New car wash construction guidelines | Professional Carwashing & Detailing

New carwash construction guidelines

Following the right procedures can ensure a successful launch for your new carwash.

Hello everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful winter and are now gearing up for a profitable spring. This is the time of year many carwash owners and operators will probably be thinking about what they could have done better, where they can make improvements, how well their marketing has fared and other areas at the carwash that can use some sprucing up.

For me, I often utilize this time of year to start implementing new procedures or try out new ideas. I also recommend a thorough review of equipment and other mechanical facets of your carwash. Additionally, make sure operations are running smoothly and everything at the wash is up to snuff.

Now, let’s switch gears to discuss the topic of this month’s article: new carwash construction. Of all the calls I get for my consulting services, new construction is almost always the most frequent inquiry. And, it is a subject I haven’t really covered so far in any article I have written for Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine.

Over the years, I have retrofitted several carwashes; but, the main project I’m working on now is my new location(s) in the Los Angeles area, which are new build-outs. For the purpose of this article, let’s go through the steps I have taken that can help make your new build-out and facility a success.

Finding the right contractor

Assuming you have already found the ideal location for your new — or next — carwash and have thoroughly vetted the municipality and conditional use permit (CUP) process to obtain a permit, you are ready to begin.

The first step is designing the carwash. Since you were successfully issued a permit, you should have an approved blueprint. At this point, you may be working with an architect (same one that did the design) to make some minor adjustments and are now trying to sort out which contractor to use as well as the equipment and other components of your new carwash.

Picking a contractor and taking bids are important. The best guys are not necessarily the best bids, and the highest bids are not necessarily the best contractors. I recommend you seek out experienced, almost exclusive carwash, convenience store and gas station contractors, and then go to a few sites they have built and look at their quality of work. From there, you can check on some references and make your final decision.

I can’t stress enough, above all — even price and/or bid — experience is key. If you find a contractor who has a good bid, good craftsmanship and has done fantastic work but with limited carwash building experience, I don’t recommend choosing him or her; instead, keep looking. Simply put, you may end up spending way more in cost overruns and time delays because of their inexperience in the car care industry.

Once you have decided on who or which company will be your general contractor (GC), you are ready to move on to the next phase, which is likely preconstruction planning and double-checking all the permits.

Moving forward with design plans

After a contractor is selected, your architect or architectural firm should now be seamlessly involved in all areas of your build-out. This would include looking over all permits, double-checking blueprints — and the GC’s understanding of them — and making sure everyone is on the same page.

If any changes are made to the plans, your architect should be facilitating everything, from meeting with the GC to obtaining direction down at the city’s or relevant municipality’s planning department. These processes are usually fairly easy, and will be over-the-counter-type checks. If a closer review is required, your contractor or architect should let you know.

Other matters that will need attention are finding professionals, such as a civil engineer, landscape designer and some type of interior decorator, who will help with other areas of the carwash. Unless you want to micromanage the project or personally pick these professionals, the best route is to follow the direction of your architect and/or GC.

Tying up loose ends

One of the last items I want to discuss for this article is keeping an eye on the original bid and logging all change orders, upgrades, add-ons and other types of expenses that will usually add — not subtract — to the bottom line.

Change orders and other types of adjustments, within reason, are normal and part of the building process. In fact, what would be uncommon is if everything went perfectly and no adjustments were called for. Your architect will be the go-between for any change orders and for what the GC suggests. Often, you will be required to sign for these added expenses.

Lastly, there will always be inspections and delays with these inspections, so expect and plan for postponements.

Once you’ve got your final certificate of occupancy, you are ready to open. Make sure you and your architect check with the GC and confirm all lien releases before you make your final payment to the GC. This can take any amount of time, roughly between 30 and 120 days. However, this step is imperative.

As always, if you have any questions or if you need any help please feel free to contact me at any time. For more helpful car care topics, be sure to read PC&D and visit

Until next time,



Christopher C. McKenna of McKenna Assets LLC, based in Redondo Beach, California, can be reached at 310-947-9711 or via email at [email protected]. You can also visit his website at For more information on this subject and other carwash equipment, products and services, please visit

You May Also Like

Get in the carwash game

How first time carwash owners can find financing.

After multiple years of strong growth, the carwash industry is facing a bit of a cooldown. The current market is seeing an increase in supply and a lower demand for new carwash locations after a two-year mad dash to buy carwash locations nationwide. The original goal was to get as many locations as possible on the market. It didn’t matter if you had two carwashes right across the street from each other — people wanted to break into the market. 

Owning versus leasing property

Which real estate decision is right for your business?

Letter to the editor: Carwash site analysis

One of our readers emphasizes the importance of proper and complete site analysis.

Site insights

The state of site selection and design from two operators’ perspectives.

Keeping site selection in sight

The importance of site selection and the growing need for updated design.

Other Posts

What’s the plan for entering the carwash industry?

Win or lose, what matters most when starting a carwash is the details.

AdobeStock_314679993, carwash, tunnel, carwash industry
Setting up for carwash success

Learn the process for planning and constructing a location that is built to win.

car, blueprints, success, setup, carwash
Q&A: 15 years of CarWash College

Bob Fox reflects on Sonny’s CarWash College’s 15th anniversary of elevating awareness and skills.

Sonny's CarWash College, Bob Fox
Fortune favors boldness in branding

A standout appearance brings in more customers.

bold, Wash Boss, branding