Apr 1, 2020
10:59 am

Key Factors That Impact Carwash Construction Cost


We all like the sense of being in control. Especially when it comes to big-ticket capital costs like building a new carwash. The decisions you make in the planning and design stages of your car wash will have a direct bearing on your budget. Yet, while some costs are within your control, others will be mandated. 

Site Selection

The first – and perhaps biggest – decision you will likely make will involve choosing a location for your car wash business. The land value, lot size, and location will have a big impact on the purchase price. In choosing a site, it is important that you have a firm understanding of the projected economics, including anticipated vehicle traffic and sales.

Greenfield Car Wash Construction

A greenfield property will give you greater planning flexibility, yet you will be responsible for all civil engineering work. This includes utility tie-ins, grading and site drainage, site access and stacking, traffic circulation/cue planning. Having a solid grasp on the applicable Land Use requirements is essential. For example, you will want to know municipal guidelines concerning parking, landscaping, and setback.

Just because a site “looks” to be of sufficient size, it doesn’t necessarily mean all of the area is usable for constructing the new carwash. It pays to ask your engineering partner for input before you buy.

Brownfield Car Wash Construction

With an existing location, much of the site work will be done – particularly if there is already a working carwash in place. If there is existing wash equipment, you may or may not need to upgrade it – depending on the state of the equipment and your vision for the car wash. You will also have to ensure the site meets the municipality’s requirements for traffic cueing, stacking, ingress and egress if you are converting an existing building into a carwash. 


The location you choose will have a huge impact on the type of wash you build (and the construction cost). It is important to know the existing and projected traffic counts and demographic information. 

Without this knowledge, you could risk installing a premium wash system in a neighbourhood where the majority of customers will only pay for a basic service – or vice versa. 

Pro Tip: If you don’t have historical data available from the previous landowner, many of the car wash equipment manufacturers offer support in calculating anticipated volumes.

New or Existing Building?

For the most part, you have four options. You can build a brand new carwash structure, buy an existing carwash and leave it as is, upgrade an existing carwash, or refit an existing building to serve as a carwash. 

Pro-tip:  A roll-over (in-bay automatic) wash typically requires a building size of 18’ w x 60’ l. A tunnel (conveyor) wash is generally 30’ w x 50 to 150’ l.

New Building: Built to your Needs.

Constructing a new building from the ground-up involves a large upfront investment but it allows you to ensure the facility is designed to accommodate your choice of wash equipment and conform to all bylaws and code. 

You will need to pour the foundation, bring in services (water, electricity, and gas) and cover all framing, wiring, mechanical engineering services, equipment installation, and finishing. 

However, by building from the ground up, you have the flexibility to choose from a number of building materials (which will impact the bottom line cost). Options include metal framing, concrete, or a glazed window car wash (which is more expensive but is shown to give customers a greater sense of safety and security).

Renovating an Existing Building

In many cases, concrete steel-framed building can be converted to serve as a carwash. This can represent a significant cost saving over new construction – providing the building is structurally sound, and built to withstand a high degree of moisture. The building will require a suitable roof (steel or wood roofing does not lend itself to the humid environment). 

The building must be large enough and strong enough to hold and support the washing equipment (including drums and overhead wash system). The age of the building must be taken into consideration because even concrete is prone to wear. 

While an existing building can cut down on construction costs, there may be hidden surprises that can involve significant costs to address once discovered. 

Pro Tip: When looking at an existing property, confirm the water service meets the requirements based on your equipment specs. You’ll need to check the size of service (2”, 3”, 4” pipes?) and the available water pressure. If it is insufficient, you may need to upgrade the system, which can involve a considerable expense.

Type of Carwash/Level of Equipment

The type of car wash you choose will have a direct correlation on the construction cost. Several factors will impact the price of a car wash machine. These include:

  • The activation system (PIN pad/entrance control, payment systems, etc.)
  • The technology involved (brush, touchless or combination)
  • The driving system (conveyor or tunnel, in-bay or trolley, drive through fleet)
  • The number of cars it is designed to handle per hour 
  • The level of features offered (eg. wax options, spot-free rinse, bubble bath, tire treatment, drying blowers, etc.)

 Most car wash equipment suppliers will have several levels of equipment to choose from – ranging from a basic to a premium system. Sustainable car wash solutions, such as a reclaim system, have a high upfront cost but will significantly reduce water usage and can pay off over the long term.

Municipal Bylaw Requirements

The cost of building a car wash car vary dramatically from one municipality to the next – even across communities within the same city – depending on municipal bylaws. 

For example, some areas have stricter requirements for releasing soap and grit into the stormwater system than others. This will determine whether you need an oil/water separator (which can run $100,000 for the unit alone) or an oil/grit separator, which is more expensive still. It is a big hit for something you will never see!

We cannot stress how important it is to contact your local municipality at the earliest planning stages to learn about the bylaws and requirements. 

Be sure to inquire about drainage standards and water discharge requirements. The municipality will also have bylaws that impact site planning, including vehicle stacking, cueing, ingress and egress and more. 

Cold Weather Operation

For Canadian car wash owners, our cold climate is a factor that is beyond your control. You will need to invest in multiple heat sources within the bay to protect your equipment from freezing and allow you to operate year-round. Heat loss can be a particular concern in glazed window car washes.

Control Costs by Conducting a Site and Building Audit

These are just a few of the key factors that impact car wash construction costs.

It is recommended that you involve an experienced full-service engineering design firm from the beginning – ideally before you even purchase the property. They will be familiar with municipal requirements and will be able to help you assess the suitability of the site and/or building, and identify any red flags.

While the cost of building or renovating a car wash can be intimidating, Canadian car washes have a reputation for being highly profitable if they are well-planned and properly managed.