How Much It Costs to Build a Car Wash

Understanding the True Construction Costs of Car Washes

how-much-does-building-car-wash-cost

Are you considering building a car wash and looking to understand exactly how much it costs? If so, you are in the right place. This short but definitive guide will quickly walk through how much money it costs to build and construct a carwash.

Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to note and establish; this guide on the price to build a car wash is meant to be just that – a guide. As is true for most things, you can spend as much as you would like on anything. If you would like to build a four tunnel 140ft behemoth – you can. But that fantastical and unrealistic is not representative nor meaningful to you. This guide will focus on banding the average cost to build a tunnel carwash and how much each of the major cost components that go into such typically attribute to the overarching total build cost.

For individuals looking for information on the cost to build and / or construct other car wash models outside of the tunnel model, stay tuned. We’ll be coming out with concise definitive guides on the cost to build in-bay automatic / roll-over car washes as well as the cost to build self-service car washes soon.

For those considering getting involved with a car wash franchise model, such as Tommy’s Car Wash, and are currently weighing this option out in comparison to building a carwash on your own (non-franchise) – we at CWA have a piece covering exactly that coming out soon as well.


Start With Known Quantities

Some of the costs associated with building a car wash are highly variable, such as land costs. Underlying Real Estate costs vary greatly based on size of lot, micro geography, and macro geography in which the carwash is being built and the real estate is located. Let’s put those highest of all variability car wash construction costs to the side for now and focus on the more known (yet still somewhat variable costs) to start framing a true answer to the question at hand.


Building & Fixed Improvements

Building, Foundation, Doors, Walls, Roofing

Base Cost $1,250,000

Range of Variance +/- $250K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Length of Tunnel
    • It costs more to build a 150ft conveyorized tunnel than an 80ft tunnel
  • Total Sq. Ft. / Ancillary Business Segments
    • Dependent on the sub-type of car wash model that you are building (full-service, express, flex, etc.) you may need more square footage and larger building to include the necessary functions and services that are required of said wash model (i.e. – an indoor waiting area for a full service car wash in a high temperature geographical climate).
  • Material Decisions Chosen
    • Not all car washes are made the same. Deciding between a see-through building vs. a concrete block constructed car wash can have significant price implications on your build
carwash building fixed structure foundation build costs

Tunnel & Support Equipment

Blowers, Tire Shine, Conveyor, Hydraulics, Pumping Stations, Arches, Boiler

Base Cost $650,000

Range of Variance +/- $150K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Type of Conveyor Mechanism
    • Belt conveyors have some clear benefits over the tried and true chain conveyor car wash systems, but those benefits do come at a higher ticket price
  • Length of Conveyor
    • Which has implications on arches and other supplementary equipment as well
  • Ancillary Equipment Choices and Levels
    • High level of discretion up to the owner and car wash tunnel designer here
tunnel car wash build conveyor equipment costs

Water Treatment System

Water Reclaim System, Water Filtration System

Base Cost $150,000

Range of Variance +/- $100K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Whether you implement a reclaim system at all
  • Level of water filtration and type of water filtration and softening system implemented
carwash water treatment reclaim system building budget costs

Electronic Components

Paystation(s), Tunnel Controller, Relay Station(s), Misc. Electrical

Base Cost $275,000

Range of Variance +/- $125K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Anticipated volume will have the largest impact due to the level of capacity your systems and payment terminals / auto-cashiers (if implemented) will have to be able and capable of processing
cost of electrical components to build carwash

Site & Landscaping

Paving, Leving, Asphalt, Greenery, General Landscaping

Base Cost $200,000

Range of Variance +/- $100K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Size, shape, and frontage of lot
  • Level of landscaping and extras desired by owner
landscaping and site costs building carwash

Vacuum System

Motors, Drops, Accessories and Hoses, Plumbing, Related Cement Work

Base Cost $180,000

Range of Variance +/- $100K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Anticipated volume will have the largest impact due to the level of capacity your vacuum system and setup will need to be able to accommodate
  • Type and quality of vacuum system and setup
how much car wash vacuum systems cost for new carwash build

HVAC & Plumbing

Furnace, Heaters, Misc. Electrical, Misc. Plumbing

Base Cost $80,000

Range of Variance +/- $40K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Geographical location of wash is important
  • Levels of seasonal and temperature variation that will need to be accommodated for
costs-building-carwash-plumbing-water-routes

Signage & Marketing

Main Signage, Menus & Price Boards, Brand and Logo Design & Launch Marketing

Base Cost $150,000

Range of Variance +/- $100K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Desired level of passerby visibility
  • Amount of street frontage available on site
signage-costs-budget-new-express-car-wash

Planning & Permitting

Engineering, Architecture, Required Permitting

Base Cost $175,000

Range of Variance +/- $100K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Geographical area and local government
permitting zoning costs build carwash

The Highly Variable Costs

With the more predictable of the car wash construction and build costs now established, along with a reasonable range of variance conveyed depending upon the specifics of the wash you are looking to build, the time has come to focus on the hardest of the costs to predict and which vary the most from one car wash build to another.


Real Estate and Land

Land costs vary widely

Base Cost $1,250,000

Range of Variance +/- $750K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
  • Geographical area
  • Quality and grading of site
  • Size of the lot
price cost to acquire real estate to develop carwash and build car wash

Consultant & Third-Parties

Not always necessary and very situation dependent

Base Cost $250,000

Range of Variance +/- $250K

These add a meaningful cost line item to your total build cost. Whether correct for you will depend on your situation, desired level of time involvement, your goals – and most importantly – the quality and tangible value the consultant brings and provides during the build process.

developing new carwash consulting and consultant costs

Financing and Debt Service

Car wash financing varies greatly. Financing for building car washes vary even more than acquisition financing.

Base Cost $175,000

Range of Variance +/- $75K
Primary Cost Variance Drivers
financing cost for constructing carwash

Carwash Build Construction Costs Summary

Cost Component Lower End Base Costs Higher End
Building & Fixed Site Improvements $1,000,000 $1,250,000 $1,500,000
Water Treatment $50,000 $150,000 $250,000
Primary Tunnel & Support Equipment $500,000 $650,000 $800,000
Primary Electronic Components $150,000 $275,000 $400,000
Site & Landscaping $100,000 $200,000 $300,000
Vacuum System $80,000 $180,000 $280,000
HVAC & Plumbing $40,000 $80,000 $120,000
Signage & Marketing $50,000 $150,000 $250,000
Planning & Permitting $75,000 $175,000 $275,000
TOTAL - KNOWN QUANTITIES $2,045,000 $3,110,000 $4,175,000
Consulting and Other Third Parties $0 $250,000 $500,000
Real Estate and Land Costs $500,000 $1,250,000 $2,000,000
Financing and Debt Service Costs $97,605 $176,802 $255,999
TOTAL - HIGHLY VARIABLE $597,605 $1,676,802 $2,755,998
GRAND TOTAL - CARWASH BUILD COST $2,642,605 $4,786,802 $6,930,998

Summary

The cost to a car wash varies. However, hopefully the above analysis does provide a meaningful starting point and bounds for estimating how much you should anticipate spending to construct and build the car wash you considering making a reality.

Final Word

Although we’ll certainly have some pieces and materials coming out more specifically on this topic, the CWA team would like to leave you with one final thought and suggestion for those considering building a new car wash (regardless of whether or not deciding between building vs. an alternative route of acquiring or not).

We highly recommend being heavily focused on a single measure and metric of potential operating and financial performance when considering the potential payout and financial prudence (not to mention the site, path to build, etc..) when building a wash – your breakeven annual car count. As with anything, or at least we’re believers in this, it’s always safest to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. So when considering building a car wash, go to your downside case that you have built pro-forma projections for, extract the effective ticket price (make sure to keep anticipated unlimited membership pricing and expected volume attribution and not just use a simple and dangerous weighted average single wash ticket, along with your anticipated downside annual car count volumes, and figure out what level of safety and margin and error from this scenario you have in comparison to that of the ongoing maintenance costs and debt service costs given the total build cost you are expecting now after using this guide. If your downside / conservative pro-forma does not realistically have a considerable margin of error in comparison to your ongoing simple total maintenance and “keep-the-lights-on” costs – please don’t take this lightly. It may be the case that you have an error in your math, or you need to revisit and further sensitize your underlying projection assumptions. But this number, the minimum cars you have to wash to service the ongoing debt service based on your new build as well as the standard operating, maintenance and payroll costs to run the car wash – please make sure the math works before committing yourself to building a new wash.