How Many Car Wash Businesses Are Sustainable?

I fully admit that I’m not the target audience for a car wash business, but I’m started to be baffled by the sheer number of them.

I drive a 2003 Toyota Camry that gets “washed” whenever it rains. Occasionally I’ll take a Swiffer pad and some Windex to wipe the dust off the dashboard.

That may sound gross, but my car is quite tidy. I don’t think you’d ever look inside of it and think it’s a dirty car. It’s not spotlessly clean, but it’s fine. Totally fine.

Yet as I drive around St. Louis these days, I notice these massive car wash businesses, sometimes on the same street less than a mile from each other. Even more surprising, they’re busy. I saw one recently that was packed with cars.

People have clearly invested quite a bit in these car wash centers, but I just can’t fathom that so many of them are sustainable within a given area. Are that many people paying for car washes on such a regular basis that they can all stay in business? I’m fascinated and curious. What do you think?

4 thoughts on “How Many Car Wash Businesses Are Sustainable?”

  1. ok, here is a perspective. I have been driving the car my mom got me for my 17th birthday until last Friday and I was the same way. Rain was a wash and I would vacuum it out like once a year. It was 12 years old and it had been through it all.
    But Friday, I bought my first car. With my money. It’s so shiny and clean and mine. I want it to be like this forever. And I am already thinking about taking it to get a bath. I love it so much and I want to make sure it stays super clean and beautiful.

    • Congrats on your shiny new car! That certainly makes sense, and I bet I’ll feel similarly if I ever have a newer car than a 2003 Camry. 🙂

  2. It’s a clean business! I used to do the accounting for 2 Car Washes in South Carolina and was amazed at the number of people who washed their cars so regularly. In South Carolina in the spring, there is a lot of pollen that is sticky and creates a yellow layer on the cars that really should be removed to maintain that shine. The real trend in the car wash business is the unlimited wash monthly pass. My boss converted both washes recently to this model and renovated the wash tunnel and business took off – 2 to 3 times more cars through each wash each month. There is a cost involved with each wash, but the monthly pass creates a strange attachment to the wash. It is the popular monthly subscription model with the ability to upgrade with extra services if desired. There is also a sense of community with frequent visits – the customers and staff get to know each other and even among all of frequent customers. The monthly wash customers are also walking, talking billboards when friends and co-workers see someone with an always clean and sparkly vehicle.

    I wash my car about once a month – maybe more in the winter to wash away the salt from keeping the roads clear of ice.

    • That’s fascinating, Chris! I love the idea of the unlimited wash monthly pass–I can see how that would make a big difference (as well as the personal aspects you mentioned).


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