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What is a Car Wash Business?
In 2022, there were more than 40 million licensed vehicles in the UK, with the majority of these vehicles being cars. With approximately 1.24 cars per household and the number of cars in the UK steadily increasing, now could be a great time to set up a car wash business.
A car wash is a type of business that cleans the exterior and sometimes the interior of cars. It may also include detailing the vehicle fully.
There are several different types of car washes, with different equipment and different levels of service. When choosing the type of car wash business to set up, consider your budget, the types of services you want to offer your customers and the likely demand in your chosen location.
When setting up your car wash business, you can choose to set up:
An automated car wash
In an automated car wash, the vehicles are not cleaned and serviced by employees; instead, a series of machines work in synchronicity to clean the cars.
There are two main types of automated car wash:
- Conveyor wash: In this type of car wash, the driver drives the vehicle onto a conveyor belt inside a long tunnel. The conveyor belt methodically moves the vehicle forward into different areas where a series of coordinating machines work together to clean the car.
- Roll-over wash: This is a compact car washing machine that is equipped with a variety of washing systems, car washing products and chemicals and drying systems. The driver drives into a bay and remains stationary whilst cleaning equipment moves (rolls over) over the vehicle.
Automated car washes can include contact cleaning, where soft-cloth brushes are used to wipe away dirt and grime, and touchless, where high-pressure water jets and detergents blast wash dirt and grime off the car.
A full-service car wash
A full-service car wash involves thorough car cleaning by employees, with the aid of equipment and machinery. A full-service car wash typically offers both exterior and interior vehicle cleaning. The services can vary, and customers can usually choose exactly what services they require, e.g. polishing, waxing, tyre and wheel detailing and mat cleaning. A full-service car wash provides quality auto detailing procedures that are designed to clean and maintain the vehicle and prolong the vehicle’s life.
A self-service car wash
Customers pay a significantly lower price to clean their cars themselves. The car wash business will provide any cleaning equipment, such as high-pressure water hoses, vacuum cleaners, tyre inflators and cleaning chemicals but will not be involved in the cleaning of the car. This type of business may be situated at a petrol station or service station and will likely feature an automated pay station and no employees.
A car wash that focuses on cleaning the exteriors of cars is designed to offer a quick and efficient service that requires little wait time for customers and is a more affordable price. Car detailing is a much more thorough process that aims to restore the car to a near-new condition. Car detailing can take significantly longer (sometimes several hours) and costs a significantly higher price.
The types of services you choose to offer will vary significantly, depending on the type of car wash business you set up.
Some of the services customers might want from a car wash include:
- Removing dirt, grime, dust, insects, bird faeces and grease.
- Soaping, rinsing, cleaning, sanitising, washing, shining and drying the body of the car.
- Polishing and waxing the paint.
- Tyre and wheel detailing.
- Window and windscreen cleaning.
- Cleaning the engine.
- Interior detailing, including vacuuming, cleaning the upholstery (e.g. shampooing the seats), cleaning the rugs and cleaning the interior hardware (e.g. steering wheel, handbrake, dashboard, console).
- Sanitising the air vents.
- Paint restoration.
- Undercarriage washing.
- Headlight and rear light reconditioning.
As well as the services listed above, you will have other responsibilities associated with running a car wash business, for example:
- Purchasing, cleaning and maintaining equipment and machinery.
- Ensuring your business complies with all safety regulations, including fire safety and electrical safety.
- Pricing your services.
- Handling quotes and customer payments and preparing invoices.
- Advising customers on how best to look after their vehicles.
- Managing inventory and ordering cleaning products.
- Marketing and advertising.
- Completing business and administrative tasks.
Starting up a car wash business can be extremely lucrative. To help your business succeed you will need an understanding of how car wash businesses operate and a strong business plan. Good organisational skills, good physicality (if you will be involved in the car washing services), strong interpersonal skills (to help you communicate effectively with customers) and knowledge of the relevant health and safety regulations can also be advantageous.
Types of Customers
Although your typical customer base could be made up of anyone with a car, certain factors can influence the specific types of customers who frequent your business.
Defining your target market makes it easier to focus on the specific customers who are most likely to pay for your services and determine exactly where and how to market your business.
Some of the factors that can influence your typical customer base include:
The type of car wash you set up and the level of service and detailing you offer
This is one of the most important factors in determining your typical customer base. An automated car wash is likely to attract customers who are looking for a quick, convenient and cheap car wash whereas a full-service car wash that offers additional services, such as waxing, paint restoration and headlight restoration, is more likely to attract customers who want a luxury service and are happy to pay extra money to take care of their car (for example, car enthusiasts and the owners of expensive or valuable cars).
This is another important factor in determining your typical customer base, as vehicle owners typically choose a car wash that is conveniently located to them. This could include a car wash that is close to their home or place of work. Some car wash owners choose to set up their businesses in a commercial location with a high volume of vehicles. For example, you could run your business from a shopping centre car park, offering shoppers a car wash or valet experience while they shop. Consider the location of your business to get a good indication of your typical customer base.
This will be a key factor in determining your typical customer base.
Customers can typically be separated into different pricing tiers:
- Budget: Price is the most important factor for this type of client. They will likely be happy with fewer services and a less thorough car wash, as long as the price is low.
- Mid-range: This type of client is looking for a combination of quality and affordability. Although price won’t be the most important factor, it will be a significant consideration.
- High-end: This type of client is willing to pay the highest prices for the best possible service. They will likely want the highest quality cleaning materials and equipment, the most thorough car wash and additional cleaning and restoration services. These factors will be more important than price.
Your branding, marketing and advertising
How you opt to advertise and market your business can impact the potential clients you reach. Your business name and logo, the aesthetic and design of your business and the design of your website or physical location can also impact your typical clients.
Your reputation and customer reviews
This is another important factor that many people will look at. They may look at your customer reviews or choose a car wash based on recommendations.
Your reputation and reviews will likely be based on multiple factors, such as:
- The quality of your service.
- How you interacted and communicated with clients.
- Your pricing.
Equipment You Will Need
Equipment is an essential purchase, as without it you will not be able to run your business. The type and amount of equipment you require will depend on the type of car wash business you set up, the services you offer and the size of your business (i.e. how many cars you have the capacity to clean at one time).
Below is a list of equipment typically required by a car wash business.
An automated car washing system
If you open an automated car wash, you will need to invest in an automated car washing system, such as a conveyor tunnel. Your conveyor tunnel will need to have large dimensions (to fit larger cars, such as 4x4s and people carriers), advanced technology with synchronised machinery and effective washing, cleaning and drying equipment. Having a conveyor tunnel made from stainless steel can help to prevent rust and make it easier to keep your car wash clean. Your system should also come with a countdown traffic light, telling customers when they can enter and exit the conveyor belt. You can choose from a flat belt conveyor system or a chain conveyor system.
High-pressure water equipment
You will need high-pressure hoses and washing systems to help you remove stubborn dirt and grime and ensure a more efficient clean. High-pressurised water can remove dirt from hard-to-reach areas, including the undercarriages and roofs of cars. Having a high-pressure washer system also allows you to offer touchless car washes. Your equipment could also include water guns (to turn the chemical and water spray on and off) and wands that have a variety of spray tips and nozzles.
A closed-loop reclaim system
You will need this type of system (or something similar) to ensure the economical use of water. The system is designed to recycle, filter and reuse water. It allows you to use and reclaim water through a filtration system. Used water will be captured in the reclaim system and filtered so it can be reused. A water reclaim system allows you to use water more economically and ensure your business is environmentally friendly, while also helping you to keep your water bills down.
There are a variety of different chemicals you can use to clean, wash and rinse the cars. You can choose from liquid chemicals, foam-based chemicals and gel chemicals.
Car washes typically use a wide selection of chemicals, including:
- Pre-soak: This is applied prior to the cleaning process. It prepares the surface of the cars for cleaning and waxing.
- Drying agents: This is a chemical compound that removes water from surfaces and helps it to evaporate more quickly.
- Protectants: Surface protectant chemicals help to form a chemical barrier to filter out potentially harmful UV rays. They also make it more difficult for contaminants to bond to the surface of the paint and can help to repel water.
- Wheel cleaners: Wheel cleaners can help to remove metallic contamination from your wheels and remove dirt, brake dust, grime, mud, tar and oil.
- Car shampoos: This is a cleaning product that removes the final layer or remnants of dirt from your car. It lifts and holds dirt ready to be rinsed off.
- Triple foams: Triple foam products are a type of conditioner and/or polish. They prepare the vehicle to accept sealant and protective products.
- Paint sealants/clear coat: This product penetrates the pores of the car to protect it from the elements. They provide short-term protection from UV light and weather.
- Glass cleaner: You will need to use glass cleaner on the windows and windscreens of the car to ensure a more efficient and streak-free clean. Glass cleaner can also improve driver visibility.
- Tyre shine: This gives black tyres a glossy finish. They can be water-based or solvent-based.
- Upholstery cleaners: These are specific types of cleaners that are used in the interior of cars. You will need different cleaners for leather, vinyl, fabric and plastic.
Your cleaning brushes will be an essential aspect of your business. There are multiple types of brushing materials you may require, depending on the type of business you are setting up:
- Microfibre car wash brushes: This is a type of brush made from soft microfibre cloth that easily picks up dirt and grime from a car without scratching the paintwork.
- Wraparound brushes: This type of brush is most commonly used in a tunnel car wash. They are large (usually with a reach of 6 ft) with controlled cleaning pressure, for safe and effective cleaning. They work in a circular motion in the direction the car is moving to give a higher quality clean.
- Wheel brushes: These are used to clean the rims of your vehicle. They are shaped specifically (usually long and thin) and can bend and contort to go between the spokes of your wheels and behind the wheels to ensure a more thorough clean. They are made from specific materials to ensure they do not scratch or mark the surface of the wheel.
- Tyre brushes: There are multiple different types of wheel and tyre brushes, made from different fabrics, bristles and different materials. They can be used to remove dirt, oil and grime from between the treads and grooves of the tyre and from the tyre sidewalls.
- Brushes with hose attachments: This type of brush allows you to clean and brush the exterior of the car while also rinsing away any soap or residue that is left on the vehicle. They are typically used at the end of the service.
- Sash detailing brushes: This is a small brush with soft bristles that can be used to clean both the exterior and interior of cars. They are most often used for small, hard-to-reach areas, such as interior vents, dashboards, grills and alloys.
- Interior cleaning brushes: These are used for cleaning leather, fabrics and plastic surfaces in the interior of cars.
- Pet hair removal brushes: Removing pet hair from the interior of a car is a common request from customers. A pet hair removal brush is a more efficient way of removing stubborn pet hair, compared to other methods such as vacuuming.
- Carpet brushes: This is a type of heavy-duty brush that has stiff bristles, making it more durable. It allows you to scrub carpets more intensely and efficiently.
Cloths are another type of cleaning material that will be essential to your car wash business. Some of the cloths you may require are:
- Window cloths: This type of cloth is specifically designed for cleaning and wiping windows and windscreens. They are usually absorbent and lint-free, to ensure no residue is left behind on the windows.
- Microfibre washcloths: These can be used for a variety of tasks, as they are made from soft material and are particularly capable of collecting dirt and dust. They can be used on both the exterior and interior of the cars.
- Detailing cloths: High-quality detailing towels can be used on paint, without causing scratches and damage. They can be used to wipe off dirt, dust, grime and debris, as well as to help you apply wax to the car.
- Drying towels: You will need to choose drying towels that will not damage the paintwork of the cars and won’t leave any streaks.
You will need different types of nozzles for different tasks. They provide different pressures and types of water delivery and can be used to achieve total coverage when applying chemicals.
There are multiple different types of nozzles you can opt for, including:
- Flat spray.
- High-impact streams.
- Low-impact streams.
- Wide angles.
If you offer car waxing, you will need specific equipment to apply wax to the cars. You may opt for a wax arch, which is formulated to work on glass, chrome, rubber, metal and plastic and forms a water-resistant coating. You can opt for a foam applicator that generates foam wax using tubes fitted with special nozzles. Alternatively, you can choose a nozzle applicator that applies liquid wax using the same types of nozzles that you will use for rinsing the cars with water.
You will need a dryer system that uses high-pressure air to remove drops of water from the vehicles. This ensures that the cars are streak-free and do not have water spots. You can opt for a full-sized dryer that the car drives into or a smaller, handheld blower or dryer.
You will need cordless, handheld vacuum cleaners that can be used to collect dirt, dust, hair and other debris from the interior of a car. Ensure your vacuum cleaners are lightweight and compact and have an extendable nozzle to help you tackle tight, hard-to-reach areas, such as the sides of the seats.
Buckets and sponges
This is a necessary piece of equipment for a car wash business and allows you to wash certain parts of the car by hand. You can fill the buckets with warm, soapy water or specific types of cleaning chemicals.
Buffing tools, sometimes known as polishers, can be used for dealing with light scratches, eliminating swirl marks, removing damaged paint and helping to shine the paint.
Undercarriage wash applicators
This type of equipment is used to clean and rinse the underbodies of the cars. They deliver high volumes of water to the underneath of the vehicles to remove dirt, grime and salt.
A website is useful for advertising your business and could act as your primary advertising strategy. Your website should list the types of services you offer, descriptions and photographs of your previous work, your location and your contact information. Design your website to include your business logo and to reflect your branding.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE can help to protect you and your employees, particularly when handling chemicals and potentially dangerous equipment. PPE can help to protect your skin, respiratory system and overall health and safety.
Some of the PPE you could opt for includes:
- Goggles or safety glasses.
- Face masks.
- High visibility clothing.
- Waterproof, steel-toe-capped boots.
- Chemical-resistant aprons.
Brochures, leaflets and business cards
These items are essential to your marketing and advertising strategies. These items should look professional, be made using high-quality materials and fit the design and aesthetic of your business. Ensure all of these items feature your contact information so potential clients can get in touch with you.
A fully stocked first aid kit
Accidents and injuries can easily occur in this type of environment. Some injuries will be minor and can be treated onsite. Others may require medical intervention but initial treatment using items in a first aid kit can reduce the severity of the injury. Ensure your first aid kit is stocked with items to treat cuts, burns and sprains.
A CCTV system
CCTV can protect your business from potential break-ins and theft. A CCTV system can cost between £300 and £5,000 depending on the specification of the equipment, how many cameras you require, and the installation costs.
Automated payment machines
Self-pay kiosks will be a necessity for automated and self-service car washes. Customers can use the machines to choose their car wash or service and make a payment, either with cash or on their card. The machine will then produce a ticket or token that the customer can use to access the car wash or the cleaning equipment.
Reception and admin equipment
Some of the equipment you may require for your reception are:
- A cash register and Point of Sale (POS) system.
- A laptop or computer.
- A phone – for customers to make appointments.
- An appointment book or scheduling software – to keep track of appointments and cancellations.
- A reception desk and chair.
- Business cards and appointment cards.
- Pricing signs and opening hours signs.
- Shelving for displaying products.
A waiting area
Depending on the type of car wash business you set up, whether your clients need to exit their cars (e.g. for interior cleaning) and how long each vehicle will take, you may require a waiting area, with equipment such as:
- Comfortable chairs.
- A table.
- A coffee machine or water cooler.
- Magazines and newspapers.
When you are planning your car wash business, you will need to calculate the approximate costs associated with setting up and running this type of business. Calculating your typical costs allows you to estimate your initial investment requirements, any monthly and annual costs, your pricing strategy, your profit goals and your acceptable profit margins.
There are multiple costs associated with setting up and running a car wash. Some of these costs will be one-off initial costs that you will need to pay when you are setting up your business. Other costs will be ongoing costs you will need to pay regularly – usually weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.
The typical costs associated with a car wash business can vary, depending on whether you offer full-service, self-service or automated car washing, the type of car wash services you offer and the size of your car wash.
The typical costs you can expect include:
Your business location will likely be your biggest expenditure. You will need a large car parking or outdoor area so that you can work on multiple cars at one time, have space for customers to queue up or wait and have enough space to install your car washing equipment. You will need to rent your premises on a monthly or annual basis. Rental prices can vary significantly, depending on the location and the size of the premises. City centres or busy locations usually have the highest rental costs. Rental costs are often calculated per square metre. They can range significantly, from £500 to £15,000 per square metre annually. Prices may differ if you operate your car wash from another business’s premises, e.g. from a petrol station or shopping centre car park.
Refurbishment and installation costs
Unless your premises previously operated as a car wash business, you will likely need to refurbish or convert your premises to install the equipment you need for your business and make the area fit for purpose. You will also want to refurbish and design your premises to fit the aesthetic of your business and make it attractive to customers. Renovation costs can vary, from £500 to £20,000 depending on the level and scale of work required. Renovation costs could also include installing water lines, pipes, a water tank and electrical systems.
Your equipment will likely be a major expenditure when setting up your business. Your equipment costs can vary, depending on the type of services you offer, the size of your premises and how many cars you want to clean at one time. To reduce your start-up costs, you could buy only essential equipment initially and then purchase more equipment as your business grows. You can expect to spend between £3,000 and £50,000 on equipment.
Maintaining, repairing and replacing equipment
Repairs, maintenance and replacements are ongoing costs you will need to factor into your budget. Although some of your equipment and machinery will come with warranties or guarantees, repairs and replacements are inevitable because much of your equipment will experience heavy usage, may be used in a variety of weather conditions and can come into contact with harsh chemicals. Cleaning and maintaining equipment and ensuring it is used correctly can extend its life, but potential repairs and replacements should still be factored into your budget.
This is an ongoing cost you will need to factor into your budget. You will need to make regular orders for chemicals such as pre-soak chemicals, drying agents and tyre cleaners. You will likely also need to regularly replace cleaning materials such as sponges and cloths. To reduce the cost of your cleaning materials, purchase in bulk and purchase directly from the wholesaler.
These are the day-to-day costs associated with running your business. Some running costs are paid monthly, and others are paid quarterly or annually. Your most significant ongoing cost will likely be your water bill, as you will be using unusually large amounts of water every day. Other running costs can include electricity, gas, council tax and insurance. To maximise your profits, try to keep your running costs as low as possible.
You will need to hire staff to help you run your car wash and increase the number of cars you can work on at one time. You will need to pay any staff you employ at least the national minimum wage and account for other expenses such as holiday pay, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, National Insurance and any company pension contributions.
When creating your brand identity, consider how you want your car wash business to be perceived by potential customers. When creating your brand, consider the type of car wash business you are setting up, the services you will offer and your typical customer base. Branding can include creating your business’s visual identity, design and aesthetic, your business name and logo, your signage and your website. You could hire a professional to help you with branding or do some or all of the work yourself. Branding can cost between £500 and £10,000, depending on the level of work required.
Advertising and marketing
To ensure your car wash attracts customers and creates maximum profits, you will need to spend money on advertising and marketing. It is recommended that you spend between 1%–3% of your annual turnover on marketing. For example, if your annual turnover (or your desired annual turnover) is £90,000, you should spend between £900 and £2,700 on advertising and marketing. You may need to invest more money when you initially set up your business or when you are trying to grow your business. To reduce your costs, capitalise on free marketing strategies, such as on social media or in your local community. Once your business is established, you should be able to reduce your advertising costs.
There are multiple coverage options available for a car wash business. Some types of coverage are optional, whereas others are mandatory.
Your coverage options include:
- Public Liability Insurance.
- Employers’ Liability Insurance.
- Professional Indemnity Cover.
- Building and Contents Cover.
- Personal Accident Insurance and Accidental Death Cover.
- Financial Loss Cover.
Prices can vary, depending on your insurance provider and the level of coverage you choose. Prices typically start at £15 per month.
Typical Pricing for Customers
Once you have calculated the expected costs associated with setting up and running your car wash business, you can then determine your pricing.
Your pricing strategy will depend on multiple factors, such as:
- The type of car wash you run (e.g. automated or full-service).
- Whether the customer opts for exterior only or exterior and interior cleaning.
- The types of services provided.
- The type and size of the vehicle (e.g. larger vehicles are usually charged at a higher price).
- Your location.
- Your business’s reputation.
- How long each car wash will take.
- Your equipment and machinery.
You may charge a set fee (e.g. £8 for a basic car wash) and then charge additionally for each service. Alternatively, you could offer exterior and interior cleaning packages. If you run an automated or self-service car wash, your pricing will be set, and customers will likely make cash or card payments at a payment machine.
Safely Running a Car Wash Business
Safe practices in your car wash business can help to protect the health, safety and well-being of you, your employees and your customers. Safe practices are also designed to protect the vehicles you are cleaning and prevent any damage or incidents from occurring.
Some ways you can safely run your car wash business include:
Ensure contaminated water does not enter the drainage system
As the business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure you protect the environment and prevent contaminated water (e.g. the water you have used to clean the cars) from contaminating the environment and water sources, such as rivers.
Some procedures you could implement include:
- Make a drain plan (e.g. the types of drains on your property and where they discharge to).
- Check your drains regularly for blockages and leaks.
- Paint any manhole covers according to the standard code (blue for surface water, red for foul water and a red ‘C’ for combined water).
- Install an oil separator.
Create a pollution incident response plan (PIRP)
A pollution incident response plan is a procedure that can be implemented to minimise pollution in the event of a leak, a spill or a fire. Your PIRP should be tailored to your premises and the type of pollution that could occur.
Your PIRP should include:
- Emergency contact details.
- A product safety data sheet (PSDS).
- A layout plan of your premises.
- Details of the drainage arrangements on your premises.
- Information about emergency response equipment.
- Details of your emergency procedures.
- How to report incidents.
- A summary of your business.
Ensure chemicals and potential pollutants are stored correctly
To prevent chemicals from leaking or spilling, you must ensure that:
- Any chemical containers are in good condition.
- You inspect the containers regularly.
- Chemicals and other pollutants are protected from theft or vandalism.
- Chemicals are protected from floods.
- All chemicals are clearly marked with the potential risks and hazards.
- Hazardous and non-hazardous waste is stored separately.
- Chemicals are stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
Use water efficiently
Using water efficiently and recycling or reusing water in your business can help to protect the environment and help you to run your business more economically.
Some ways you can ensure you use water efficiently include:
- Set up a water recycling system or install facilities that enable you to filter and reuse water.
- Use trigger-operated spray guns so that you can control the amount of water you are using.
- Treat wastewater from vehicle cleaning (e.g. by using collecting systems).
- Use an oil separator to remove oil, grease, petrol or diesel from any used water.
Protect you and your employees from potentially hazardous substances
Exposure to chemicals and potentially hazardous substances can have a detrimental effect on the health of you and your employees. To minimise the risks, PPE should be used at all times. This includes gloves (to protect the hands from chemicals and oil), goggles (to protect the eyes from chemical sprays and steam cleaning) and masks (to prevent you from inhaling brake dust, chemicals and paint and to protect your airways and lungs).
Properly maintain and set up equipment
Any equipment you use in your business must be properly maintained, correctly set up and safe to use. You must protect yourself, your employees and your customers from accidents or injuries caused by equipment. You should also perform regular equipment inspections to ensure your equipment’s safety and help extend the lifespan of your equipment. Maintenance includes dusting, cleaning and washing equipment regularly and checking it is functioning correctly.
Check and maintain electricals, electrical outlets and plumbing
Not only can this save you money by avoiding damage, repairs and replacements, but checking and maintaining electricals and plumbing can help to protect your equipment from faults and protect the health and safety of everyone who visits your business. Implement a system for regularly checking outlets and plumbing and ensuring they are up to code.
Carry out risk assessments
Risk assessments are a legal requirement for businesses with more than five employees. However, even if your business has fewer than five employees, risk assessments are still recommended to ensure the safety of you, your staff and your customers. Risk assessments can help you to identify any potential hazards and risks in your business and how these can be reduced or eliminated.
As part of your risk assessment, you should:
- Identify hazards.
- Determine who could be at risk.
- Evaluate any potential risks.
- Implement relevant safety measures.
- Record the results of the risk assessment.
- Review the risk assessment regularly.
Implement safety measures
There are multiple safety measures you can implement to protect your business, your employees and your customers, including:
- Install fire alarms and smoke detectors.
- Install a CCTV system.
- Keep a fully stocked first aid kit.
Obtain health and safety training
Obtaining health and safety training can ensure that you and your employees follow safe practices at all times.
Some training courses you could opt for include:
- Manual Handling.
- Workplace First Aid.
- Assessing Risk.
- PUWER Awareness.
- Fire Safety Awareness.
- COSHH Awareness.
Complying with legal requirements is essential when setting up and running your car wash business.
Failure to comply with legal requirements could not only result in an accident or injury, but you could also face consequences such as a warning, a fine, the forced closure of your business or, in serious circumstances, prosecution.
Some of the legal guidelines you should be aware of include:
Comply with pollution prevention guidelines
Pollution prevention guidelines apply to all vehicle washing and cleaning by any method (including automated car washes and handwashing). Any effluent and run-off from washing vehicles have the potential to include pollutants (such as dirt, brake dust and oil) that could contaminate and damage the environment. To prevent pollution, you must ensure that your business does not discharge any effluent or dirty water into the sewage system without first seeking permission.
To ensure compliance, your business should:
- Be designed in a way that avoids or minimises the amount of contaminated water you are producing (e.g. implement a drying system).
- Use a designated washing area with proper drainage facilities.
- Arrange for the correct disposal of any waste.
- Have procedures in place in case of a spillage emergency.
Apply for a waste carrier registration
If your business transports waste or arranges for someone else to dispose of waste (for example, used water or oil), you will need to apply for a waste carrier registration. You will need to register as a lower-tier waste carrier if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland or a professional collector or transporter of waste if you live in Scotland.
You can apply for your registration with the following governing bodies:
- England: The Environment Agency.
- Wales: Natural Resources.
- Scotland: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
- Northern Ireland: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Any contaminated water from your business should be recycled or removed by a registered waste carrier.
Apply for an environmental permit
You will need to apply for an environmental permit if your business uses surface water or groundwater to clean vehicles or if you plan to discharge wastewater or effluent into drainage systems or into waters such as rivers, streams, lakes or coastal waters.
Comply with the Environmental Protection Act (1990)
The Environmental Protection Act has several different regulations that you must ensure you comply with.
These regulations refer to:
- The disposal of waste chemicals and detergents.
- Energy efficiency.
- Pollution prevention and control.
- The disposal of waste to land, water and air.
Comply with regulations regarding storing and disposing of hazardous substances
Some of the substances you use as part of your business are classed as hazardous substances. This includes cleaning chemicals and car wax. Different local authorities may have different guidelines regarding hazardous substances, so contact your local authority or the Environmental Health Department for more information.
Comply with the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999
These regulations are designed to stop the waste, misuse, undue consumption, erroneous measurements and contamination of the drinking water supply. If you need to install pipelines or water fittings when setting up your business, you must ensure any plumbing work complies with these regulations, particularly if you work on a premises that has a public water supply connection.
Comply with the Consumer Rights Act 2015
The Consumer Rights Act is designed to protect customers from sub-standard work and overpriced services. It covers the selling, terms and condition and supply of services (including car washing) to ensure consumers are better informed and more well-protected.
Under this Act, your customers have the right to:
- Request that substandard work is redone or receive a price reduction.
- Challenge unfair small-print terms, conditions and costs.
- Reject work if the tradesperson (you) used their one chance to redo the service ineffectively (e.g. the car is not cleaned to expected standards).
Comply with the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998
PUWER regulations apply to you and any employees you hire. You must ensure any equipment is fit for purpose and is maintained and inspected regularly. You must also ensure that health and safety risks are minimised to an acceptable level, that you have the correct knowledge and training to use the equipment, and that protective measures are put into place. You must also ensure the equipment is used under appropriate conditions. PUWER covers all equipment, including car washing systems, chemical sprayers and wax applicators.
Comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations
The COSHH regulations state that you must control any potentially hazardous substances. You must appropriately assess, control and reduce any risks or potential hazards and protect people from harm. COSHH can apply to hazards related to the chemicals you use, brake dust and oil and petrol residue.
Comply with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013
RIDDOR states that you must report all injuries, diseases and dangerous events that occur in your business. Reports must be made to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) using an appropriate recording document. As injuries may be more likely in a high-risk business, because you will be working with potentially dangerous tools and hazardous items, appropriate recording can help you to recognise any mistakes or patterns and prevent future injuries.
Comply with the Manual Handling Regulations (1992)
Manual handling is an inevitable part of car washing and much of the day will be spent completing manual handling activities, including handling heavy and powerful equipment, reaching high and bending low (to clean the tops and bottoms of the cars) and repetitive movements (e.g. when wiping or brushing). Manual handling, especially when done incorrectly, can result in pain or injury. Following manual handling regulations can help to protect you and your employees from sustaining an injury or illness as a result of manual handling tasks.
Comply with fire regulations
You must ensure fire safety measures are implemented onsite, particularly because you are working with electrical equipment and chemicals. There are multiple fire regulations you must ensure you comply with.
- Perform a fire risk assessment.
- Comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
- Implement any necessary fire safety measures.
- Implement emergency procedures and ensure these are clearly displayed on your premises.
Comply with the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989)
The Electricity at Work Regulations state that any workplaces that use electricals must construct electrical systems in a way that prevents danger, maintain electrical systems to ensure they are safe, ensure electrical equipment is checked by a competent person annually and conduct Portable Appliance Tests (PAT). This includes any electrical equipment or machinery you use to wash the cars.
Prepare a health and safety policy
The law states that every business in the UK must have a specific policy for managing health and safety. Your policy should state exactly how you will manage health and safety in your business, who is responsible for specific tasks and how and when these tasks are completed.
Appoint a competent person
A competent person should be appointed to help your business meet your health and safety legal duties. You can act in this role yourself or appoint another person to fulfil this role. The competent person should have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify any hazards in your business and put controls in place to protect people from harm.
Comply with employment legislation
You must ensure you follow employment legislation, including the Employment Rights Act (1996) and the National Minimum Wage Act (1998). You must also comply with legislation relating to recruitment, working hours, sickness, discrimination, dismissals, and maternity or paternity pay.
Comply with invoice or receipt guidelines
You may make it standard that all of your customers receive a receipt or invoice once they make a payment to your business. Even if you don’t make it standard, some customers will request receipts or invoices.
You should include certain information in any invoices you create, such as:
- The word ‘invoice or receipt’.
- Your business name and address.
- A brief description of your work.
- The total you are charging the customer.
- The payment method.
Ensure your website complies with the guidelines
If you set up a business website, there are several guidelines you need to comply with, including:
- Privacy policies.
- Cookie legislation.
- Service descriptions.
Under the Equality Act (2010) you must also make reasonable adjustments to your website to ensure it is accessible to people with disabilities.
Comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992)
Under these regulations, if your business has five or more employees you must ensure you conduct appropriate risk assessments, minimise any risks and maintain all equipment. You must also make sure high levels of cleanliness are maintained.
Appoint a first-aider
All workplaces in the UK must have an appointed first-aider. In the event of an accident or injury, you will then be able to administer the necessary first aid. Although a first aid qualification or certificate is not legally required, it is the easiest way to demonstrate your first aid training.
Apply for a music licence
If you play any music on your premises, you will need to apply for a licence with Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) and/or a Performing Right Society (PRS) Licence. You can apply for both a PPL and a PRS online.
Register your business
You must register your business with HMRC before you begin operating. You can register as a sole trader or as a limited company. You will need to register your business name and any other relevant information.
Register for self-assessment tax
This allows you to calculate and pay your own taxes each year. You will need to track your finances every month and submit any expenses as part of your tax assessment.
As part of your tax responsibilities, you must:
- Record all forms of income and expenses.
- Complete an annual self-assessment tax return.
- Register for VAT if you earn above the threshold (currently £85,000).
- Pay National Insurance contributions.
- Keep a record of your business accounts for the previous five years.
Positives of Owning a Car Wash Business
Starting up a car wash business can be rewarding in many ways.
Some of the main pros associated with this type of business include:
A huge number of cars in the UK
With more than 40 million licensed vehicles in the UK, there should always be a demand for your services. Whether your business is based in a big city, in a town or in a village, residents and workers will have cars that need cleaning and maintaining, and this can result in higher profits for your business. The car wash industry is showing positive signs of growth, which makes it more likely that your business will succeed.
Choose the type of car wash you set up
As the business owner, you have complete control over the type of car wash you want to set up. You can choose a full-service, hands-on approach or an automated or self-service car wash. You can also choose the types of services and level of car detailing you want to offer and how and where to run your business. You can make the best decisions for you and your business, based on what is most likely to be profitable and your business preferences.
Opportunities for small businesses
Unlike many other industries, the car wash industry is not dominated by major companies or popular franchises. The majority of car wash businesses are small, independent businesses that operate in the local community. This results in more opportunities for small businesses and opens up gaps in the market for new businesses to succeed.
Easy to operate
This type of business is simple to set up and run, particularly compared to other businesses. You don’t need any specific skills or training and can set up your business with only a basic knowledge of how the machinery and equipment run. The car washing industry is easily accessible to the average person.
Potentially no staffing requirements
Many car wash businesses operate with no or minimal staff. If you run an automated or self-service car wash, your business can operate without staff for the majority of the time or with only one staff member present for safety purposes. This can reduce the cost of running your business and can reduce your managerial responsibilities; for example, you won’t have to worry about creating a rota, managing your staff or handling payroll.
As the business owner, you can choose your own workload and the number of hours you work. You can run your business around your personal life, for example, by only opening your business during the week. You can hire staff to take over the day-to-day running of your business and be as involved in the business as you choose.
Customer retention and recommendations
People often use the same car wash every time, particularly if it is conveniently located and provides good service. People often also recommend their favourite car wash to their family, friends or neighbours which can help you to grow your customer base and your business. This can help to maximise your profits and ensure the success of your business.
Running a car wash involves many different tasks and different responsibilities. You can work on different types of vehicles and perform different services every day, meaning that every day is likely to be different. Varied work keeps your profession interesting and stops you from getting bored in your job.
Seeing the results of your work and the satisfaction of your customers when they see their clean, transformed vehicles can be very rewarding. Knowing that your work can help your customers’ vehicles to run better and extend their lifespan can be very satisfying. You can have a lot of pride in what you do.
Unlimited income potential
The more experience and exposure you gain, the more successful your business will be. As your business grows and you develop a good reputation, you should also see your profits grow. You can charge higher prices and hire more staff and expand your business to increase your profits. A car wash business can have a high-income potential and your profit margins could be high. With a good business plan and strategy for growth, your business could have unlimited income potential.
Great for car enthusiasts
If you are passionate about cars, working in this industry can be very rewarding. You will be working on a huge range of vehicles, including sports cars, vintage cars and off-road vehicles. You will have the opportunity to look inside the cars, speak to their owners and restore the cars to a like-new condition, which can be enjoyable and rewarding for someone who loves cars.
Be involved with the local community
You will likely operate your business in a location close to your home. This allows you to connect with people from your local area and become more involved in your local community. You can build personal and professional relationships in your community and get involved with community events, such as charity car washing.
Free advertising on social media
You can easily gain exposure on social media by posting photos or videos of your work online. Your customers may also post pictures to their own social media accounts which will be seen by their followers. This can help you to gain exposure and be noticed online. Social media is a form of free advertising which can help you to grow your customer base and increase your income.
Be your own boss
You can make all key decisions yourself and steer your business in whichever direction you choose. You can choose how involved you want to be, the type of car wash business you want to set up, the service you offer and whether you hire employees. You can make the best decisions for you and your business.
Negatives of Owning a Car Wash Business
Although running a car wash business can be rewarding in many ways, there are some potentially negative aspects to this type of business that you should be aware of.
It can be weather dependent
A car wash business can experience a significant disparity in business and income at different times of the year. During the times of the year when there is high rainfall (which can be most of the year in the UK), car owners are much less likely to pay for a car wash as the rain can wash away much of the dirt and debris or they may think there is little point in washing their cars when the roads are so muddy. This can result in very little business and low profits, particularly when compared to the summer months when people are more likely to get their cars cleaned.
Many people clean their cars themselves
Many car owners prefer to clean their cars themselves, rather than pay someone to do it for them. All you really need for a basic car clean is a hose, cleaning products and a vacuum cleaner – which many people already have in their homes. This can result in decreased demand for your services, particularly as the cost of living increases and people look at how to save money.
Equipment is expensive to buy and costly to maintain
Regardless of the type of car wash you set up, purchasing your equipment will be a major expenditure. Your equipment will also require regular maintenance and you may face frequent outgoings to maintain or repair your equipment. At some point, your equipment will need to be repaired or replaced, which can significantly affect your profits.
Relying on equipment
Your business is completely dependent on your equipment and machinery functioning correctly. If any of your equipment develops an issue or breaks, or there is an issue with your plumbing or electricity, you will not be able to run your business, which can result in a huge loss of income. It can also make your business appear unreliable to customers.
With so many already established automated and full-service car washes in operation, you will face high competition. It can be difficult to establish yourself in the market and develop a customer base if there are already reputable car washes in operation in your area. Customers are more likely to choose a car wash they have visited before or that has been recommended to them, making it difficult for new businesses to enter the market.
High start-up costs
Setting up a car wash business requires a large initial investment. Renting your business location and purchasing equipment and machinery can be expensive. Not only does this mean you might need to source outside investment, but it also makes your business high-risk. It will also take you longer to begin turning a profit.
High overhead costs and low-profit margins
A car wash has higher overhead costs than many people realise, including your rental costs, running costs and staffing costs. With the rising cost of energy bills (particularly water and electricity) and a higher national minimum wage, you may find that your profit margin is lower than you expected.
It can be difficult to grow your business
Although it is relatively easy to set up a car wash business, it is not a particularly scalable business. Because the industry is so competitive, it can be difficult to grow your business, upsell your services and open additional car washes. Difficulties in achieving long-term growth can make it difficult to sustain your business long term.
Adhering to regulations
There are many different laws and regulations you need to be aware of, including environmental laws and regulations that are designed to protect your employees and customers. Failure to comply (even if it is not intentional) could result in an injury or a serious incident (such as a fire) and could result in you being fined or prosecuted. Complying with all requirements can be time-consuming and expensive and can result in additional stress.
No matter how careful you are, there is a multitude of potential hazards and dangers when working in a car wash. From potentially dangerous equipment and working conditions to the potential exposure to hazardous chemicals and biohazards such as dirty water. There are also other hazards associated with working in wet conditions and working with equipment and materials that pose a fire risk. A car wash business could experience injuries or illness, to you or your employees.
Some of your clients may be demanding in their requirements and expectations and may request additional work or expect you to remove difficult dirt from the interior and oil stains on the wheels, even on the most basic car wash package. They may expect you to complete their service in an unreasonable timeframe, with no understanding that you may have other customers to consider. To avoid complaints or negative reviews, you may feel like you have to cater to these customers, even if their demands are unreasonable. This can be stressful and time-consuming.
It can be physically demanding
Working in a car wash requires a lot of energy, physicality and manual handling. You will likely be handling heavy, cumbersome and potentially dangerous equipment and bending down or reaching high to clean the cars. You could also be using repetitive movements that cause pain or strain. Additionally, you will also be working with potentially hazardous chemicals regularly. Running a car wash business can have a negative effect on your physical health.
Potential damage to vehicles
No matter how careful you are, there is always a risk that a vehicle will become damaged at your car wash. Equipment, such as brushes, could cause scratches or damage to the paintwork and chemicals could damage the bodywork or interior of the car. Mistakes can be expensive, as you may be expected to fund the cost of repairs. They can also damage the reputation of your business.
It can be stressful
As the business owner, you will have a lot of important responsibilities, such as dealing with customers, handling your day-to-day responsibilities and ensuring health and safety. You will also face the additional pressure of being responsible for the success of your business. Running your own business can be stressful.
Irregular working hours
Car washes don’t typically follow a 9-5, Monday to Friday working week. Instead, to maximise profits, they have to be open in the evenings and at the weekend when customers are more likely to be available to bring their vehicles in. To result in more custom, you may have to open long hours every day and run your business 6 or 7 days a week. Not only can this be exhausting, but it can also have a negative effect on your personal life.
Your business could fail
Starting up your own business can be risky. Many new businesses fail which could result in you losing money or getting into debt. Your business could fail for several reasons, such as high local competition, an ineffective business plan or if the UK encounters another recession or a period of financial difficulty. Because a car wash business usually requires a high initial investment, the failure of your business could have a detrimental effect on your finances.
As you are self-employed, you won’t receive benefits such as pension contributions. You will also be responsible for doing your own taxes and organising your National Insurance contributions. You will also have a lack of job security.
Although the majority of customers leave honest reviews, some customers are difficult to please and will leave a negative review because of the smallest complaint (even if it is something outside of your control, such as a long wait time). Sometimes a fake customer also leaves a fake review, which can be extremely difficult to disprove and remove. Negative reviews can be extremely damaging to your business, particularly if your business is new or you’ve had relatively few reviews.
Planning Your Car Wash Business
If you are considering starting up a car wash business, an effective and well-designed business plan is essential. A business plan can help you to focus on the specific steps that will help your business succeed, plan your short-term and long-term goals, determine your financial needs and help your business to grow.
Your business plan should contain information such as:
- Your company information.
- Your company description.
- The services you will provide.
- Your branding, marketing and advertising plan.
- The structure of your business.
- The operational plan for your business.
- The financial plan for your business.
When creating your business plan, some factors you will need to take into consideration include:
The type of car wash you will set up
This is the first consideration you will need to make when creating your business plan. You can choose an automated car wash, a full-service car wash or a self-service car wash. The type of car wash you set up will have a significant impact on your staffing and equipment requirements, your start-up costs and your likely income. Consider local demand, your available capital and how you want to run your business when determining what type of car wash you want to set up.
The services you will offer
Once you have determined the type of car wash you are setting up, you can then decide what services you want to offer. Will you focus on exterior cleaning or offer both exterior and interior services? Which services do you want to offer (e.g. car waxing, interior detailing and paint restoration)? Consider your own skills, training and experience and how profitable different services are likely to be when making your decision.
Your staffing requirements
Your staffing is an important consideration you will need to make. Your staffing requirements will depend on the type of car wash you set up and how big your business is. Your employee requirements could change as your business evolves and grows.
Your target market
Determining your target market is a key step in helping your business succeed. Different types of car wash businesses and different services will attract different customers. Some other factors that can influence your target market are your location, your reputation, your skills and your pricing strategy. Once you have identified your target market, you can then focus on how to attract these customers to your business.
Your local competition
Being aware of your competition is an important step to ensuring the success of your business. Analysing your competition allows you to look at what they do well and what you think can be improved upon. Look at the services your competition offers, their pricing, their target market and the number of employees they have. Analysing your competition also identifies whether there is space in the market for your business; for example, if there is already a successful self-service car wash operating in your area, you may choose to set up a full-service car wash instead.
Your brand and your unique selling point (USP)
Creating your brand is a key way to ensure you stand out from your local competition. Branding can help you to focus your target audience, attract clients and concentrate your marketing and advertising strategies. Some ways you can create your brand are by focusing on your business’s visual identity (e.g. your business name and logo) and creating a brand story. Your USP can also be part of your brand and can help your business stand out from your competitors. Consider what makes your business special and how this fits into what defines your business.
Your advertising and marketing strategies
There are many ways you can choose to advertise your business. This can include partnering with other businesses in your area, advertising in your local community, advertising on social media and using paid online ads. Your marketing and advertising plan should detail what your brand is and how you plan to promote your business. As part of your marketing strategy, consider the most effective ways to reach your target audience and attract potential customers.
Your equipment requirements
Consult the list above to determine your equipment requirements. The equipment you require will depend on the type of car wash business you set up and the size of your business. Once you have determined your equipment requirements, you can then calculate the initial costs of purchasing the equipment.
Your start-up costs and running costs
Consult the list above to calculate your approximate start-up costs and running costs. Determining your approximate costs allows you to calculate your initial investment and what your monthly or yearly running costs will be. You can then calculate whether you can finance your business yourself. Being aware of your expected costs also allows you to create a budget, which is a key part of your business plan. Once you have calculated your approximate costs, you can then calculate your pricing policy and determine your profit forecast.
Financing your business
Consult the list of start-up costs and running costs above to determine what capital you will require. Can you finance the business yourself or will you need to source outside investment? You will also need to calculate when you are likely to begin turning a profit. If you require outside investment, you could consider a bank or other financial institution, a business loan or an investment partner.
Your pricing policy
How will you price your services? Will different types and sizes of vehicles have different pricing? Will you offer a base price or set packages? Will additional services be priced individually? Consider the pricing of your competitors and your overhead costs when setting your own prices.
Your sales forecast
How many cars can you work on at one time? What is the maximum number of cars you could clean per day? Are there certain times of the year that are likely to be busier than others? What are your weekly, monthly and annual sales forecasts? You can also analyse the sales forecasts of similar businesses and look at how sales vary throughout the year to estimate demand. As your business grows, your sales forecast is likely to change.
A strategy for growth
Your strategy for growth is the actions you will take to realise your goals for expansion and any potential challenges your business could face and how you will avoid or overcome them. This can help to make your business more successful.
Potential challenges could include:
- Bad weather affecting business.
- Long wait times deterring customers.
Some potential strategies for growth include:
- Hiring more employees.
- Focusing on full-service or valet services to increase your profits per vehicle.
Your business summary
Your business plan should include a detailed overview of your business, including the type of car wash business you are setting up, the services you will offer, your typical customer base, your staffing and equipment requirements and your business goals.
Your business goals
Your business goals or objectives are an essential part of creating your business plan. Your business objectives highlight the targets and goals of your car wash business and help you to create a one-year, three-year and five-year business plan.
Your business objectives should be SMART:
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Achievable
- R = Realistic
- T = Time-bound
Check you have complied with all legal requirements
Consult the list of legal requirements above to check you have complied with all requirements and regulations and that all your paperwork is accurate. Failure to comply with legal requirements could have a detrimental effect on your business or could result in a fine, the forced closure of your business or, in serious cases, prosecution.