Guide to the Car Wash Construction Process

If you have decided to go into the car wash business by constructing a new car wash there are general steps that you can follow.

This is just a general guide that may help you with your planning.  You do not necessarily need to follow these steps in exact order, but you may want to follow this order.  You can move some steps up or down in the list.  There will likely be some things that you will need to do that are not on this list; likewise, there may be some things on this list that you will not need do.  

You can print this list and cross through each item as you complete them.  You can also write in additional things that you need or want to do.

-  Start your written Business Plan.  Open a word processing document that you can keep open either on your computer screen or in the background as you work on your car wash project.  Label your document "Business Plan".  As you develop ideas include them in this open document.  Your Business Plan will practically write itself.

-  Determine Your Objectives for your car wash construction project

-  Decide on the type of car wash that you would like to construct and operate.

-  Estimate your Total Project Cost, including land.

    Sample costs for various car washes:
    6-bay ss car wash will cost about $400,000 to 500,000.
    8-bay car wash about $500,000 to 600,000.
    5- bay self-serve with single in-bay automatic.  $500,000 to $600,000
    5-bay self-serve with two in-bay automatics  $700,000 to $900,000
    Exterior-only conveyor    $1,400,000 to $1,700,000
    Conveyor automatic full-service or flex-service:  $1,500,000 to $1,800,000
    Conveyor automatic full-service with lube center:   $2,100,000

-  Judge Your Financial Ability to Fund the Project  (pre-qualify yourself)

If you are new to the industry and you do not plan to offer collateral in addition to the car wash property you will need to make a cash down payment of about 20% to 23% of the Total Project Cost.  Multiply the sample costs above times 20% to 23% to estimate your cash down payment.

In order to get your loan approved you and/or your partners will need to have all of the cash down payment, plus at least some excess savings remaining after your down payment, plus a continuing source of personal income other than from your first car wash.

If after making the down payment your personal savings will be very low, a strong continuing income, particularly from more than one owner, can compensate for low remaining cash savings.  If there is no continuing personal income or if the personal income is relatively low a strong savings balance after making the cash down payment can compensate for no or modest personal income.

Consider moving forward with your project if it appears that you can realistically provide the cash down payment.

-  Determine the site selection characteristics that are common for successful car washes of the type that you have decided to construct.

-  Given that you can find a suitable site decide the general area or areas where you would like to construct your new car wash.  Note these areas in your business plan and why you have chosen them.  Use the site selection guides provided by the equipment manufacturers to help you narrow your site choices.  For your initial evaluation use the high end of each site selection factor.  For example, if the population range necessary for your chosen type of car wash is 5,000 to 20,000 within a two-mile radius of the site you may want to look only in those areas that offer 20,000 people or more within two miles.

-  Find several specific potential sites.  You may want to check asking prices.  Try to find land that is about the size or only somewhat larger than the size of land that you will need.  In an urban or suburban area it is usually preferable that your new car wash NOT be within a mile of any other car wash.  It usually preferable that you not buy any more land than is necessary for just the car wash.

-  Taking into account the car wash site selection characteristics and the competition, narrow your prospective sites to just two or three serious candidates.  You could even get at least a verbal agreement with one or more sellers.

-  Again estimate your project costs and determine whether you will have enough cash down payment. 

-  After you have determined that you will have the necessary down payment and have identified viable sites contact us by telephone.  Call Alan Bussey, Car Wash Loans, at 817-267-4726.  We can do a quick pre-qualification and quick pre-approval of your loan over the telephone and by fax.

-  Once your have been pre-approved, complete your negotiations verbally for your single specific car wash site.  Reach verbal agreement.

-  Prepare a Letter of Intent and obtain written agreement from the seller.

-  Once you and land seller have reached agreement on a sale/purchase price please contact us again to begin the formal loan approval process .

-  Begin preparation of the written contract.

-  Make preliminary selection of equipment dealer.

-  Draw a preliminary/rough site plan yourself or obtain a preliminary drawing from your/an equipment supplier.  These drawings
need to take into consideration any easements and setbacks.

-  Obtain a water, sewer, electric, and gas availability letters from the local utility authority.  Determine the tap fees and any other related fees or deposits.  If utilities are not already available at the site determine the costs of bringing the necessary utilities to the site.

-  Using your rough drawings visit the relevant zoning and permitting offices to get a pre-approval of your zoning, conditional use, and/or your construction permit.  You may want to carry with you a plat of the site lot and surrounding lots.

-  You could meet with a local architect/engineer and your equipment supplier to review the local building codes and the necessary utility requirements.

-  Get an estimate of the cost for all of the architectural work from several architects.  Select and contract with an architect to develop the plans for construction.

-  You may want to enlist the help of a Civil Engineer to do a Preliminary Site Plan and Floor Plan at this point.  Often the architect will subcontract with the suitable Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Engineers.  Discuss with your architect access to the Civil Engineer.

-  Check zoning restrictions - get preliminary approval from the relevant government.  Before you check into zoning you may want to read the articles on zoning in the articles links elsewhere on this web site (

-  If a conditional use (or special use) permit is required get an application process guide and a meeting schedule.

-  Check construction permitting process - get preliminary approval.

-  Check for necessity for replatting - get preliminary approval and timeline for formal approval.

-  If you haven't already done so, contact us to start the formal loan approval process.

-  Prepare and sign the Contract for Purchase for the land.  Include reasonable conditions in your contract.

-  Start the zoning change/condition use process.

-  Estimate your car wash building sizes.  Consider turning radii and consider spacing between structures.

-  It is preferable if you will have a preliminary Site Plan and Floor Plan drawn by a civil engineer to make sure that you can build a large enough structure for your intended car wash.

We can get your loan approved with just a Site Plan and Floor Plan , often combined onto one 11 inch x14 inch page.  We do not need any drawings from an architect to get the loan approved.  HOWEVER, many people who are confident that they will get the loan, go ahead and get the engineering and architecture work essentially done so that they can get started on the zoning and permitting process.

IF you need to apply for a zoning change or for a conditional use permit (special use permit) you may want to have more of the architectural drawings done, probably at least the Floor Plan and the Elevations, for your presentations.  Check with your engineer, architect, the zoning office, and the construction permitting office.  You will NOT likely need at this time the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical.

-  Receive formal loan approval in the form of a written Conditional Commitment Letter.

-  Finalize equipment order.

-  After your loan is approved have the Architect and/or Engineer(s) complete the set of construction plans.

-  Submit plans and specifications to city for and construction permits if you have not already done so.

-  Submit plans and specifications to prospective construction contractors for construction bidding.

-  Select, or at least preliminarily select, a construction contractor.

-  After your loan is approved your lender will provide to you with a Commitment Letter for your signature.  At this time the lender will ask you for a check to pay for the Appraisal, the Environmental Survey, and any other necessary third-party work.  This check is normally for between $6,000 to $8,000, depending upon your specific project requirements.

-  Once you have accepted the lender's commitment letter and paid your deposit the Construction Management Department representative (or similar) will provide to you and to your contractor a checklist for the information and documents that are required to be provided by the contractor.  The lender usually requires that the construction contract and other important documents be prepared using the AIA forms.

-  The Loan Closing Coordinator (or similar) will provide to you with a Closing Checklist for the information and documents not otherwise required from the contractor.  This includes information on the car wash hazard and liability insurance and personal life insurance on the guarantors, when required.

-  After your loan is approved and the lender has received your deposit the lender will select and formally contract with a appraiser who is already on their list of pre-approved appraisers and will contract with an environmental firm to conduct an environmental study on the property (if necessary).  Do not engage an appraiser or an environmental firm directly, this is the lender's responsibility.

-  The Construction Management Department representative will provide a copy of your plans and specifications to the 3rd-party Construction Management Company (or similar) to review the plans to confirm that the project can be completed within your planned budget and approved loan.

-  Select construction contractor, if you have not already done so.

-  Third-party reports will be ordered by the lender:  appraisal according to plans and specifications, and a Phase I environmental report.

-  Complete platting process, if necessary.

-  Sign contract with the construction contractor.  Use AIA forms and other forms as specified by the lender.

-  Complete the construction permitting process.

-  Receive appraisal report.  This will be reviewed by the lender's appraisal review personnel.

-  Have plans and specifications reviewed by the lender's 3rd-party construction oversight company.

-  Close the loan and the purchase of the land.

-  Start construction.

-  Complete construction and install the car wash equipment.

-  Utilities turned on and car wash equipment started up and adjusted.

-  Obtain Certificate of Occupancy.

-  Open your car wash for business.

Alan Bussey      Car Wash Loans     903-876-2308     fax:  484-737-1092

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