Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Founding a Car Wash

Tour as Many Successful Car Washes as Possible

Car washes are diverse and complex facilities that require careful planning and no small amount of troubleshooting. So build as much experience as possible and get a sense for what a successful, thriving car wash feels and looks like.


Fine Tune Site Layout with the Help of Professionals

Site layout has a dramatic influence on capture rate, in/out speed, and return customer rates over the lifespan of the car wash facility. A good layout will easily make or break a site, which is why it is so important to perfect all details of the design with professionals who have a background in car wash layout design and day to day operations.


Focus on Quality from End to End

The retail business is extremely reliant on return customers. If you sacrifice quality or customers have a bad experience you will be continually be fighting to get them back. Focus on quality from day one and be prepare to make regular adjustments over time.


Operate Independently

Your team shouldn’t be forced to rely on outside services to maintain or service your wash, and you should never rely on someone else to tell you what your cost per car is. Train the right people and equip yourself with the right knowledge and experience to manage problems as they come up.


Work Hard to Reduce Labor

Overhead and administrative costs add up and are deeply underestimated by most. Focus on efficiency and invest in the right equipment to minimize labor requirements on-site.


Use an Invested Operator

The more deeply invested operators are in the car wash, and the more they have at stake, the more involved they will be. If investing in a car wash, instead of acting as your own owner operator, make sure you have the right person taking the lead.


Estimate Conservatively

A bad investment can take a lifetime to recover from. Projecting low can protect you from overextending and makes it easier for your wash to beat expectations.


Pursue Excellence

No matter what you do, do it the best of your ability. Don’t cut corners, don’t reduce value, and don’t skimp. It will end up costing more in the end. Factors like architectural designs, quality general contracting, landscaping, modern equipment technology, and total customer experience should never be sacrificed if you expect your wash to thrive.


Closely Evaluate Your Investment vs. Cost of Property Balance

When it’s all said and done you may find the value of your property is your biggest asset, especially if you might consider selling your wash in the long-term.


Focus on a Revenue Model Rather than Cars Per Year

While cars per year and total revenue are related, they aren’t equivalent. If you allow your overhead to climb or rely too heavily on costly promotions it will affect your bottom line, no matter how many cars are getting washed.



Do Not Underestimate the Draw of Great Architecture

The image you project on the outside of your facility is the impression the customer lives with long before they experience wash quality, value, and customer service. Choose a car wash facility design that is memorable and which makes a powerful statement.


Don’t Under Build or Under Spend

If your wash is too small for your location you won’t be able to handle incoming traffic, bottle necking your income and degrading both customer experience and wash equipment alike.


Don’t Over Build or Over Spend

If your site is too big the cost of your investment will weigh down your future growth and you won’t be able to maintain an appearance of healthy in/out traffic.


Do Not Rely on the Advice of Salespeople

Take your input from existing operators in the industry who will give you unbiased opinions regarding equipment, detergents, and operations.


Do Not Build Because of Ego

If there are problems with your plan be willing to back off and reevaluate. Good follow through won’t make a bad plan into a good one and sometimes it’s important to take the advice of an expert – even if that advice isn’t in line with your original vision.


Do Not Inflate Numbers for the Bank

Lying to the bank is only lying to yourself; if the bank won’t approve your business plan or financing you should honestly consider reevaluation.


Do Not Underestimate Depreciation

Washes experience significant wear and tear due the presence of water and the operation of heavy equipment. Take maintenance seriously and plan for replacement, repair, and upkeep costs.


Do Not Base Depreciation on Flat Time Schedules

Deprecation doesn’t have to do with time alone. It has to do with the total numbers of cars washed. As traffic increases so will your expenses, and the urgency with which you must address them.


Do Not Neglect Marketing

If your belt isn’t running at its maximum capacity, you aren’t reaching your wash’s full potential. Modern marketing practices, partnerships, and a flushed out plan relying on a combination of streetside, print, and digital advertising will help you expand your reach, market your promotions and wash memberships, and bring in more first time and returning customers.


Do Not Give Up

Car washing is a growing and changing industry and full size express tunnels with high-value membership packages are in extreme demand. Don’t give up if you have rough patches, reevaluate your fundamentals, and remember that success is out there waiting!


For more modern car wash fundamentals as well as an overview of the industry today and where it is going on the future, watch this presentation from the 2017 Car Wash Show, hosted by our very own Ryan Essenburg.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


10 Things Car Wash Managers Should Know

car wash operations


What are the most important lessons an experienced car wash manager have for their up-and-coming colleagues? We asked managers Nate Chandler, Brian Grecu, and Jeremy Welsh, all serving at our sister company Quality Car Wash of Holland, MI, and this is what they had to say:


1. Hourly walk-throughs are critical, and most major problems equipment and detergent problems can be avoided or caught early simply by being present and keeping the site monitored on a constant basis.


2. Be deeply aware of your wash quality standards and monitor your results closely and constantly. Just because a car leaves cleaner than what it did when it entered, doesn’t mean the wash is putting out a high quality, well-washed car.


3. Monitor chemical usage closely and keep product lines clean. The smallest inconsistency will cause a car not to clean or dry correctly and will affect chemical usage.


4. Bad weather days are blessing. Good managers use that time wisely to inspect, repair, and maintain the equipment and facility as a whole – especially around the changing of the seasons.


5. Mind your customer service. A smile will make the customers day, a clean and dry car will make both your and the customer’s day.


6. Appearances and routine tasks are important. Keep the vacuum area clean, check the trash cans hourly, and sweep up.


7. Learn all of your team members’ communication styles. Not everyone will react the same way to directions, it is important to know how each of your team members react and how they prefer to be communicated to.


8. Patience is a virtue. Be patient with your team. Be patient with your customers. Be a listener and hear what they have to say.


9. Even though you’re in a leadership position don’t stop asking questions or learning. Not everyone knows everything, nor are you expected to know everything. Having the willingness to learn from others is still a leadership quality.


10. Have the right attitude. As a leader your team looks to you and they copy you. If you have a great positive attitude it will rub off on your team and the quality of their work go up. If you have a negative attitude it will destroy the atmosphere at the wash.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


The Value of the Local Car Wash

Car wash tunnel arches


What value does the local car wash hold their customers, and the community at large? What does a community lose when they lack an updated and well-maintained car wash facility?


 Fast, Affordable Vehicle Maintenance

A dirty car experiences more wear and tear than a vehicle which is regularly cleaned. Road salt, used to keep pavement clear of snow and ice, is the most severe example and both triggers and accelerates rust and corrosion on exposed metal surfaces. Even in warmer climates a coating of caked mud, bug slime, or road tar will slowly etch at paint surfaces and degrade paint over time if tolerated.


Local car washes provide an extremely time and cost-effective way to scrub away these offending materials and protect the vehicle’s exterior—including the underbody where rust and corrosion is usually the most extreme.


 Greater Owner Satisfaction

From gearheads, to soccer moms, to retirees, each and every driver in a community deserves a vehicle that provides them a certain measure of satisfaction and respect. Dirt, tar, salt, and road droppings take an otherwise good looking vehicle and lessen its beauty. If the owner doesn’t have the time or isn’t physically capable of washing it themselves it has an impact on the way they feel—both about the vehicle and about themselves.


Car washes help by once again providing a fast and easy way for all vehicle owners to keep their cars looking new with body soap, spot free rinse, and tire shine service available on-demand. Not to mention on-site vacuum service for interiors heavy on pet hair, cheerios, or old French fries.


 Ecological Advantages

Washing the car in the driveway on warm summer afternoons is a distinctly American tradition, but it comes with an unseen environmental impact: detergent runoff into local waterways and significant water waste.


Car washes address both problems. Water use is metered and minimized, typically reduced to forty gallons or less per car (a fraction of the water pumped from a standard garden hose during an average driveway wash. All detergent runoff and cleaning products are kept out of storm drains and properly disposed of via sanitary sewers.


 Community Impact

In addition to hosting seasonal and entry level positions (ideal for students and new graduates), local car washes also have a strong tradition of supporting local organizations and otherwise serving their communities. From youth program fundraisers to unique local events, car washes provide a well-known and trusted venue for local philanthropy.



Fortunately, car washes today are experiencing a renaissance with updated equipment, wash products, and unified building designs changing the way the industry operates. Now learn more about Tommy Car Wash Systems’ patented building designs, access our equipment and detergents store, or learn about the nationally-expanding Tommy’s Express franchise.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


What is Grace For Vets?

Veterans Day – Nov 11 – is almost here! And that means that car washes across the USA will be taking part in a unique and growing tradition: Grace for Vets.


Since the event’s founding by Mike Mountz in 2004, Grace for Vets has stood for a single, simple principle: to give back to the men and women in uniform who give so much for our nation. Participating car washes open their doors to all veterans and active service members, providing free washes all day with no strings attached.


Born from a single wash only thirteen years ago, thousands of independent and often competing washes across four nations now participate each year.


If you are a car wash operator and you would like to participate, you should visit There is still time to sign up, get the word out, and celebrate those who have sacrificed and given so much of themselves!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


7 Reasons to Keep your Car Washed

Keep Your Car Clean!


While some Americans treat a visit to the car wash as a spurge, a luxury, or even as entertainment for the kids, there are good reasons to make a trip to your local car wash a regular part of your maintenance schedule. Here’s why:


1. Dirt is Damaging

While engines and wheels receive the lion’s share of preventative maintenance, the paint and coatings on your vehicle is an important barrier that prevents moisture and oxygen from rusting the vehicle’s frame. Unfortunately, that barrier can be steadily broken down by exposure to corrosive compounds including insect splatter, bird droppings, road tar, and even regular, run-of-the-mill dirt and dust. A regular wash keeps the surface clear and limits the damage dirt can cause.


2. Washing is the Only Way to Remove Road Salt

As corrosive as dirt and bugs may be, salt is much worse, and if you live in a climate with cold winters where salt is applied to melt roadways your car will be covered in it weekly. Even a few winters’ worth of salt can cause and accelerates rust across the frame, and even vehicle owners with heated garages or who take the time to rinse their vehicles down aren’t safe, as the elevated temperatures of the garage speeds the corrosive action and much of the salt is deposited on the bottom of the vehicle where rinsing is impossible. The only way to efficiently remove this salt from all surfaces is via a car wash with an underbody or undercarriage flush service.


3. It Keeps Your Car Looking New

Scrubbing away dirt and putting some shine on the tires goes a long way towards keeping a car looking like it did when you bought it. Not only does this mean that owners (like you!) feel better about the car longer, but when a car looks nice it also means that drivers and passengers tend to keep treating it better. This creates a positive loop where a nice looking car tends to stay looking nice longer, all thanks to a few quick car washes.


4. It Makes Driving Safer

Even a light layer of dust can impact visibility, especially when light conditions change. Anything that prevents a driver from clearly seeing out each window and mirror affects vehicle safety and a car wash is one of the quickest, easiest ways of keeping those surfaces crystal clear.


5. For Improved Fuel Efficiency

When the Mythbusters tested fuel efficiency between a dirty car and the same car cleaned up, they found that a clean exterior improved fuel efficiency by nearly 10%! Even light dirt build up can create drag and waste fuel over time.


6. It’s Safer for the Vehicle

Hand washing can be a perfectly good alternative to a trip through the car wash, but only if the washer knows exactly what they are doing. Using the wrong soap (dish, bath, or hand soap) will strip the clear coat and ruin the finish. Using the wrong brush or sponge will carve thousands of little scratches into the paint forever. And even if you have the right brush and the right soap, it’s still possible to grind dirt against the coat. A well-maintained automatic car wash, on the other hand, uses specialty chemicals and soft cloth specifically manufactured for its purpose, so that owners don’t need to take more time, buy more supplies, or risk mistakes to get a great car wash result.


7. It’s Better for the Environment

As we’ve written before, professional automatic car washes are a far greener option for car cleaning when compared to driveway washing. An automatic car wash uses far less water (thanks to targeted high-pressure nozzles and reclaim systems) and the soaps and waxes that rinse off are diverted via sanitary sewer to a water treatment plant. This keeps harmful chemicals out of local streams and lakes where they can trigger algae blooms and wipe out fish and animal populations.


Don’t put off taking responsible care of your car. Visit your local car wash today!


Tommy Car Wash Systems


8 Keys to Nurture Customer Loyalty and Frequency

Cultivating a faithful customer base is no easy task and must be considered one of the most important objectives of any new car wash. But once a critical mass of happy local customers are familiar with the brand and wash process, a wash’s work is still far from over. Maintaining these customer relationships and encouraging both increased loyalty and frequency among return customers is an ongoing objective crucial for meeting a facility’s maximum potential.

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Keeping Your Car Wash Employees Safe During Extreme Heat



This summer large portions of the country are experiencing high temperatures and humidity, with above average conditions expected through July and August. These heat spikes can be particularly dangerous for car wash employees and warrant measures to prevent heat stress and protect the individuals working your facility.

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Delivering a Positive Customer Experience, Even During Downtime

Car Wash Customer Service


Any length of car wash downtime is costly, and managers and operators should work diligently to prevent and minimize such occasions. Fortunately, with a thorough preventive maintenance schedule, robust backup systems, an up-to-date inventory of detergents, and a good stock of spare parts, the problems that cause downtime can be largely eliminated or minimized.

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