25 Ways on How to Set up a Drive Thru Car Wash

Drive Thru Car Wash

Drive Thru Car Wash: Running your own business is a stressful but good career and life choice. It demands your patience and passion. Start by expecting to live your work until it is established, so it can get off the ground. There are many different opinions about how to start a business. Below are some basic ideas and guidelines to get you started.

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1. Consider if it is possible. Before going too far, think about how plausible your idea is. Is it something that people would actually pay for? Will it turn enough of a profit to be worth spending your time to do it? You will also need to be sure that it is possible to put it into action. While it would be great to have a computer that makes food magically appear out of thin air, this is simply impossible (unless you’re Patrick Stewart).

Drive Thru Car Wash

2. Find a location for the car wash that has necessary amenities. Think about all the amenities you’ll need for the car wash and choose a location that offers those things. For instance, you’ll need a place where you can set up a hose line or fill buckets with water. Parking lots are typically the best option for car washes.

  • You might also want to have access to a bathroom or shade nearby (especially if it’s a hot day) for your volunteers and customers.

3. Be sure it’s unique. Whatever your idea is, be sure it’s as unique as possible. This will help you eliminate or significantly combat competition, which will make your business more successful. Simply putting a small spin on a currently existing product (making blue Red vines or something like that) is not usually enough to build a business on, so push the envelope!

Drive Thru Car Wash

4. Determine your cost of operation. You will need a solid business plan to present to any investors and the best place to start would be with determining your basic cost of operations. This will outline and help you determine how much money is needed to produce the product or offer the service you intend to offer or produce. It includes production costs, shipping, taxes, worker’s wages, rent for workspace, etc.

  • Knowing your cost of operations will be vital to determining if your business will be profitable, since you will need to make more than this baseline in order to remain in business.

5. Determine your potential market. Be realistic. How many people will realistically use your business? How much will they pay to use your services? If either number is too small in comparison to how much it will cost you to stay in business, then you should reconsider or change your plans.

6. Choose a location with lots of visibility to get the most customers. Pick a spot that’s visible and easily accessible to drivers. For instance, a parking lot on the side of a busy road near an intersection will likely get more customers than a lot on a quiet residential street.

  • If you’re organizing the event for your church or highschool, try to be near your own neighborhood for the sake of convenience and safety.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

7. Determine impediments. You will need to plan ahead for all of the problems which can get in the way of running a business.

  • Evaluate your competition; if their market share or product offering is too strong and stable, then you will have a very hard time breaking into the market. No one will want to buy an equally priced or more expensive version of a perfectly good product or service which already exists.
  • You will also need to explore the associated regulations and laws, especially regarding taxes. You should ask your local state authorities, as well getting information from the IRS.
  • Make sure there are no prohibitive costs, such as equipment which is too expensive to make the business profitable. For example, cars didn’t take off until Ford figured out how to make them cheap by building more efficient equipment.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

8. Ask the property owners about letting you use the space. Tell the property owners you’ll be working for a charity or school and they’ll be more likely to let you have the space. Let them know the date and time of the car wash and, if necessary, whether your volunteers and customers might want to use their amenities.

  • Be friendly and understanding if they say no.
  • Make sure that the date and time you’ve chosen is good for them, too.

9. Create a sign-up sheet to keep track of your volunteers. Determine how many people from your group or community are willing to participate. You can post a sign-up sheet in common areas like hallways or designated school, work, or church bulletin boards.

  • You can also use an online signup sheet like VolunteerSpot or ScheduleOnce.
  • Be clear about the timing on the sign-up sheet and dedicate a column for people to write down the times they’re available if you need to break the day into shifts.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

10. Break up the day into shifts for your volunteers to sign up for. People have busy schedules, so breaking up the day into 1 to 2 hour shifts can increase the numbers of volunteers you get. Also, washing cars is hard work and other roles might be deemed boring, so your volunteers probably won’t want to stick with any single task for more than an hour or two.

  • If you like, leave space for volunteers to list their preferred tasks.

Be clear about the timing of each shift so your volunteers know the exact times they’re signing up for. For example:
Molly: Cash collector – shift 1 (12:00PM – 1:00PM), Car washer – shift 2 (1:00PM – 2:00PM)
Jared: Sign holder / greeter – shift 1 (12:00PM – 1:00PM), Cash collector – shift 2 (1:00PM – 2:00PM).

11. Gather  volunteers ahead of time to do a practice run, if possible. Schedule a day where your volunteers meet up to practice washing cars before the actual event. This act as a way to ensure adequate speed and quality of the wash.

    • Consider switching around the roles if some people are naturally better at other tasks. For instance, if a car washer is low in energy and needs some food, allow them to swap roles with the cash collector or someone at the concessions stand (if you have one).
    • Use a timer on your smartphone to see how long it takes your volunteers to wash a single car. This is important to know if you want to advertise it as a quick wash or if drivers are in a hurry.

      Drive Thru Car Wash

12. Determine a fair price for your car wash or make it donation-based. Usually, $5 is a good amount, but be sure to adjust the price for special services like waxing or interior detailing. You may also up the price when it comes to large SUV or vans. Alternatively, you can ask for donations, which can sometimes result in more revenue than charging for the wash outright.

  • Keep in mind that you’ll also need to designate a volunteer to candle cash.

13. Plan a detailed budget that covers supplies and other materials. Determine your budget before you go shopping for supplies. Most of the funds should be allocated towards necessary materials. Then, if you have some left over, you can think about non-necessities. If you are offered discretionary funds from your school or organizations, whoever approved the funds will probably want to see and approve a copy as well.

  • For instance, if you have a budget of $50, allocate $30 to $40 towards buckets, soap, polishing tools, and anything else you might need. Then, spend around $10 on posters, markers, and other items needed for advertising. Whatever’s left over can be spent on extra supplies or, if applicable, concessions.
  • If you’re working with a strict budget, go to the store where you plan to purchase items first to tally up the prices.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

14. Pool your group’s resources to borrow or buy necessary items. Ask your school or community center if they have advertising materials like poster boards and markers. Also, ask your volunteers if they already have some of the materials you’ll need or if they’re willing to chip in to buy said items.

  • Things like rags and buckets are pretty common household items, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re working with little or no budget!

15. Meet with your group to create posters a week before the event. Ask some of your volunteers to meet up to make some posters and signs for the event. Be sure to include the price and mention the cause you’re supporting. People may be more willing to get their car washed if they know that the money is going to a good cause.

  • Feel free to make the signs and posters colorful, but make sure larger signs are readable so people driving by can read them from a distance.
  • Be sure to check with the property owner if you’ll be using stakes or trees to hold up the signs.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

16. Use social media to advertise your car wash. Make an event page and share it with your friends and family (and ask them to share it with their friends as well). Mention the cause you’ll be raising money for on the page and, if possible, provide a link to the charity or organization.

  • Make sure to list the time and date correctly on the event page.
  • Let people know the prices and any special services that will be available (like waxing or interior detailing).

17. Pre-sell tickets to friends and family. Pre-selling tickets online via an event page or fundraising platform is a great way to raise money from people who can’t show up for the car wash. Use platforms like PayPal or GoFundMe to talk about your cause and reach a wider audience.

  • It’s also a great way that faraway friends and family can support your cause.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

18. Garner more attention by using quirky traits or gimmicks. Be sure to advertise what’s special about your car wash. For instance, if it’s eco-friendly, be sure to put that on signs. If you’ll be washing cars in less than 5 minutes, emphasize how fast it is. Do anything you can think of that might entice people to stop in and support the cause.

  • You can even consider certain gimmicks that might draw people in. Try to make it relate to your cause, if possible (e.g., all of your volunteers might wear animal onesies to raise money for wildlife protection).

19. Ask local businesses to put up fliers about the event, if possible. Go to restaurants, coffee shops, and other privately-owned businesses to see if they’ll put up some of your flyers in their window. Let them know about the cause you’re supporting to make it more likely that they’ll say yes.

  • Don’t put up posters in various places without asking first!

    Drive Thru Car Wash

20. Choose a washing zone that’s near a gutter or drainage vent. The washing zone is going to be wet and have lots of dirty run-off, so choose a spot that’s closest to a gutter or other drainage system. It should also be an area where there’s enough room to fit both large and small cars.

  • If you’re not sure, ask the property owner for their suggestion.

21. Put the concessions table and rest area away from the washing area. If you plan to have a rest area for drivers to get out while their cars are being washed, set up some chairs in a shaded area (especially if it’s a hot day). Place your concessions table far enough away from the wash zone so water isn’t spritzing the snacks.

  • Also, make sure it’s not downhill from the wash zone—people won’t like stepping in inches of dirty water!

    Drive Thru Car Wash

22. Fill buckets with water and, if applicable, set up the hose line. Ask your volunteers to help you fill up multiple buckets with water from a nearby spigot and carry them into the washing area. Or, if there’s a hose-line hookup or hose nearby, unwind it and extend it into the washing zone so it’s ready to go.

  • Place the buckets in an accessible area right next to where cars will be parking.
  • If you’re using buckets, it’s important to show your volunteers where they can refill them.

23. Distribute necessary materials to the car washers. Equip each car washer with all of the materials they need and let them know where they can get more supplies if they need them. For instance, give each person at least 1 sponge and dry rag for washing and drying.

  • Keep extra supplies close enough to the washing zone so volunteers have quick and easy access.

    Drive Thru Car Wash

24. Station your sign holders on the sidewalk according to ideal traffic flow. Watch how traffic is flowing so you can find the best spot to station your sign holders. For instance, stationing them on the same side of the road (facing oncoming traffic) is going to be more effective than on the opposite side because drivers can easily enter the wash area without having to make a U-turn.

  • If you’re stationed near an intersection, plant sign holders on each corner or on a large grassy median. Just be sure that the sidewalk or space is safe for your volunteer!

    Drive Thru Car Wash

25. More tips

  • Make your posters bright and colorful so they’ll stand out.

  • If customers trust you with their keys, don’t get them mixed up! Consider using a pin board and tags to keep track of keys and license-plate numbers.

  • Consider selling homemade snacks and beverages while your customers wait. Get some chairs and create a relaxed atmosphere. If there are no trees nearby, see if you can rent a large tent or sun shade.

  • You may want to have pamphlets or other information handy related to your cause should people ask for more information.

  • If you’re offering different tiers of washes (e.g., one for quick-washes and another for detailing), set up traffic cones to divide cars into 2 lanes.

  • Be sure to express your thanks to every driver that stops in for a wash or just to donate.


  • In the event, your municipality does not allow charity car washes, contact your local car wash to see if they offer an eco-friendly (and usually more profitable with less effort) charity car wash program.

  • Don’t stand in the road to advertise! Stay on the sidewalk or behind the curb.

  • Make sure that all windows, sunroofs, and other openings are closed before washing a car.

  • Check with your city’s rules to make sure that charity car washes are legal. Some states, counties, and cities discourage charity car washes because untreated run-off can enter storm drains, causing pollution issues and endangering aquatic wildlife.

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