Originally published February 28, 2020. Updated June 1, 2020. Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Read the disclosure for more info.
How to Make Money With a Car Detailing Business
If you’re looking to start a business with little upfront cash, a mobile car detailing business could be right for you. You can charge an hourly rate or a flat rate for your services, giving you the ability to grow as your demand increases. Depending on your geographical location, starting a car detailing business can bring year-round income while offering the flexibility many are envious of.
Because car detailing is a relatively simple process, it can be a great option for those willing to put in the time and effort to master.
Keep reading to learn what you need to start your car detailing business, how to detail a car, tips to grow a successful car detailing business, and how much money you can make starting an auto detailing business.
What is Car Detailing?
In the most simple terms, car detailing is the process of cleaning, repairing, or refurbishing a vehicle so that it is in superior cosmetic condition. You can think of it as a much deeper clean than a typical car wash and interior clean. You'll need to ensure both the interior and exterior are in perfect shape to satisfy your customers and grow your car detailing business.
Equipment & Supplies Needed to Start a Mobile Car Detailing Business
When you decide to start your car detailing business, you’ll need a few pieces of equipment and supplies to get started. While some may be considered optional, many of them are required or recommended.
Because your business is mobile, you’ll need a way to transport yourself and your equipment to your clients. You can consider using a car, but a larger vehicle like a truck or SUV would be more ideal given some of the equipment required. If you plan on hiring employees or additional help, a larger vehicle will also allow for more flexibility.
While this piece of equipment is technically optional, it might make your job easier as a car detailer. The pressure built by this machine can remove even the toughest dirt and mud encrusted on any vehicle. Some power washers have the ability to add a cleaning solution to them, making it even more powerful when cleaning the exterior of a vehicle.
You can find a power washer from many local hardware or home appliance stores or you can opt to purchase one online.
Power washers range in price depending on the brand and power desired but you can expect to spend at least $300 on a new power washer or over $1,000 for a higher-end piece of equipment.
If you’re looking to save money on a power washer, you could consider purchasing a used piece that you might be able to find at a garage sale or via websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. If purchasing a used piece of equipment, it’s wise to ensure the piece works before handing over any cash.
Here are some of our recommended power washers:
- CRAFTSMAN 3000 MAX PSI at 2.1 GPM Gas Pressure Washer – Powered by Briggs & Stratton – $368
- PowerBoss 3100 MAX PSI at 2.4 GPM Gas Pressure Washer – Powered by HONDA – $429 (31% Off)
Because your business is mobile, you’ll need some sort of water supply to clean vehicles. For many, this will be the homeowner's water supply. You should always check with the homeowners beforehand to make sure that they are okay with this and you should note how far the nearest water source is from their driveway (or where the car will be washed).
If you’re planning to use a water source at the vehicle owner's location, you’ll need a way to direct that water where you want it in the form of a hose. You should purchase multiple sizes or consider purchasing a coupler to connect multiple hoses together. This can become handy if the homeowner's water source is far away from the location of the vehicle.
Cost: $15 – $50
To make your job easier, you should purchase an attachment for your hose that makes shutting off the water easy and efficient. That way, when the water is not needed, you will not be forced to make your way to the source to turn it off. You can find a variety of hose attachments here.
Cost : $5 – $25
A vacuum is necessary to remove any dirt or debris from the interior of the vehicle. Your vacuum should either be portable or offer attachments making it easier to maneuver once inside the vehicle.
Prices on vacuums range depending on the brand, power, and style but you can expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $300. You can find a selection of car detailing vacuums here.
Unless your vacuum is battery powered, you’ll need a source of power and extension cords to route the power to your device. Once again, ensure that the homeowner is okay with using a power supply beforehand and note where it is located. You can find a selection of extension cords for outdoor use here.
Cost: $10 – $50
A buffer will help you to apply wax or polish on the exterior of the vehicle more efficiently and it will typically provide more shine than a hand waxed vehicle. While buffing is not typically standard on basic car detailing packages, you can charge an additional fee for this service. You can find a selection of buffers here.
Cost: $20 – $150
Now that you have most of the logistical supplies in hand, you’ll need to purchase your cleaning and detailing supplies. You can choose to purchase them separately or together in a kit that will provide many of the car detailing essentials.
- Car Wash Soap
- Car Wax or Polish
- Interior Detailer
- Carpet Cleaner
- Leather Conditioner
- Glass Cleaner
- Wheel Cleaner
- Tire Shine
Towels, Sponges, and Brushes
You’ll need a few different products to clean deep in crevasses, dry, and polish the exterior of the vehicle you’re working on. Between towels, sponges, and brushes, you should be capable of reaching any area you need to. You can find a selection of these items here.
How To Detail a Car
Detailing a vehicle requires extreme attention to detail (hence the name). You’ll need to keep your eyes sharp looking for even the smallest of blemishes when cleaning to keep your clients satisfied.
Step 1: Inspect the Vehicle
Before you turn the hose or get the cleaning supplies out, you should first give the vehicle an inspection to see what areas are in need of the most attention. You should inspect both the interior and exterior of the vehicle noting any major blemishes.
Step 2: Clean the Interior
After inspecting the car, it’s time to get down to cleaning the interior of the vehicle. Start by cleaning any crevasse of the interior like instrument clusters, door handles, windows, and the trunk (if applicable).
Next, remove any dirt or debris from the seats of the vehicle and wiping them onto the floor to vacuum up. Once any crumbs or debris are removed, you can clean the seats with the appropriate cleaners. If the seats are leather, you can use your leather conditioner to bring new life to the seats.
After cleaning the seats, you should move onto the floor of the vehicle. Starting by vacuuming the floor, then clean any carpet that is in need using the appropriate carpet cleaner.
Related: Top Rental Business Ideas
Step 3: Clean the Exterior
After completing the interior, it’s time to move on to the exterior. Start by giving the vehicle a rinse of water. Then, depending on your equipment, either fill a bucket with your car wash soap and water or prepare your power washer for a deeper clean. Once your bucket is full, start cleaning the exterior with a sponge or rag you find to work best. Once the car has been washed, rinse the car with water until clear of any soap suds. Immediately start drying the vehicle after rinsing to avoid any dry spots. If dry spots do occur, you can polish them away later on.
Now that the majority of the vehicle is clean, you’ll need to washer the wheels and tires. It’s a good idea to use a special wheel cleaner for deeper penetration as wheels are typically very dirty from brake dust. Once the wheels are clean, you can apply tire shine as desired to give the wheels a fresh look.
Step 4: Wax
Now that the car is completely clean, you should wax or polish the vehicle to give it some extra shine. If you have a buffer, this is the time to use it. Always wax in a circular motion to avoid any streaks. Once you have waxed the vehicle, use a microfiber towel to wipe away any excess wax or polish.
Step 5: Final Inspection
Now that the vehicle is polished, you should inspect the entire vehicle looking for any areas that could have been overlooked. If you find any areas in need of cleaning, spot clean them as necessary.
Step 6: Get Owners Approval
Once the vehicle has passed your inspection, the owner of the vehicle will get his or her turn to inspect your work. If you get a thumbs up, you’re good to go. If you get a thumbs down, go over any areas the owner mentions.
Step 7: Clean Up
Once you have the owner's approval of your work, you’ll need to clean up any mess you have made and load your equipment and supplies back into your vehicle. You should spray off the driveway so that any soap suds are gone.
Set Pricing Low at First
When you first start detailing vehicles, you should aim to keep your prices lower than your competition at first, then rising them after your work has been validated and your customers are happy. This is an excellent method to grow your customer base at the beginning and keeping them coming back for a lifetime.
You can often charge anywhere between $40 and $200+ for your services or you can choose to offer an hourly rate.
Get the Word Out
To become a successful mobile car detailer, people need to know about you! You should plan to market your business in various ways. A few options to get started are:
- Social Media
- Direct Mail
- Yard Signs
- Business Cards
- Word of Mouth
As a small business, one of the best ways to get your business found initially is to use word of mouth marketing. A great way to start out is by asking your friends and family to share your business with their acquaintances.
Become a Great Salesperson
Once you’ve marketed your services, it’s all about closing the deal. You need to be capable of getting prospects to commit to your services for an agreed-upon price.
Sales is about building and strengthening your relationship with your customers. Being transparent, encouraging, and showing the value of your services are all great ways to become a more successful salesperson and increase revenues for your auto detailing business.
Quality over Quantity
Car detailing is a business that requires extreme attention to detail. When a customer decides to pay for your service, you need to provide the highest quality in order to retain them and hopefully get them to spread your name around.
Be sure to leave your client happy and do anything you can to ensure a positive experience.
Offer a Variety of Services
The best car detailing businesses will offer a wide variety of services to please every customer. This includes interior detailing, exterior detailing, buffing, drying the vehicle, and much more.
You'll want to ensure your business can offer the services your customers ask for when the time comes.
Create a Business Plan
Having a plan for your business is essential to its' success. You'll want to have a good idea of the structure of your business, how you will make money, how you will attract new customers, and much more. Your business plan should include the details of your financial outlook for your business, short term and long term business goals, a market analysis of your competition, and much more.
Mobile Car Detailing Business Operational Requirements
The last piece of starting your car detailing business is to resolve all of the operational questions that come with start most businesses. How will you collect payment? Will you send invoices? How will you manage the accounting and taxes of your business? You should aim to answer these questions before opening your business to ensure a smooth operation.
You'll also want to consider any permits or licenses needed for your business required by the state you reside in. This also includes any business liability insurance needed to keep your company, your employees, and yourself safe.
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How Much Money Can a Car Detailing Business Make?
One of my favorite things about starting an auto detailing business is the amount of money you can make. Your income potential can be almost limitless. Your only limit is the number of cars you can wash.
Depending on the amount of business you are capable of acquiring, you can make anywhere from $2,500 per month to well over $10,000 for businesses with a larger customer base.
If you're looking to increase your income, you can alway opt to hire employees to help you wash more vehicles and in-turn, make more money.
Conclusion: Is a Car Detailing Business Right For You?
Starting a mobile car detailing business is a great option for those who get gratification seeing the transformation of a vehicle from dirty to polished. It requires a strong attention to detail and a few essential tools and supplies to get started. You can plan to spend anywhere from $250 to $5,000 on initial supplies with the largest costs being a power washer, vacuum, and transportation costs.
Your detailing services can start by offering you part-time work on nights and weekends before transitioning into a full-time position.
Making money by detailing cars is an excellent business opportunity for many. Have you had experience with car detailing? Let us know below!