Industry Information

The Facts

Americans drive more than 253 Million cars on the road. More than half get their cars washed professionally on a regular basis, and this percentage is growing. The International Car Wash Association’s “Car Love” campaign points out that a professional car wash protects a car’s value, provides satisfaction to the owner, and is much better for the environment than home-washing.

Car Wash Types

If you are serious about owning a car wash, you will need to learn about the car wash industry. Car washes come in six basic types:

  • FULL-SERVICE CONVEYOR WASH – The customer gets out of the car, which then goes through a conveyor tunnel equipped with machines which clean the exterior. Employees clean and vacuum the interior. Most full-service car washes offer detailing services such as waxing, polishing and interior steam cleaning.
  • EXTERIOR-ONLY CONVEYOR WASH – The driver stays in the car during the ride through the conveyor tunnel. The business does not provide interior cleaning, although these washes typically offer self-serve vacuum stations for use by customers.
  • FULL-SERVICE HAND WASH – Employees wash the exterior and clean the interior without the help of an automatic tunnel. Although this business requires less capital than a conveyor wash, it cannot serve nearly as many customers and requires higher labor costs.
  • IN-BAY AUTOMATIC WASH – An in-bay automatic provides an automatic carwash, the car remains stationary in a bay while the equipment moves back and forth over the vehicle. Gas station car washes are usually in-bay automatics.
  • SELF-SERVICE CAR WASH – At these do-it-yourself stations, the customer washes his or her own car, paying for time to use a water hose and detergents.
  • FLEX SERVE – This is the combination of express-exterior and full-service offerings on one property. Exterior-only customers exit the tunnel to free self-serve vacuums. Full service customers that purchased interior services follow signs to a finishing area where they park and exit the car and usually wait in a lobby for the service to be completed. Ideally customers return to the car where they left it and drive away, eliminating the extra labor, liability, and training required when staff move vehicles on the property.

Financial Information

Due to franchise regulations, we are unable to provide earnings estimates for a car wash. You may review other sources of financial information, such as:

  • 2002 Cost of Doing Business Report produced by the International Carwash Association. This report is available for a fee from the ICA. for more information >>
  • 2004 Automatic Carwash Operations Benchmarking Report, published by Professional Carwash & Detailing, August 2004. This report is available for a fee from Professional Car Care Online. Visit for more information
  • The information from these sources is not provided by Cactus Car Wash. We bear no responsibility for the accuracy or inaccuracy of any such information.


Industry Links:

To learn more about the car wash industry, we encourage you explore the following links: