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INDUSTRY INFORMATION

United States Industry Sizing

ICA commissioned a primary research study in 2020 to quantify the number of car wash locations in the U.S. (Earlier estimates relied upon information supplied to ICA by car wash systems manufacturers; this research replaces that process and those results.) The following industry size estimate was created by using publicly available data, store counts in select markets and then extrapolation based upon ratios such as population per car wash and registered cars per car wash.

Type of Car Wash (automated retail locations only) Estimated locations
 In-Bay Automatic / Roll-over 29,000
 Conveyor 17,500
 Self-Service 16,250
Total  62,750

 

The U.S. Census Bureau has its own estimates on the car wash industry, which generally aligns with his research when considering that most self-service and in-bay automatic locations have few if any employees. Click here for their industry profile.

 

Additional Markets

While there has not been a study done on the exact size of the global car wash industry, we have complied estimations for the following markets:

Type of Location  Europe (EU) Australia 
 In-Bay Automatic / Roll-over  50,000  1,600
 Self-Service  11,000  300
 Conveyor  8,000  50
 Total  69,000  1,950

 

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Consumer Trends

In the mature markets of North America and Europe, consumers are increasingly preferring to have their cars washed for them versus doing it themselves. In the United States, the percentage of drivers that report most frequently washing their vehicle at a professional car wash has increased from approximately 48% in 1994 to more than 77% in 2019.

Improvements in speed, convenience, quality and value has substantially increased demand for car washing. In recent years, the popularity of car wash subscriptions plans and strong operating margins has attracted substantial new investment, with some estimates as high as 100 new stores being added in the U.S. each month.

Ownership Profile

The majority of car wash locations in the United States are owned and operated by small to medium sized independent car wash companies. The market is fragmented in the conveyor segment, with companies of 4 or fewer more locations representing ~70% of total conveyor locations, and the largest company owning ~2% of conveyor locations. Fragmentation is even more significant in the self-service segment, while convenience and petroleum retailing organizations typically control larger networks of in-bay automatic locations.

In Europe, petroleum companies control the majority of the market in terms of locations, but the greatest growth is coming from independent conveyor car wash companies. The Australian market is closer in profile to North America, with the majority of sites owned by private entrepreneurs.

Employment

The professional car wash industry employs more than 220,000 full and part-time employees at retail stores and more than 15,000 in car wash equipment, chemical and service providing companies.

Retail Activity

Car wash retail sales are approximately $15B in North America, €5B in Europe and A$1.5B in Australia. 

Though substantial in the aggregate, not included in the above information are estimations for related activities. Vehicle washing also occurs at auto dealerships, as part of fleet management, at rental car facilities, in hand wash or detail shops, through mobile washing units and in specialized agricultural and mass transportation environments.