Powerful Ways to Increase Your Car Wash Profitability


Since they come with a steady flow of customers, car washes are a popular option for people seeking to achieve their dream of owning their own business. While you don’t necessarily need any business training to become a successful car wash owner, staying profitable often requires some out-of-the-box thinking.

This guide will outline some tips and tricks to consider as you’re searching for ways to increase your car wash profitability. We’ve offered ideas for full-service car washes as well as automatic rollover washes and self-service washes. Whether you’re a new car wash owner or a long-time car wash operator who’s simply wondering how to make a car wash more profitable, these car wash marketing ideas will maximize your earning potential.

1. Make Sure Your Statistics Are Accurate

Before you can work on increasing your profitability, you need to make sure you’re working with the correct data. This means more than just knowing your income and expenses per month. You need to be able to figure the average profit margin per car washed.

Before you can work on increasing your profitability, you need to make sure you’re working with the correct data. This means more than just knowing your income and expenses per month. You need to be able to figure the average profit margin per car washed.


Expenses involved in running a car wash include:

  1. Electricity: Blowers account for over half of a site’s power consumption.
  2. Natural gas: Natural gas is needed for hot water, heated dryers and bay heating.
  3. Water: It typically takes 45 to 65 gallons of water to wash one vehicle, although car washes with reclaim systems will have lower water costs.
  4. Chemicals: Detergent costs vary widely, so it’s crucial to shop around to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.
  5. Customer damage claims: As a car wash owner, you’re liable for damage you cause to a customer’s vehicle. Properly maintained equipment reduces the risk of damage, and a good security system with cameras at several angles discourages the filing of fraudulent claims.
  6. Site labor: Full-service car washes tend to have the highest labor costs, but labor still remains a key expenditure in any business. However, labor is a fixed cost, even on a slow day. As you grow your customer base, labor contributes less to the cost of each car wash.
  7. Office labor and expenses: This includes administrators, general office supplies, advertising and other related expenses.
  8. Equipment costs: Equipment costs come in two forms: the cost to purchase new equipment and the cost to maintain what you already own.
  9. Rent or mortgage: Rent or mortgage costs vary widely by location, but those who have a mortgage on the property will also need to pay property taxes.

Car Wash Staff
Monthly Business Expenses

There are multiple factors that affect your monthly business expenses. For example:

    1. Region: Your geographic location affects everything from your labor cost to your water rates.
    2. Equipment quality: Older equipment may be less efficient, while certain brands have higher depreciation costs.
    3. Operator expertise: Trained staff can make or break a business. For example, a novice operator who drops a little extra soap on the floor with every wash or applies a triple coat where it’s not needed creates unnecessary


To determine your average profit margin per car, you subtract your expenses from your income and divide this number by the number of cars washed during the specified time period. Once you have this figure, it’s much easier to look for possible areas of improvement.

2. Create a Welcoming Environment for Your Customers

The easiest method of increasing car wash profitability is to create an environment that customers will want to visit. This means that your facility should be neat, clean and well-maintained. Attractive outdoor landscaping and signage is also important. It’s not nice to judge a book by its cover, but nobody wants to visit a dark and dirty-looking establishment when they have other options.

Your staff should be friendly and professionally dressed. They should greet each customer personally, although forcing staff to shake hands should be avoided. Shaking hands often comes across as pushy, which makes customers think you’re trying to sell them more than they need. A smile and a warm hello is sufficient.

If many of your customers are parents with young children, consider implementing features that will help keep kids entertained while they wait. For example, Mojo’s Full Service Car Wash in Omaha, NE offers an Internet café for parents and a kids’ play area that challenges kids to see how many cars they can shoot with a pre-soak cleaning foam. Even something as simple as a waiting area with cartoons on a TV and coloring books or puzzles nearby can help make your customers feel welcome.

3. Create a Consistent Brand

Branding is a marketing process that involves creating a unique name and image for your business in the minds of your customers. Your brand should highlight the factors that make your business unique, whether it’s a focus on top-notch customer service, budget-friendly prices or premium services that appeal to owners of luxury automobiles.

Your brand is reinforced with your logo, website, advertising and the design aesthetics of your business. All of these elements need to work together to convey the value of your services in the mind of your customer. Although professional branding assistance can be expensive, it’s a worthy investment if you’re operating in a crowded marketplace. Without a consistent brand for your car wash, you’ll never be able to distinguish your business from that of your competitors.

4. Use Coupons or Reward Cards to Expand Your Customer Base

Coupons and reward cards are an inexpensive way to attract new customers and build customer loyalty. Examples of possible coupons or reward promotions include:

  1. Buy 10 car washes, get one free
  2. Free car wash on your birthday
  3. Purchase a card for $20 that gives you discounted services for one full year
  4. 50% off one car wash when you sign up for store e-mail
  5. 25% off oil change with a car wash
  6. 25% off services on Fridays if you present your college student ID

Car Wash Coupons

Today’s customers still love traditional newspaper coupons, but they’re not the only option to consider. Online coupons and offers delivered via smartphone apps can also be good ways to increase your car wash profitability.

Cross promoting with other local businesses can be effective as well. For example, you could try partnering with a local auto body shop to have them pass out coupons that say, “As a token of our appreciation, Redline Auto Body would like to offer you $3 off at Acme Car Wash.” In turn, you’d have your business pass out coupons offering Redline Auto Body discounts.

If you’re worried about too many coupons diluting the value of your brand, try distributing targeted offers delivered to specialized groups, such as people who’ve recently moved into the neighborhood. You can develop these lists on your own or purchase them from a company that specializes in direct mail campaigns.

5. Redesign Your Menu

A well-designed menu is a crucial part of the success of your business. Don’t add too many options to your menu, however. A menu that is overly complex is likely to be ignored. Generally, you want to limit your menu to a maximum of four packages. The names of each package should be simple and easy to remember, which is why Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum are universally popular choices. The most expensive package should be listed first, since we instinctively read top down and left to right. The text itself should be visible from several feet back and not lost in a sea of other graphics.

To increase your profits, try adding value-priced packages that give the biggest incentives for the top tier. Tire dressing, for example, should only be offered in the highest-priced value package. However, it’s a mistake to offer labor intensive services such as interior dressing at a discount in your wash packages. These services should be part of your á la carte menu, due to the higher expenses you’ll incur.

After you’ve designed your menu, train staff to promote the higher-priced packages. If your staff ask “Wash only?” as part of their sales pitch, that’s all they’ll sell. Think about when you visit a fast food restaurant and order your meal. The cashier will almost always ask if you’d like a value meal with fries and a drink, then ask if you want to supersize your purchase. Many people take these upgrades even though they’re trying to cut calories just because it seems like too good of a deal to pass up. The same principle applies to selling upgrades at your car wash.

One of the most effective tactics for a car wash is to have staff members act as service advisers. This means that each customer will have their vehicle inspected by a staff member who recommends appropriate services such as a package with wax for a car with an aging paint job or wheel treatment to take care of brake dust.

6. Expand Your Product Offerings

Supplemental Car Wash Sales

In many cases, businesses that are struggling to become profitable need to think outside the box to generate new revenue sources. Supplemental product sales can go a long way towards creating financial stability for a business.

For a car wash, additional product offerings might include:

  1. Auto air fresheners of various scents
  2. Car mats in different colors and styles
  3. Car and/or wall chargers and charging cables for mobile phones
  4. Car litter baskets and accessories
  5. Car organizers in different colors and styles
  6. Key chains from local tourist attractions, colleges and/or sports teams
  7. Greeting cards for a variety of occasions, possibly from a local artist
  8. Gift cards marketed at various demographic groups, such as parents looking for affordable yet practical gifts for their young adult driver
  9. Snacks and drinks for customers to enjoy while they wait for their car to be cleaned
  10. Die-cast toy cars or other small toys parents might pick up as a treat for their young children

Keep displays of smaller items near the cash register to increase the odds of impulse purchases and to reduce the risk of theft. Make sure your best-selling displays are regularly restocked.

Adding new services to your car wash can be another useful way to increase profits. Speedy Green Car Wash in Manassas Park, VA offers a self-service dog wash station and a self-service bike wash with a specialized lift system to let customers easily clean every nook and cranny of their motorcycle. Neither service requires a large amount of space, but both add new revenue streams that help keep the business profitable.

7. Give Back to the Community

Everyone loves to feel like they’re making a difference, which is why people will often go out of their way to patronize businesses that give back to the community. Being perceived as a socially conscious business will give you an edge over your competitor, especially if you highlight your good deeds as part of your branding strategy.

Surprisingly, there’s an easy way to give back to the community while increasing your own profitability. Partner with local nonprofits such as community rec centers, youth groups, food pantries or homeless shelters. Provide each group with a stack of passes they can distribute with a unique identifying number for their organization. When someone uses this pass at your car wash, you agree to donate a small percentage of the sale to the organization’s charitable efforts. The organization distributing the passes raises funds with no upfront cost for them, and the passes serve as low-cost advertising to attract new customers to your business. Metro Car Wash in Tucson, AZ has operated a program of this type with great success.

Another way to give back to the community while boosting your own business is to offer local groups the opportunity to sell car wash gift cards and keep a percentage of the sales for their group. When so many groups are stuck selling overpriced wrapping paper or poor-quality chocolates, practical items like car wash gift cards can be a welcome change for their fundraising needs. Gleam Car Wash in Denver, CO takes this approach to combining philanthropy with efforts to increase their overall profitability.

8. Invest in Security to Deter Thieves

Invest in Security to Deter Thieves

Unfortunately, car washes tend to be a popular target of thieves. These types of businesses almost always have cash on site, and the steady flow of vehicles entering and exiting makes it easier for thieves to slip out unnoticed.

Security measures for your business should include:

  1. A good alarm system.This is a necessity for your car wash. You want a system that can detect intruders as well as broken glass. The system should send an automatic alert to a manager as well as local law enforcement officers when something suspicious is happening.
  2. A visible security system with cameras at multiple angles.This strong theft deterrent carries the added bonus of making customers feel safer.
  3. Locks for any self-serve items such as vending machines, vacuums and bill-changers.
  4. Bright lighting in all areas of the property.
  5. Closing gates to keep vehicles from entering the property at night if your business does not operate 24 hours.
  6. Steel cages or concrete barriers around vending or payment stations for a car wash located in a high-crime area.

9. Manage Your Online Reputation

Before the Internet, a customer would share his or her experience with close friends and family. Now, anyone can reach thousands or even millions of people by posting a review on Yelp, Facebook or even their own personal blog. This means even one dissatisfied customer can significantly decrease your sales.

To manage your business’s online reputation, create a Google Alert with your car wash name, location and other relevant keywords. Google will send you an email whenever a new reference to your business is posted. Promote the positive reviews on your own website and social media pages. If there are negative reviews, add a post explaining your side of the story or attempt to contact the poster directly to see what can be done to resolve the issue.

10. Stay on Top of Equipment Needs

Maintaining Car Wash Equipment

When you’re busy managing the day-to-day activities of your business, it’s easy to overlook routine maintenance of your equipment. Unfortunately, failing to maintain equipment can reduce its useful life expectancy and/or create equipment failures at the most inopportune time.

Ask your suppliers about a recommended maintenance schedule and include these appointments as reminders in your to-do list. Read your warranty carefully to make sure you understand what repairs are covered and what actions might accidentally void the equipment warranty.

11. Use Your Downtime Wisely

Obviously, car washing habits are influenced by the weather and the typical workweek. You’ll be much busier on a sunny Saturday than a rainy Tuesday. While there’s nothing you can do to control these natural fluctuations, you can use them to your advantage by scheduling any necessary maintenance or staff training during times you anticipate to be slow.

You can also strive to reduce downtime by making sure your employees are focusing on tasks that matter and that they understand what to do next. Clear communication between staff and management is essential.

12. Remember the 80-20 Rule


In business school, students learn that 80% of any business’s income is expected to come from 20% of their products or services. To increase your profitability, keep detailed records of the gross profit margin for every type of car wash and supplemental product your company offers. Eliminate anything you determine to be dead weight to free up funds for expanding your most profitable areas.

The 80-20 rule often applies to customers as well. Track your customers using demographic factors such as age and location. Once you’ve identified your most profitable customers, consider creating a survey that asks them for specific ways in which you could improve. The answers may surprise you.

13. Be Smart About Raising Prices

Every small business owner knows that raising prices can be tricky. If prices go up too fast, you risk alienating your regular customers. If your prices are significantly higher than the competition, you may see large numbers of customers choosing to go elsewhere. However, if you operate at a loss, you won’t stay in business very long.

If you’ve determined that a price increase is necessary to keep your car wash profitable, consider implementing a frequency discount to keep your regular customers happy. Tracking customers by license plate makes it easy to determine when they last visited. Offer a $3 discount for a return visit within two weeks, a $2 discount for a return visit within four weeks and a $1 discount for a return visit within six weeks. This protects your regular customers from a price increase while offering your new customers an incentive to visit more often for the most affordable car wash services.

14. Choose Vendors You Can Trust

Call Windtrax Today

Trustworthy vendors act as partners to ensure the overall success of your business. Family-owned and operated Windtrax, Inc. provides everything you need for your car wash. This includes detailing equipment and supplies, pumps, changers, times, electric motors, water heaters and vending items such as air fresheners or towels. Call 1-800-433-0676 or email orders@windtrax to learn more about how we can help take your business to the next level.