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In Bay Car Wash – Is It a Good Business Opportunity Today?

In Bay Car Wash

In Bay Car Wash – Is It a Good Business Opportunity Today?

Have you thought about starting a car wash business? If so, it is worth taking a closer look at what an in bay car wash has to offer in terms of growth opportunities and profit potential. The in bay automatic car wash is a hugely popular service with those customers who are looking for speed and convenience. This type of wash accounts for 50% of all washes in the United States. However, popularity aside, there are some important points to think about before you commit yourself and your dollars to this kind of car wash. Here are the pros and cons.

What Is an In Bay Car Wash?

Think of it as an express car wash but without the tunnel conveyor system. It is a fully automated service that eliminates the need for a professional detailer. Your customer simply chooses their wash program, then drives into the wash bay. Once the vehicle comes to a stop and is in a stationary position, the customer can sit back and relax in the comfort of their car while the exterior is cleaned. You’ll spot non-conveyor car wash sites pretty much everywhere. For example, the gas station car wash is typically an in-bay service. You’ll also find them on street corners, at convenience store locations, mechanic shops, parking lots and so on.

Advantages of an In Bay Car Wash

Affordable and Fast Automated Service

You simply install a touch screen at the entrance of your in bay car wash to allow the customer to select and purchase their preferred wash services. You don’t need a full-time attendant unless you choose to have someone on site to assist with customer queries or any technical issues, should they arise. This automated service is affordable (average $7 per wash) and super-quick for the customer who is short on time.

Different Types of In Bay Car Washes

The in bay car wash business model can be set up in different ways. You can choose to install a touchless car wash with high-pressure water spraying or a friction system that relies on brushes or scrubbers to clean the car exterior. Both versions have the potential to do extremely well. The automated features and short wash cycles speed up the overall process and enable a high turnover of vehicles to pass through the wash system every day.

Increase Profits with 24 Hour Operation

The automated features on an in bay car wash also make it possible for you to run your business 24/7. Longer opening hours increase the potential to make much more money. The more cars you can wash, the bigger boost to your bottom line. Furthermore, you won’t have the costs of a full-time attendant if the car wash is unmanned throughout the night. If you can wash 20,000 cars annually at an average sale of $7 per car, you have the potential to make $140,000 before costs.

Potential to Include Add-On Services

Research shows that the current market size of the car wash and auto detailing industry in the US is $10bn. In-bays are restricted because they only wash the exterior of a stationary car. However, you can take advantages of different growth opportunities in this billion-dollar industry with additional detailing services. These will allow you to market your in bay car wash business in a similar way to that of a flex car wash. You can provide a quick exterior wash with add-on offerings. You will need some more floor space and detailers on hand to carry out add-on services such as interior car detailing, tire inflation, bug-off treatments, an oil change and so on. This enables you to increase prices above that of basic washes – double your earning potential some cases.

Less Expensive Than Tunnel Car Wash

An in bay car wash is more affordable than a tunnel car wash. Building costs are less because an in-bay has a smaller footprint than a tunnel wash. Tunnel structures also rely on a conveyor or belt to move vehicles through the wash system. This type of moving mechanism adds significantly to the costs. However, an in-bay is still an expensive startup compared to some other car wash options, see below.

Disadvantages of an In Bay Car Wash

Higher Startup Costs and Expenses

Can you afford to set up an in bay car wash? It might not be as expensive as a tunnel car wash but it certainly doesn’t come cheap. You will need to buy or rent a site at a suitable location, then allow for the building construction and equipment costs. Finally, factor in the washing tools and automated entry systems. This cost to build a car wash can add up to $500,000-$1,400,000, depending on the size of the outfit, real estate and location. In comparison, mobile detailing is a much more affordable option. Basic set-up costs are much lower. Costs include the vehicle detailing unit and equipment, which you can purchase for around $20,000. Or seek out an affordable franchise that also offers ongoing support of an established brand in the car wash world.

Competitive Car Wash Model

Latest car wash industry information states that there are over 60,000 car washes in the US. Almost 30,000 of those are in bay automatic car washes. This makes them the most popular type of car wash. Therefore, competition is high. You may prefer to look out for a local car wash for sale. Do your research and focus on businesses with a good reputation and a strong foothold in the industry. This will give you the edge over other startups to help you stand out in a competitive industry. Buying an existing car wash lets you get to work without any delay – no waiting for planning approval or building completion.

No Mobile Detailing Offering

Customers like convenience and time-saving services. This includes on-demand auto detailing at a location that suits them, whether this is on their driveway, their work parking lot or the shopping mall. Mobile detailing services meet this demand, whereas an in bay car wash is restricted to a fixed location. Therefore, you rely on the customer to take the time and effort to come to you.

Lacks the Personal Touch

Automated car washes might be quick but they lack the higher standards and personal touch of a hand car wash carried out by a professional detailer. The average time to complete an in-bay wash cycle is 6-10 minutes. It is near impossible to achieve spotless results in this time. Be mindful too that many customers are now seeking out additional car sanitization services following the coronavirus pandemic. This is not available with just an in bay car wash.


An easy-to-use in bay car wash is an extremely popular business model. Customers like quick service and value for money. If you can offer both, your business is off to a strong start. However, it is one of the pricier car wash models to set up and it lacks the personal touch. People like to make a connection and put a face to a brand.

Furthermore, in the current post-pandemic economic climate, building a business from scratch is a daunting prospect. There are franchise options to lessen the risk. However, no business venture is without risk so be sure to have a franchise checklist to hand when you explore different opportunities. Why not make a start today? Check out our vehicle detailing franchise opportunity – it may be more appealing if you are looking for more flexibility and lower startup costs.

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