Starting a manual car wash business does not take a lot of capital, but it does take a lot of planning. Before you can purchase anything to be used for the manual car wash business, you must set up the business entity and procure any licensing needed. Contact your state’s division of corporations to set up the business name and choose the proper entity for your business (incorporation, sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership).
Location for a manual car wash business, just as location for any other type of business, is important if you expect the business to make any kind of profit. Unlike other businesses, you have the benefit of being able to lease a small space from other businesses, such as convenience stores and gas stations.
Before you can choose a location, you will need to decide what type of services you are going to offer. If you are offering high-end car wash and detailing, you will want to be sure the local economy can support the prices you ask for extended services. If you are opening a simple manual car wash business where you will be washing cars and not doing any type of detail work, you can choose a busy spot in an area where people are likely to spend a few dollars to wash the car but will not spend the extra money to have it detailed.
After you have chosen a location, worked out a lease agreement with the owner and have all the proper licensing (you may not need an occupational license if you share space with someone else), you are ready to purchase the supplies needed to run the manual car wash business. At a minimum, you will need a van to haul your supplies back and forth, unless you have a storage space in a building that can be locked when you are not at the business. You will need soap, a hose, a sprayer, various brushes for painted finishes and wheels and tires and a good pile of rags.
If you are opening a manual car wash business that offers extended services, you will need to purchase a vacuum cleaner, specific cleaners for the interiors of vehicles, including windshield cleaner, leather cleaner, suede cleaner and carpet cleaner. Purchase attachments for the vacuum cleaner if necessary. You will need at minimum a narrow attachment to reach into seats, consoles and other narrow places in the vehicle.
If you are working outside in a parking lot, you may also want to buy a tent canopy to protect you from the sun while you are working.
Once everything is done and set up, you are ready to start advertising your business. Look for small local papers that do not charge an arm and a leg to advertise in. Advertise on free lists on the Internet, such as craigslist.org. Set the hours the manual car wash business will be open and make sure you are at the location, set up and ready to work, at the time you said you would be open.