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If you run a car wash, you know that it is a highly equipment-dependent business. While you could wash a vehicle with as little as some soap, water, and a sponge, you realistically need far more tools and equipment to keep the process moving and provide good value to your customers.
If you want to start a car wash, it’s important to think about what tools you’ll need and how you’ll buy them.
- Car washes use a lot of expensive equipment
- The cost to start a new wash can be $150,000 or higher
- Equipment financing is one of the best ways to pay for equipment
- Consider buying some tools used to save on costs
What Types of Equipment Does a Car Wash Need?
Car washes require a lot of equipment to operate. If you’re running a car wash or want to open one, these are some key tools to have.
Water Treatment Systems
To wash anything, you need water. Most car washes try to recycle water rather than constantly use fresh water. This is both better for the environment and for your company’s bottom line.
To recycle water effectively, you’ll need some kind of water treatment system that can remove the dirt and grime that builds up in the water.
These systems can be complex and can cost $50,000 - $150,000 or more. You’ll have to consider if that investment is worth the savings from spending less on water.
Water Storage Tanks
Water storage tanks work with your treatment systems, holding water while it waits to go through your treatment system. They also play an important role in purifying the water, letting sediment settle at the bottom and lighter liquids like oil rise to the top.
Most car washes involve a car moving through a tunnel with each portion of the tunnel accomplishing one of the parts of the wash. Generally, a conveyor belt or similar system is used to pull the car through the wash tunnel.
These systems are great for self-service and other car washes that forgo significant manual labor. However, they can be incredibly expensive, with prices ranging from $150,000 to as high as $500,000.
A simple garden hose won’t be able to remove all of the caked-on mud and grime that builds up on cars. High-pressure washing equipment and hoses are the easiest and fastest way to remove dirt from a car and to get into the areas that brushes and other tools can’t reach.
Brushes or Scrubbers
Brushes are one of the most important tools for a car wash, so it’s important to invest in high-quality ones. They’re used for every wash that you perform, so you want to make sure they don’t wear out.
Cost can vary widely. Conveyor systems use large rotating brushes on each side of the car. Self-serve washes might use more typical handheld ones.
A wax arch is one of the last pieces of equipment that cars pass through after getting a wash. This arch applies a coat of wax all around the car. The wax protects the surface of the car and keeps it looking nice after the wash. They’re usually included in the cost of a conveyor system.
Rinse arches have a series of water nozzles that spray down the car after it is soaped and brushed. It removes any remaining soap or other residues before drying and waxing. They’re usually included in the cost of a conveyor system.
Car washes require a lot of electrical equipment to function, and that equipment needs to be insulated from the water used in the washing process.
Tunnel controllers handle the timing of the different wash components, making sure water is sprayed and brushes deployed at the right time. The cost for these controllers, plus other electric components like payment kiosks can be $150,000 - $275,000 or more.
One of the benefits of conveyor belt systems for car washes is that they can be largely self-service with customers selecting a wash type and letting the system do the rest of the work.
Payment kiosks let customers select the type of wash and pay without having to speak to a cashier, speeding up the process.
Booms are large metal arms that can move around and dispense water and chemicals. They’re common in self-service car washes, making it easy for people to grab hoses than will dispense the thing they need to wash their car.
Car Wash Chemicals
While water is a useful solvent, car washes rely on powerful soaps and other chemicals to give cars the best wash possible and leave them shiny. You’ll want to stock enough to make sure you can serve every car that comes through the wash.
Costs tend to be about $0.25 to $1 per car.
Tire cleaners are specialized equipment that washes and dry the tires and undercarriage of a car. They’re common in more premium washes performed using conveyor belt systems.
Mitter curtains are long strips of cloth or other material that hang from the ceiling and move back and forth to wipe a car down from hood to trunk. They help remove dirt and other materials from the car. Their cost can vary but is usually included in the cost of a tunnel system.
Dryer systems blow hot air at high pressure to remove water from the car as quickly as possible to leave cars streak-free when they exit the car wash.
Every business needs an attractive sign to help inform customers that they are open and the services they provide. Signage in and around the business can also be useful for advertising premium products or services.
Basic signage can cost a few hundred or thousand dollars, but your full logo design and marketing costs can easily be much higher.
Vacuums can be useful for helping people clean the interiors of their cars. They’re popular for self-service car washes and also as add-on services for automated systems.
You can adjust the various nozzles attached to equipment like rinse arches and hoses to adjust the type of wash cars get.
Air compressors are important for some car wash equipment to operate. Without compressed air, some tools can’t move properly. A compressor is also important for air dryers and tire inflation systems.
Undercarriage washing is a premium service that some car washes offer. These use high-pressure water to remove dirt and salt from the bottom of a car and can also apply rust-fighting substances.
In any automated car wash system, you’ll need a system that helps prevent collisions between vehicles. These are often included in tunnel control systems.
Hoses, Wands, and Guns
Your car wash needs a way to spray water, soap, and other substances. If you’re running a self-service or manual car wash, you’ll need these tools for each car wash bay.
Car Wash Doors
Doors keep noise, water, and chemicals inside the car wash and keep dirt, rain, and other elements out. They’re also key for controlling the flow of traffic.
List of Automatic Car Wash Equipment
Automatic car washes rely on a lot of expensive equipment. You’ll need things like:
- Conveyor systems
- High-pressure water systems
- Tire and undercarriage cleaners
- Wash controllers
List of Self-Service Car Wash Equipment
Self-service car washes can be cheaper to open than automatic ones. However, you may not be able to charge as much as an automatic car wash.
Common equipment needs include:
- Spray guns and nozzles
- Coin boxes
- Tire inflators
List of Mobile Car Wash Equipment
Mobile car washes have the advantage of being able to travel to where the customers are. However, they need expensive equipment that is easy to move around, such as:
- Water heaters
- Water storage
- Pressure washers
- Skid sprayers
- Spray guns, wands, and nozzles
- Water pumps
List of Car Wash Business Equipment
On top of the equipment that a car wash needs to actually wash vehicles, they’ll need a variety of other equipment and tools, such as:
- Cash registers
- Vending machines
- Coin boxes
Additional Car Wash Supply List
Car washes also need supplies to operate. Water and other equipment aren’t enough. Expect to keep these items stocked:
- Wash clothes
What’s the Average Cost of Car Wash Equipment?
The average cost of equipment for a cash wash can vary widely. In theory, you can start a basic car wash business with a few hoses, brushes, sponges, and some soap and water. Advanced, fully automated systems can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Factors that Affect the Cost of Car Wash Equipment
The primary thing that influences the cost of car wash equipment is the type of car wash you’re planning to operate.
Fully-automated car washes will cost the most to outfit. You’ll need expensive tunnels and conveyor belt systems as well as electronics and equipment to actually wash and dry the car.
Self-service car washes will cost much less because you only need more basic tools.
The size of the car wash, the brands you buy from, and the number of bays you open will also play a big role in cost.
Typical startup costs for equipment range from $50,000 - $150,000 or more if you’re opening an automatic car wash.
What Car Wash Equipment Can You Buy Used?
One of the best ways to save money on opening a car wash is to buy used equipment. It’s important to do your due diligence to make sure it’s been properly maintained, but it can save you a lot over new equipment.
Some things to consider buying used include:
What Car Wash Equipment Must Be Purchased New?
Some car wash equipment is best to buy new, either for reliability or other reasons, such as:
- Pressure washers
- Steam cleaners
How to Choose the Best Equipment Supplier for Your Car Wash
Choosing the best equipment supplier for any business is difficult. You need to strike a balance between the quality of the equipment, customer service, price, and other factors.
Make sure any vendor you choose is easy to work with and offers support for their products. If you can get help with maintenance and repairs, that is ideal. Also, make sure your vendor carries good equipment from reputable brands.
Eco-Friendly Car Wash Equipment and Supplies
Car washes use a lot of water and electricity, which means that they can have a big impact on the environment. Getting eco-friendly equipment and supplies can help reduce that impact and differentiate your business from the competition.
Water recycling systems and eco-friendly soaps are great ways to keep your business green. They will likely cost more than less green equipment and supplies, but you might be able to charge a premium to cover those higher costs.
How to Fund Equipment for Your Car Wash?
Car wash equipment can be very expensive, so it’s natural to wonder how you’ll afford it.
One common way people pay for equipment is to fund it out of their own savings. Many business owners self-fund their startup costs.
If you don’t have that cash on hand, the next best option is equipment financing loans. These loans help you buy essential tools and equipment. They’re also easier to qualify for than other types of loans because the equipment you buy serves as collateral.