How to Start a Truck Wash Business

How to Start a Truck Wash Business

The trucking industry is an international powerhouse. In the U.S. alone, 70% of goods are transported by commercial trucks. These trucks accumulate a lot of miles, meaning they are susceptible to potential corrosion and other equipment damages caused by the buildup of dirt and grime that accompanies life on the road. 

This creates a significant demand for commercial truck wash businesses. There will always be trucks. They will always need to be washed. 

Starting a commercial truck wash business presents a unique, profitable business opportunity within the larger trucking industry. To help you get on the right track, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to start your own truck wash business.

We will go through each step in greater detail, but here’s an overview:

  • Step 1: Decide which type of truck wash business you want to start.

  • Step 2: Choose your location.

  • Step 3: Budget out your initial project expenses.

  • Step 4: Define your business plan.

  • Step 5: Select hours of operation.  

  • Step 6: Purchase the right truck wash equipment. 


Step 1: Decide which type of truck wash business you want to start.

Commercial truck wash systems can be divided into two categories, manual and automatic. Choosing which one you’d like to venture into will determine decision making moving forward.


Manual Truck Wash Systems

Classic manual truck wash systems offer a thorough, personal truck wash environment. There are stationary or fixed-site manual truck wash systems, mobile truck wash systems, and even self-service truck wash systems. 

For fixed-site or mobile truck wash systems to operate, employees utilize specialized pressure washers, scrubbers, brushes and detergents to hand-wash each vehicle. While this process does create a more interactive experience for your customers than a self-service or automatic truck wash system, it requires significantly more manpower. 

In addition, both self-service and employee-powered manual wash systems are highly dependent on the speed of the one one washing the truck. This could create potential bottlenecks in your system and greatly limit the number of trucks that could be washed on a daily basis.


Automatic Truck Wash Systems

While manual truck wash systems get the job done, automatic semi truck wash systems are the preferred choice by the trucker whose time is at a premium. 

Drivers understand the cost of downtime and how it affects their business. In order to compete in the space as a growth company and be sustainable while receiving the highest compliment a business can receive (repeat satisfied customers), you should plan to fully automate the wash process and keep manpower to an absolute minimum. By doing so, you will significantly reduce driver wait times while increasing your facility throughput.

There are two main types of express truck wash systems to consider:


Automatic Drive Thru Truck Wash Systems

The automatic drive thru truck wash is an automatic vehicle wash system where the driver powers the vehicle through the truck wash. The speed is controlled by the driver since the wash machinery is in stationary position. 

Advantages: Wash times range from 2-3 minutes. 

Disadvantages: Provides less control over wash quality


Automatic Gantry Truck Wash Systems

The automatic gantry truck wash is an automatic vehicle wash system where the driver powers the vehicle in-bay to a parked position while remaining in the vehicle. The gantry truck wash is programmed to perform a number of passes over the vehicle while applying detergents, pre-rinse, dry aid and final rinse. Depending on vehicle configurations, the gantry will use soft tip brushes for the truck’s sides, top, front and rear or operate without soft tip brushes in high pressure oscillating mode.  

Advantages: Offers the best wash quality. 

Disadvantages: Wash times range from 5-7 minutes.


Step 2: Choose your location.

The success of your new truck wash business will depend upon many factors. One of these key factors will be location. A successful truck wash is also a high-wash-volume business. 

To maximize location throughput, an express truck wash should be located near a major brand truck stop where 24-hour, two-way truck counts are highest. Alternate locations may be feasible depending upon site analysis and other key factors.

For the best amount of space, you want approximately 5 acres of land although some owners work with smaller acreage.


Step 3: Budget out your initial project expenses. 

Starting an express truck wash business will require initial expenses of $1.5 million - $2.5million depending upon location, property size, number of wash bays and equipment selection.

It’s important to think through the initial expenses your business will require to get started. Here is a list of potential initial expenses to consider before starting your truck wash business:

  • Equipment and maintenance

  • Property

  • Legal fees, insurance and permits

  • Hiring a team

  • Advertising and marketing


Step 4: Define your truck wash business plan.

Developing your official business plan will help you organize the operational details of your truck wash business. A thorough business plan should include the following:

  • A summary of your business and its services

  • A description about how your business will provide value for your clients

  • A budget and projected income

  • Proposed marketing and business strategies


Step 5: Select hours of operation.  

Peak volume times for your truck wash business will be between the hours of 7pm -11pm. A third shift in most cases will be incremental business, and not justify the expense and associated liability.


Step 6: Purchase the right truck wash equipment. 

Whiting Systems' Business Development team recommends utilizing plant validation tours to help those looking to start a truck wash business choose the right truck wash equipment and supplies manufacturer to work with. 

"You are building a new business," a Business Development representative said, "That is exciting, and the companies you are entertaining should be complimented you called on them. In fact, they should be rolling out the red carpet for your business and invite you for a plant validation tour.” 

“You should make sure you are partnering with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who is looking at you as a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship instead of a simple cash flow infusion. Your business requires an OEM who is competent and knowledgeable. They must have a good reputation in the industry they serve.”

It’s extremely beneficial to get references from those who have worked with particular OEMs before. You should ask yourself the following question when choosing an OEM to partner with:

  • Does the manufacturing company reinvest in itself?

  • Is the manufacturing company a growth-centered company? 

  • Do the employees speak well of the manufacturing company?

  • How does the manufacturing company handle your call on a Saturday when you report a breakdown? 


The Whiting Systems Truck Wash Solution

Whiting Systems, Inc. is the global leader in providing customers the best fleet wash systems and equipment. From our humble beginnings selling pressure washers to manufacturing and servicing large automatic wash systems for buses, trucks, trains, and other large vehicles, we make it our mission to improve the quality of your business by equipping you with tools and support tailored to fit your needs.

We believe that it is our job to foster long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships with our truck wash partners. 

Our team values our partners’ patronage and understands that delivering a customer services experience that is unmatched by our competitors. In addition to our fleet wash equipment, we also provide fleet image programs tailored to the unique needs of your business, no matter your industry. Whether you are searching for a complete maintenance program with account monitoring, custom reporting, and detergent replenishing or a detergent and maintenance program to support your equipment and meet your detergent needs, we are here to serve you.

Contact us today to get a quote for your commercial truck wash needs!