Finding a Car Wash to Buy

We are often asked how to find a self-service, standalone in-bay automatic, or combination self-serve/automatic car wash that may be for sale.  Perhaps this information will help you to find the car wash that you are looking for.

Select a Geographic Area

If you are working and if you intend to keep your job you probably want to find and buy a car wash that is near your home, near where you work, or in between. Normally a 15 to 20 minute drive time is as much as you'll want if you intend to go to the car wash every day.  You may be willing to drive a little further if you have a reliable attendant to take care of the car wash on the days that you plan not to go there.

If you are in a urban or suburban area use a map (or map software) to identify the areas where you want to own a car wash. Some investors in metropolitan areas use maps and multicolored push pins, the kind with the round plastic head, to pinpoint car washes on the map.  You can map each location with a small numbered piece of paper under the pin.  Another method is to use removable colored stickers that you can buy at an office supply store.  Cross reference the numbers to your list in your notebook or on your computer.

Keep Useful Records

Keeping good accurate records is essential when searching for a car wash to buy.  Keep your information in a hanging file drawer, file rack, or in a box specially for your car wash search. Keep dated notes from your conversations with car wash owners and others.

You might also want to take one or two pictures of each car wash that you identify.  An inexpensive Advanced Photo System (Advantix) camera is excellent for this because you can take very good panoramic (10 inch wide) pictures of the car washes.  To see details clearly have your pictures printed using glossy paper.  Or, you may want to use a digital camera.

Use a notebook, contact management software, database software, or some other software or method to make a list of all of the car washes in your selected areas. You can enter important information about the car washes such as the number of bays, number of vacuums, general condition and other important characteristics. Make particular note of the owners who are near retirement or who are already in retirement.

Contact all of the owners on a regular basis, perhaps every 3 to 4 months.  You want to be aware of each owner's plans that might include selling his or her car wash. At some point in the near future probably at least one of these owners will want to sell.

Ideas for Finding Car Washes For Sale

1.)  The best, but not necessarily the fastest, way to find car washes for sale is to approach the owners directly.

Of course you could introduce yourself if you happen to see an owner at his or her car wash. Or if you meet the manager or attendant you could get the owners' name and phone number from that person.

You will occasionally find a phone number on the door of the car wash. Sometimes you will also find a name.

If you know the address of the car wash you may be able to call the local water department or electric utility and ask one of department employees to give you the owner's name. Sometimes you can find the street address on the electrical meter. Sometimes the name on the water department or electric utility account may be that of the previous owner or just a business name. Ask whether the account information includes a phone number. Ask when the account was established.

Sometimes the owner or manager of a neighboring business or home will know the name and phone number of the owner.

If the car wash has bay signs you may be able to see the equipment manufacturer's name who provided the signs and that equipment manufacturer's phone number. The manufacturer may be able to put you into contact with the local dealer who may know who owns the car wash.

If you can get a phone number you can use "" or some other telephone 'reverse lookup' web site to get the name of the person who has that phone number. This person may be the owner, or this person may be a manager or an attendant.

You may be able to use the county property tax records to find the owner if you know the address, the approximate address, or the name of the owner or the name of the business. Sometimes the account name will be that of a bank or finance company so that it can get the tax billings and make the tax payments through escrow. Finding the name of the owner through the bank or finance company may be difficult.

2.)  One of the best sources of car washes for sale are the car wash chemical suppliers in your area.  You can find chemical suppliers in your yellow pages under "Car Washing & Polishing".  Talk with the sales people.  Call the chemical supply company and ask to speak with the person who's territory covers the areas where you are interested in buying a car wash.

3.)  Go to the library to look at the back issues of the Sunday paper.  Car washes for sale are often listed in the Business Opportunities or Businesses For Sale section of the classifieds.  Start with newspapers from one year (or even 18 months) ago and go forward.  This method may take considerable time but you can do this over more than one visit to the library.  Remember that most car washes are sold word-of-mouth, not ever advertised, but you can find car washes for sale this way.

4.)  Software is available that will produce/print a mailing label for every car wash (with contact name) in a given zip code.  This software will include mostly conveyor car washes and convenience stores.  They are not very good for finding self-serve car washes, even if the car wash has a telephone line for a burglar alarm or modem.  Besides, the personal one-on-one approach is best.  Save your money.

5.)  Some commercial real estate brokers represent car washes.  You may pay a higher price with a broker.  Many brokers approach only the owners of the largest, highest volume, most expensive car washes in the area.  Some of these owners only agree to sell if the broker can get them an unusually high selling price.  Brokers represent less than 10% of all car washes sold - relatively rare.  Still, you might learn something about the car wash industry and learn of a specific car wash for sale by contacting those brokers who specialize in car washes.  Real estate and business brokers are your LAST line of inquiry after you have done everything else you can think of.

6.)  Contact local car wash equipment salesmen.  Many have regular contact with prospective sellers and will know who wants to sell or who might want to sell.

7.)  Run an advertisement in your regional association newsletter saying "Car Wash Wanted", or however you want to word it.

8.)  The Executive Director or similar person at the office of your regional car wash association may know of car washes for sale in your area.

 You may want to read the Business Opportunities section (or another appropriate Sunday edition classified section) of your local newspaper on-line. Be aware that the on-line classified sections often have only a fraction of the ads that appear in the printed version of the newspaper.

10.)  If you have an interest in buying a car wash that has shut down you may find that the car wash has been foreclosed by a lender. If so, you may be able to find the identity of the lender (as the new owner) in the property records in your county, township, or parish.

11.)  Check the county foreclosure records. Call local banks and the SBA District Office in your area to inquire whether they own any foreclosed car washes.

12.)  Get to know the car wash owners in your area. They may know of car washes for sale that they themselves, for whatever reason, are not willing or able to buy.

13.)  Visit the car washes in your areas of interest and slip a note, and perhaps a business card, under the door stating that you are looking for a car wash to buy and would like for the owner to call you.

14.)  Join your regional association and the International Carwash (Car Care) Association. Make sure that you get a subscription to the newsletter and get a copy of the membership directory. From the directory, using a zip code map, you should be able to identify at least some of the car wash owners in your area. This adds to your database of car washes and car wash owners in the areas where you want to buy.

15.)  Car washes for sale are often listed in the back of the industry magazines.

16.)  Car washes for sale are sometimes advertised in the regional association newsletters.

Other Ideas

If you are a seller, e-mail or fax something to us about your car wash. Please do not call us about this subject unless you do not have e-mail or a fax machine available to you. E-mail or fax to us your name, phone number, the address and zip code of the car wash, a short description of the car wash, the last twelve months of revenue, and your asking price. If someone asks us to refer them to a car wash for sale in your area we will contact YOU first. We will keep your desire to sell confidential. We will not "list" the car wash anywhere. All referrals are person-to-person.

If you are a buyer, e-mail or fax something to us about the type of car wash that you'd like to buy. Please do not call us about this unless you do not have e-mail or a fax machine available to you.  E-mail or fax to us your name, phone number, general area and a short list of zip codes where you would like to buy, a short description of the car wash that you'd like to buy, and your price range. If you are new to the industry realize that you will likely need to make a cash down payment of about 20%.

If within a reasonable amount of time you cannot find a car wash to buy consider offering to lease a car wash with an option to buy. Leasing might be particularly possible with car washes that are neglected and in poor condition.

If after a thorough search you have not been able to find any washes for sale or lease you may have learned enough about the business to consider buying land and building a new car wash.

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

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