payment systems, change machines, vending machines for car care products, trash receptacles, floor mats, towels or drying machines, and cleaning solutions (e.g., soap, wax).

  1. The Cost of Construction and Renovation

The bulk of the money you will spend to open your self-service car wash will come from the construction and renovation of the facility you want to use for your car wash.

For a self-service car wash, the cost of construction and renovation will include the costs associated with site preparation, building construction or renovation, plumbing, electrical work, and landscaping. 

  1. The Required Permitting and Regulations

The permits and licenses you need will vary based on the type of business you want to start, and the city or state you want to start the business.

If you are planning to open a self-service car wash in the United States, then you must have a budget for a business license, zoning permit,

Environmental permit (for water discharge), water use permit, sign permit, building permit (for construction or renovation), stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP), wastewater discharge permit, fire department permit, and health department permit.

Apart from that, you must make sure the business complies with environmental and zoning regulations, and the cost for this also will vary depending on the jurisdiction’s requirements.

  1. Ongoing Cost

If you are looking to open a self-service car wash, your ongoing cost will cover costs such as water, electricity, gas, and maintenance services, such as equipment repairs and cleaning.

Of course, running a self-service car wash requires that your equipment must be in tip-top shape, and you must not run out of supplies. This is why you must have a robust budget for your ongoing costs.

Interestingly, the amount you are expected to set aside for your ongoing cost will depend on the size of your facility, the number of equipment and staff you have, and the environment where your self-service car wash facility is located.

  1. Marketing and Branding Cost

The only way you can get people to know about your self-service car wash is to be deliberate in marketing and branding your car wash.

Interestingly, there are several approaches you can take when it comes to marketing and branding a self-service car wash business.

You should engage in roadshows within the community where you have your car wash or organize an open house party or concert in your facility. You should also distribute your printed materials to people in the community.

You can sponsor community programs and purchase advert slots on local TV, radio stations, and newspapers. But if you are operating on a low budget, you may want to start from social media.

The whole idea is that no matter your marketing and branding strategy, you are going to spend money, and the money you spend will form a portion of your start-up cost for your self-service car wash.

  1. Insurance and Legal Fees

Insurance is an important aspect of every business including a self-service car wash business. If you are planning to open a self-service car wash, you must budget for liability insurance, property insurance, legal consultations, and business entity formation fees.

Trust me, you will need all these because they will help you protect the car wash business and help you comply with legal the requirements of starting such a business.

  1. Staffing and Training Cost

As much as it is called a self-service car wash does not mean you will not have staff on the ground to keep the business in operation.

In essence, if you want to start a self-service car wash business you must make plans to recruit an attendant, maintenance technician, customer service representative, cashier, cleaner, security guard, marketing coordinator, and operations manager.