Top Questions from Prospective Car Wash Owners: Operation
Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location

Talking through all the preliminary questions of building a car wash with prospective owners is important. Choosing a location, constructing the wash, and securing the best equipment are all critical to ensuring a strong foundation for car wash success. But inevitably we arrive at this point in the conversation: What can owners expect once the wash is built? Today, we’re tackling the topic of operation. Here’s what you need to know about running a car wash after the building phase is checked off.

On-Site Employees

Depending on the type of wash you operate, the number of employees you’ll need on the site can fluctuate. Here’s what we’ve found to be true in different scenarios: In-bay automatic locations typically require only a single part-time employee. Busier in-bay locations could require a full-time alternating shift between two employees.

Tunnel or conveyor-style car washes require full-time employment continuously while the site is open. For express exterior-only tunnels, two to three people per shift is typical with peak periods requiring more employees. Site managers and assistant managers are usually required as well. For tunnel sites that offer additional services such as quick detail or full service options, two to three times that number of employees could be necessary.

Return on Investment

This is hands-down one of the biggest questions on the minds of prospective car wash owners, and rightly so. Once the investment has been made, what’s the expected rate of return?

Of course, this number varies and depends on where your car wash is located and what type of wash it is. That said, a typical return on investment is 13-18%, with larger projects potentially reaching 20% or more. This is why the planning and proforma stage of the process is so important. Return on investment will vary greatly based on population, traffic, competition, and type of car wash.

For example, an in-bay automatic in a town with a population below 10,000 people with two competing washes could return 15%. A larger tunnel (conveyor) style wash with limited competition with heavy traffic could exceed 20%. Think about the type of wash you’re planning to operate and your own unique set of circumstances and environment, and you can project—to a degree—what your return on investment may be.

We’re here to answer your questions about site planning, construction, equipment, operation, and much more. Give us a shout to start the conversation about building your own car wash. That’s what we’re here for!

Top Questions From Prospective Car Wash Owners: Wash Types
Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location

Here at Harrell’s, we talk with a lot of prospective car wash owners. Naturally, those looking to break into the business have questions and curiosities about the brass tacks of owning a wash. There’s undoubtedly a lot to consider before building a car wash.

Every scenario is unique, but the questions are often the same. Prospective owners need to know about wash types, locations, the building process, and operation, among other important considerations. This month, we’re tackling one of the biggest questions we receive: What type of car wash is best for me?

This question is extremely important and needs to be answered early in the planning process. In order to move forward with the feasibility analysis (or pro forma), the team at Harrell’s will ask some basic questions: Will this be your primary business? Is this a supplement to an existing business like a convenience store or auto service shop? How much time are you planning to spend on site operating your wash? Are you in a high or low population area? Once some of these basic questions are answered, we can start talking about the type of car wash that’s best for you.

In-Bay Automatic

In-bay automatic sites are typically best for owners that already have a primary business or are adding a wash to an existing business, like a gas station.These sites require less employee oversight on an hourly basis and are designed to run unattended for pretty substantial periods of time.

In most cases, in-bay automatic sites have a lower threshold with regard to traffic and population requirements.They can be built in larger metropolitan areas as well as smaller towns with populations below 4,000 people. We have many single bay automatic sites in towns with fewer than 3,000 people. Many of these sites have self-serve bays as well.

For larger metropolitan areas with higher traffic numbers, additional in-bay automatics can be added in series. Two to four bay automatic sites are common throughout our territory. In-bay automatics are offered as either touch-free or soft-touch, and multi bay sites often have at least one of each.


The other type of car wash would be a tunnel, or conveyor style, car wash.These sites usually require larger populations and traffic and consequently require significantly more of the owner’s time.

Tunnel car washes are offered with an older, more traditional, steel in-bed conveyer or with newer belted technology. We recommend that tunnel washes always have employees on site during operational hours. Multiple employees working in shifts along with a management team is highly recommended for optimal operation.

The ROI for a busy tunnel site can exceed 15-20% but this return will require either a significant time investment or a significant investment in strong management. Most often, it needs both to be successful.

When it comes to the type of car wash you’ll operate, it all comes down to your unique situation. The team at Harrell’s has over 40 years of experience in the industry and we’re happy to help you navigate the process of building your own car wash, from startup to success!

Choosing a Car Wash Location
Building a Car Wash Choosing a Location Site Selection

There are numerous things to consider when choosing a car wash location. This decision is one of the most critical elements of the development process. Car wash site selection is a complex process and unfortunately is often made without proper planning. We at Harrell’s specialize in site selection and prefer to be involved before any offer is made on a property.

One of the most important questions to ask when choosing a site is, does the car wash I want to build match the needs of this market? The best location may be near major retail or big box shopping destinations. Many people stop to wash their cars while they’re running errands or grocery shopping, so proximity to retail is often very important. However, studies have also shown that people are willing to drive past a conveniently located wash for a better value.

Generally speaking, busier roads are certainly more desirable. However, there are other factors that should be taken into consideration such as traffic speed, road type, ingress and egress, income, competition and proximity to a traffic light. Weather also plays a major role in car wash success. Typically, harsh winter areas that require salt for paved surfaces create large surges in volume.

After a site has been selected, Harrell’s can also assist with feasibility studies and business plans. Moreover, there is no rule of thumb for property size. Depending upon the style of wash (tunnel, in-bay automatic, self serve) the property size will fluctuate greatly. Again, this is why it’s best to get us involved from the beginning!

If you have an interest in investing in a car wash, Harrell’s will provide you with the information you need to make the decision that is right for you. Again, we can assist you with every step of the process including site selection, site layout, as well as recommending contractors and/or financial institutions. Harrell’s can also help with a car wash remodel. We know how to help you make money by raising your per car average thus maximizing your revenue while managing your utilities. So whether you’re choosing a car wash location, building a new wash or remodeling your existing wash, give us a shout and we’ll help get you moving in the right direction.