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Businesses You Can Start

Car Wash

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1. Introduction
This guide explains the basics of starting up a car wash business in South Africa. It describes what kind of person is suited to the
business and what training is available. It also tells you who your customers and competitors are likely to be, and what issues
are affecting the market for vehicle cleaning. It gives you an idea of the kind of costs you will need to meet and the regulations
you must comply with, and ends with some sources of further information.

A car wash offers a range of services, from a quick ‘wash-and-go’ of the outside of the vehicle, to a full wash-and-wax, vacuum,
upholstery shampoo, stain removal and engine steam-clean. You will usually have your own premises (with equipment to suit
your business size and level of turnover), although a mobile car wash service would also fill a certain niche.

With South Africa’s poor public transport system and a culture where people attach great status value to their cars, there are
now more cars on the road than ever before. Modern lifestyles leave less time for people to do their own household chores,
like washing their cars, so there is growing demand for a quick, professional service.

2. Are you suited to this type of business?

While car washing is often seen as an unskilled task, done by casual labourers and employed gardeners when they are at a
loose end, a successful car wash business needs a person who is more informed about (and interested in) the detail of keeping
a car looking its best. You should really start out with a healthy respect for the value of the vehicles you are cleaning, and an
appreciation of the damage that can be done by using the wrong cleaning materials, detergents or techniques.

Running a car wash business means working quite unsociable hours – especially weekends, when most consumers want to have
their cars washed.

You need to be fit to wash cars; even if you aim to have employees doing most of the hard work, you will still need to get your
hands dirty when staring up and training staff. This kind of work requires long periods on your feet, as well as a lot of bending
and stretching.

Cleaning agents can affect your health, so you need to understand these risks and know the precautions that you must take.
A driving licence is a prerequisite for this kind of work, since you may need to move customers’ cars in and out of a washing
bay. You will need to know how to treat customers professionally and to develop their trust and respect.

Running your own business needs self-discipline, organisational skills and the ability to tailor your service to the market. Also,
basic word processing and mathematical skills will help you manage the administrative and financial aspects of your work.

3. Knowing and reaching your market

3.1 Who are your customers likely to be?
Most of your customers will be private vehicle owners, who just don’t have the time or energy to wash their own cars.
In particular, you can target people with children – as they will generally have regular spills and messes in the car!

You can also target people who live in residential complexes or blocks of flats, where washing of cars on the premises
is frowned upon either because of water wastage or dirty/foamy water flowing through the complex.

Your will also find customers among the following groups of individuals and businesses:
• Car hire agencies need cars cleaned frequently.
• Garages and workshops often want to clean a customer’s car after they have serviced or repaired it, and may
not have the facilities themselves. If you can bring your equipment onto their site, or set up a facility close to
them, you could develop a good long-term relationship.
• Bus companies need to clean their buses regularly; while many do their own cleaning in-house, give them a
proposal to show how cost-effective your service can be.
• Second-hand car dealers will want a car to look spotless before they try and sell it. Make contact with as many
of these businesses as you can; even offer to come and wash cars on their premises if that would be more
convenient for them.
• Elderly or disabled drivers would usually prefer to have someone else wash their car.
• Owners of classic or vintage cars could be very loyal customers if you prove that you can do a caring, quality job
on their vehicles. They will be very particular about maintaining the cleanliness and value of these cars, so you
would need to be knowledgeable and careful in the way you treat them.


• While many minibus taxi drivers wash their own vehicles during quiet times in the day, you might convince a few
of them to give the job to a professional; your rates would have to be very good, though.

It is not always easy getting information and statistics about the people living and working in the area where you want
to start your business. But without this information, there is no way of knowing who will buy your products (that is,
who your market is) and why. Statistics South Africa does research into the country’s population, showing gender,
education levels, population group, and income levels and many other indicators that you will find useful in planning
your business.

Contact Statistics South Africa’s user information services on Tel: 012 310 8600, email info@statssa.gov.za or visit their
website at www.statssa.gov.za.

3.2 Who will you compete against?

You will be competing directly against other car washers in your area, including informal operators in shopping mall
parking lots, stand-alone car wash operations, and those businesses attached to petrol stations. Look in your local
Yellow Pages directory to see which car wash businesses advertise themselves in your area.

The mechanised car washing operations (where a car is cleaned in a ‘tunnel’ by a brush machine or high-pressure spray)
that usually operate at petrol stations have the advantage of speed and turnover. Pay particular attention to these
competitors, as it is often difficult to compete if you have only a manual washing system.

You can also look online at www.yellowpages.co.za, www.ananzi.co.za or www.brabys.com.

Indirect competition is posed by car hire businesses, garages, workshops and bus companies that have their own car
washing facilities.

Many South African households have full-time or part-time gardeners; a regular aspect of their job is often the washing
of the family car/s. This arrangement takes that household out of your potential market.

Similarly, some car owners are so concerned about the condition of their vehicles that they will insist on being the
only ones allowed to wash it. Others will wash their own cars simply because they choose not to spend money on this

There are not many franchise opportunities in the car wash business, but keep an eye out for these as they could
develop quite quickly and overshadow you with their slick marketing and clever branding techniques. One example of a
franchise on offer is Vehicle Valet (www.veva.co.za).

While the mobile car wash concept is still relatively new in South Africa, there may well be future competition from
franchise operators that use this idea. See www.mobilecarwash.co.za as an example.

3.3 What are the key issues affecting your market?

The number of cars on South African roads continues to rise, and there is little sign of any significant improvement in
the pubic transport system – even in the large cities. This suggests that the demand for car washing services will grow.
Because it is regarded as a low-skill job, however, it does not always allow you to charge sustainable rates. There is
not yet any attempt to formal the skills required in this field, or to organise the players in this sector so that quality
standards can be raised.

A successful car wash business, then, will have to choose its niche market carefully, demonstrate its skill and cost-
effectiveness, and build a loyal customer base. Once the basic ‘ingredients’ of success are proved, the business could
consider expanding on-site or into another area.

As better equipment is developed to clean cars quicker and better, it is difficult to compete with old-fashioned hand-
washing techniques. At the same time, car washing equipment must keep evolving to suit the vehicles. There has been
a move away from lead-based paint on the outside of vehicles, for instance. The softer paint that is now used can be
damaged by the brushes used by large, automated washing facilities. (See an example of innovative local technology at

With growing awareness of the dangers of strong detergents, car wash operators have to use more environmentally-
friendly products to wash cars with. They also have to be more careful about the way these soaps and shampoos are
discarded, and how they conserve water in the car washing process.


3.4 How can you promote this enterprise?
Key to your success will be your ability to be seen by drivers of cars. So if you can find premises close to a busy road,
that would be ideal. This would allow a car owner to use your service on the way to or from a destination. Ideally,
your site should also be in or close to a residential area, as many people only have time to have their cars washed on
weekends, and you need to be close to their homes.

Your good location will allow you to get value out of a colourful sign advertising your range of services and prices.

Try advertising in your local newspaper, and monitor the sort of response you get. If it does not seem to be effective,
try a more direct approach by putting brochures into postboxes in your neighbourhood. Also target vehicle owners by
putting brochures on the windscreens of dirty cars in local shopping centre parking lots.

Develop relationships with used car dealers and car repair workshops in your area. Offer them special ‘bulk’ rates if they
give you more than a certain number of cars to wash each week. Suggest a deal that benefits both of you, like giving a car
dealer some vouchers for his customers – allowing them to get a two or three free car washes from you after they’ve
bought a car. They may become customers for life.

Remember that most of your customers will have to wait while their car is cleaned. Set up your premises next to
a shopping centre, or set up a coffee shop or café yourself so that they have somewhere to relax and read the

Repeat business is vital for your success, and you will only get customers to come back if you are customer-focused in
your attitude and management style. This means:
• Having polite and honest staff (if anything disappears from a customers’ vehicle, for instance, they will
go elsewhere);
• Training and supervising your staff at all times, so that the quality of their work is always high;
• Being aware of (and avoiding) small things that could irritate your customers – don’t change the settings of
the driver’s seat, for example. Or if you must, then return it to its original settings when you’ve finished cleaning.

The Umsobomvu Youth Fund subsidises business support for youth enterprises owned by previously disadvantaged
youth. With the Business Consulting Services Voucher programme, you can get technical assistance and managerial
support (in business planning, marketing, financial systems, etc) for your business from an expert in your area. See the
Umsobomvu website (www.youthportal.org.za) or phone 08600YOUTH (0860 096884) for more details.

4. What will you need to start this business?

4.1 What training do you need?
There is no specific training need to start a car wash business, but you need the experience of working with people
who understand the equipment, techniques and products that will make your business a success. If you are coming into
the business from scratch, talk to the manufacturers of car washing equipment and materials; they will give you some
insights, as they have an interest in your success.

For a broader understanding of cleaning technology and processes, there are certificate courses you can take,
• National Certificate in Hygiene and Cleaning Services – National Qualification Authority (NQF) Levels 1-3
• National Diploma in Hygiene and Cleaning Management

These are offered by Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges and a number of training organisations country-
wide. Look in your local telephone directory to find FET colleges in your area, or contact the Services Seta’s Cleaning
Chamber at 011 276 9600 (www.serviceseta.org.za – more details below) for more information about how to get this
training. An example of a relevant accredited trainer is the Rutanang Academy (www.cleaningafrica.co.za).

If you have not run a business before, get some training in:
• Basic business skills;
• Administration and financial management;
• Knowledge of cleaning equipment; and
• Knowledge of cleaning chemicals.


You can get more information on courses from the Services Seta, as well as from websites such as www.careers.co.za.
There are distance learning (correspondence), part-time and after-hours courses in these business-related subjects
from colleges like Intec (www.intec.edu.za) and Damelin (www.damelin.co.za).

Distributors of car cleaning materials also have useful information on their websites, such as (www.shieldchem.co.za).
The Umsobomvu Youth Fund offers Entrepreneurship Education for in-school and out-of-school youth. Umsobomvu
also offers you the support of a mentor as you start up and build your business, through its Youth Enterprise Mentorship
Service. See the Umsobomvu website (www.youthportal.org.za) or phone 08600 YOUTH (0860 096884) for more

4.2 Obeying the law

The information in this section will just give you a starting point; you should get legal advice from a professional before
making important decisions that might have legal implications.

Registering your business

One of your first decisions when starting a business will be whether to operate as a sole trader (under your own name)
or register the business under its own name (as a close corporation, partnership, co-operative or company). To make
this decision, you must first understand the benefits and disadvantages of each option.

For more information on this, you can talk to the Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro) on
0861 843 384 or go to their website (www.cipro.co.za). You can also download Umsobomvu’s guide on Starting Your
Own Business from the organisation’s website: www.youthportal.org.za

Paying taxes
You need to pay income tax on your earnings as an individual. If you run your business as a sole trader, then all your
business earnings will be regarded as your personal earnings – and you have to pay tax on that. If your business is
registered as a close corporation, company or cooperative, then the business has to pay tax on its profits.

You also need to deduct Standard Income Tax on Employees (SITE) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) from your employees’
salaries, and pay this to the South African Revenue Services (SARS).

Talk to the South African Revenue Services (SARS) to find out how to register yourself, your employees and your
business as tax payers. Speak to SARS for more information (national call centre number is 0860 12 12 18) or visit their
website at www.sars.gov.za.

Employment regulations
If you have anyone working for you, you must register as an employer with the Department of Labour, and make
contributions on behalf of your employees for Unemployment Insurance (UIF) and Workmen’s Compensation.

As an employer, you need to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which regulates working hours,
overtime, leave, deductions, etc. It also says that you must give employees their terms of employment in writing, and
can only dismiss them using the correct procedure.

If you have more than five employees, you must display a summary of the Act at your business premises.

For more information, speak to your local Department of Labour office or visit the department’s website at
www.labour.gov.za, which has a number of useful guides on these and other topics.

Health and safety regulations

Health and safety legislation is also important, as you may be working with potentially dangerous equipment and
chemicals. As an employer, you are required by law to ensure that your staff are not exposed to health and safety risks,
and to give them the instruction, training and supervision they need to work safely. Your basic responsibilities, according
to the National Contract Cleaners Assocation (www.ncca.co.za), are to:
• Identify and anticipate health risks;
• Evaluate these by their consequences and precautions; and
• Control the risks through training, appropriate procedures, etc.

You will be governed here by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 85 of 1993, as well as the various OHS
regulations and notices promulgated by the Department of Labour. Of particular relevance will be Regulation 1179 on
hazardous chemical substances.


The department’s website (www.labour.gov.za) is a valuable resource in this regard, with the relevant laws themselves
as well as useful guides on a range of labour issues.

Municipal bylaws
Talk to the environmental health department at your local municipality to find out what regulations apply to a car
washing business. You will find that most municipalities have regulations that require you to recycle at least 50% of the
water you use, and to dispose responsibly of water with detergent. There may also be some regulation of the kind of
detergents you can use.

4.3 What sort of costs will you need to cover?

Your main initial outlay will probably be on premises. As well as office space and facilities, you will need a parking area
and wash bays for a number of vehicles. These will need to be covered, to keep the cars in shade before and while they
are being washed.

You will also need a reliable vehicle of your own that is large enough to accommodate any equipment to be taken to
other sites or for repairs.

The equipment you will need will depend on your resources and planned turnover. Initially, it would probably be best to
start off with a manual washing process, with the help of a high-pressure spray. See local suppliers such as www.cyclosa.
co.za and search in the Yellow Pages or online at www.yellowpages.co.za and www.ananzi.co.za.

If it was warranted, you could explore the larger, automated car washing machines that use either brushes or high
pressure sprays. Talk to an expert about the capital costs, installation costs and running costs of these machines
(www.carwashlogic.co.za is an independent consulting firm with expertise in this industry).

Your initial equipment would include a strong industrial vacuum cleaner – preferably one that could also handle liquids,
so it could extract moisture when you shampoo upholstery.

You will need a range of cleaning materials (chamois leather, cloths and brushes), and various detergents and finishing
products like shampoo, wax and general cleaning products. Protective clothing such as overalls, safety glasses and gloves
may also be necessary.

To run your office, you may need a computer, and will definitely need a telephone with answering machine. Also budget
for stationery, including letterheads, envelopes and business cards. If you want to accept payment by credit or debit
card, you will need to lease a machine from your bank; ask the bank what they charge for this, and what commission
they take on each transaction.

Your equipment and machinery needs to comprehensively insured, and you should also talk to an insurance company
about policies for public liability (in case you damage a customer’s car).

The Umsobomvu Youth Fund provides micro-loans (R1,000 to R100,000) and SME funding (R100,000 to R5 million)
to enterprises owned by previously disadvantaged youth. See the Umsobomvu website (www.youthportal.org.za) or
phone 08600YOUTH (0860 096884) for more details.

5. Further information
Umsobomvu Youth Fund helps young South Africans (those between the ages of 18 and 35) and women of all ages to
get good skills, find job opportunities or start their own businesses. It has Youth Advisory Centres around the country
where you can go for information and advice. Phone the call centre at 08600YOUTH (0860 096884) or visit the website
(www.youthportal.org.za) to find an advice centre near you.

Umsobomvu House, 11 Broadwalk Avenue (off Church Street), Halfway House, Gauteng
PO Box 982, Halfway House 1685
Tel: 08600YOUTH (0860 096884)
Fax: 011 805 9709
Email: info@uyf.org.za
Website: www.youthportal.org.za


Sector Education & Training Authorities (Setas) collect monthly levies from businesses in their particular sector, and use those
funds for training and skills improvement in their sector. The Services Seta collects and disburses these funds for the services
sector, which includes the cleaning industry.

Over 90% of the businesses in this sector are small enterprises, so there is a dedicated department within the Services Seta
to serve their needs. Its work includes researching the SME demographics of the sector, finding out small enterprises’ main
training needs, developing marketing strategies for SMEs, and opening channels between the formal and informal sector.

Services House, 14 Sherborne Road, Parktown

PO Box 3322, Houghton 2041
Tel: 0861 10 11 48
Fax: 011 726 4416
Website: www.serviceseta.org.za

Rutanang (“learning together”) is the training division of Cleaning Africa Thusanang, and is an approved training provider to
the Services Seta; it also participates in the Services Seta learnership programmes. The company runs courses including vehicle
cleaning, vehicle valet, cleaning processes and practical paint rectification, as well as courses for cleaning supervisors.

Wardsworth Park - Unit 12/13, 5 Star Business Park, Juice Street, Honeydew
Tel: 011 794 6665
Fax: 011 794 6880
Email: midge@cleaningafrica.co.za
Website: www.cleaningafrica.co.za

Car Wash Logic is a private company that consults to the carwash industry, serving small entrepreneurs with a single site,
through to national corporate networks. The company tests and evaluates all products used in the industry, and offers advice
on any aspect of a car wash business, including building regulations, water conservation and best practice.

PO Box 809, Constantia, 7848, Cape Town

Tel: 021 761 4162
Fax: 021 797 6301
Email: info@carwashlogic.co.za
Website: www.carwashlogic.co.za

This information is meant as a starting point only. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that the information
is accurate and up-to-date, the publisher makes no warranties and will not be responsible for any errors or omissions in the
information, nor any consequences of any errors or omissions. Professional advice should be sought where appropriate.

© Cobweb Information South Africa (Pty) Ltd 2007