So, You Think You Want to Start a Car Detailing Business, huh?  


Is Detailing a Viable Business?

Good question!

Several realities play into making car detailing a viable and growing business.

  • New car prices continue to rise at an average of $1,500 per year.  

  • The fact that people are keeping their cars longer, much longer.

  • The average road worthy vehicle is nearly 15 years old.

  • The tough economy itself makes it difficult to afford a brand new car. - Word is younger generations aren’t as keen on buying a new ride.

What does this all mean?

Detailing is an excellent business!


Let’s Talk Cash!

Great news:

You don’t have to set up a high dollar shop in a high-income, high-cost-of-living area to make a nice living as a detailer. You can have a mobile set up!

You don’t need to have a ton of up front money to make money!  You don’t need to offer a ton of services unless you want to!

Typical charges are as follows:

  •  Vacuum and hand wash (Express Detail or Maintenance Detail), $50-$75

  •  Full detail, $200-$600

  •  Engine detail, $50-$75

Add-on services create different profit options and typically offer more income per unit of work:

  •   Paint touch-up, $50 minor ($200 major)

  •   Overspray or cement removal, $150

  •    Black trim restoration, $25 – $110

  •    Carpet dyeing, $75 – $150

  •     Windshield repair, $25 – $100

  •     Paintless dent repair, $90 – $120

You can be as busy as you WANT to be, work when you want to.

Estimate jobs per day, as follows:

  • 1 Full detailing job per day @ $250 x 5 days = $1250 per week

  • 2 Full detail and 5 Maint. detailing jobs per week @ $500 (x2) and $75 (x5) = $1375

  •  2 Maintenance detailing jobs per day @ $75 x 5 days = $750 per week

  •   3 Maintenance detailing jobs per day @ $75 x 5 days = $1125 per week

Those are examples of an “easy” week  You can have multiple combinations, and work as much as you want.  People are doing 2 full details PER DAY, others are content with 2 full details PER WEEK. - Imagine 2 full details per day???  $2500 per week on the lower side

How does that sound to you?

You can certainly make a good living with full time or even part time auto detailing services. No doubt about it!

Working alone, averaging $1500 per week, taking a 2 week vacation each year, that’s still over $75,000 yearly! Work a little harder, that’s just more money - add in a few “extra” or tackle the bigger vehicles that pay more money, the income potential grows!

Basically, there’s a tremendous money-making opportunity.

Question is: Are you up for the challenge? Are you physically up for it?

Different Types of Detailing Businesses

Professional detailing is possible in many shapes and sizes.

You can categorize them into 3 basic groups:

·         Mobile

·         Fixed-site

·         Temporary location

Any professional detailing operation will have its pros and cons. These must be fully understood.


Mobile Detailing Business

Mobile detailers operate out of the back of a car, van, truck or trailer.

The benefits:

·         Low initial start-up cost

·         Small monthly fees

·         Higher rates from clients

No doubt, there are customers who prefer the convenience of having a car detailed at home (or at their job).  Most times, the customer is ok with you using their carport, or garage to work in for shelter.

Outfitting a mobile detailing system is largely a matter of personal taste and pocketbook.

But realize this:

Your mobile rig will be your central work facility. It deserves significant thought.

You’ll be using it as your office, workshop, transportation and shelter for 8+ hours a day.

Creating an organized layout is a must. This will help the business run efficiently.

As far as investment goes…

Reliable used vans and trucks can be purchased for as little as $5,000. You’ll can spend another $3,000 to $4,000 to equip the van or truck.

Do you already own a truck or van that’s used for non-business use?

Then, maybe a trailer is your best for you?

But you don’t NEED to go out and purchase a vehicle.  Use what you have, just make sure it is clean and presentable.  If you have a Geo Metro, don’t worry, you don’t need on-board, air, water and power.  Use the customers water and power. Start as a mobile wash and grow into the business, and expand the vehicle as needed.

Waste water management is a big concern for most states and cities.

It’s no longer acceptable to dump chemicals into the drainage system. A mobile detailer must have a containment and water reclamation system.  California uses a 2-gallon rule. Containment is mandatory if the detail job requires more than 2 gallons of wash water. How do you get around it?  You can always go with a rinseless wash process. A mobile detailer can use less than 2 gallons of water do do a full size, crew cab dually truck! Less waste, but also less product used (more profit), less equipment needed (more profit) and less set-up/ tear down time (more profit).



There’s something else to consider:

Mobile system maintenance is an issue. The equipment takes more abuse than shop-based tools.

Mobile convenience is popular with clients, BUT it’s a time-waster for the operator.

How long does it take to get to each client? Probably 20 minutes or so, maybe more.

Think about it. You service 3 clients a day and that’s at least an hour of paid time lost.

Still interested?


OK you need to know what it costs to start a mobile detailing business.

It’s impossible to give you hard/ fast number for this!  Let’s go on the cheap side first, then give you the expensive bullshit side you see elsewhere online:

You already own a vehicle right?  Thats free!  

Vacuum $75

Hose $25

Microfiber towels (36 pack from costco) $20

ONR rinseless wash $20 - washes over 100 cars with one bottle - very concentrate! 256:1 ratio

Beadmaker spray sealant $15

Griot’s Garage Interior Cleaner $15

Pack of Boar’s Hair detail brushes $10


That’s enough to get you started!  You won’t be a “detailer” with this set up, but for less than $200, you can start your own mobile car wash business.  Now you will still need the required license for your area and garage keepers insurance, but that should still be less than $100, so a total investment of less than $300, you are legal and ready.

Or you can go up to:

“One-Time Start-Up Expenses

·         Incorporation fee (attorney) –  $1,000

·         Accountant or bookkeeper –  $800

·         Mobile office equip – $250

·         Turnkey mobile detailing system – $8,000

·         Miscellaneous tools – $300

·         Water reclamation system – $2,500

·         Initial stock of chemicals and supplies – $500

·         Initial promotion and marketing – $1,000

·         Merchant service – $300

·         Work clothes/uniform – $300

·         Licenses – $100

·         Start-up cash (always available) – $5,000


Total estimated start-up costs – $20,050”


Any anything in between!!!  Possibilities are endless!!!!!

Fixed-site Detailing Business

A fixed-site detailing business, or detailing shop, is a much more expensive proposition.

You see, there are many hard costs incurred before opening the doors for business.

It’s easy to spend $100,000 or more.

That is, for a modest-sized shop with only a couple of detailing bays.

The benefit to a fixed shop operation?

Customers come to you, they drop the vehicle off, and leave it. Less chance of the customer interrupting your work.

You can locate the business in a natural traffic center. With this visibility you’ll easily bring in customers.

With a good location and marketing plan, this kind of operation can generate annual revenues of $500,000 or more, with employees.

What does it cost to start a fixed-site operation?

Expect your initial start up expenses to be around $30,000.  This does not include working capital! Then you will have your monthly expenses, rent, utilities, etc. that can easily start at $6,000 per month!


Temporary Location Detailing Business

This style is similar to a mobile detailer, but at a fixed site.  Some professional detailers start out using temporary locations like a parking garage, gasoline station or portable awning in a shopping mall parking lot.

A detailer can build a steady business of drive-up customers with this concept.

The equipment for a temporary location detailing shop is similar to a mobile business, except you WILL need a larger vehicle and/ or trailer to house your additional equipment such as your water tank and water pump, pressure washer, and generator.  You will also NEED some sort of portable shelter to work under if it’s raining, or too hot out.

In fact, many temporary location operators simply pull their mobile rig on site. Some have agreements with parking garages or gas stations to draw more business.

Don’t Have a Bunch of Cash Lying Around to Start?

Are you dreaming of starting a detailing business? But your broke as …. Well, broke?

There’s nothing wrong with operating out of the trunk of a car!

When most detailers start off on a minimal budget, they often set prices artificially low to attract business. To keep their head above water financially, they rush jobs and cut corners. PLEASE don’t fall into this trap!!!

Some expenses can be avoided in the first year, such as the attorney and accountant. Not that they aren’t important, but your needs are modest when starting small.

Likewise, you don’t have to invest in every tool or a brand-new van, truck or trailer. Where possible, buy used equipment.

The best way to get started is to offer a basic wash and vacuum, express detail services.

Advertise and promote the business by distributing flyers and business cards. Social media and word of mouth are your best friends here!!

Never be shy about asking family and friends for referrals. Provide people who give referrals an added benefit if they bring you business. Don’t discount your services, instead, add something in like a free engine bay cleaning, or windshield sealant.

Equipment and Supplies

You WILL need tools and supplies.

Rotary Buffer 

Get a tool with variable speed control (from 600 to 2,400 RPM).

Also, make sure the rotary buffer you purchase has or will accept Velcro backing plates and pads. Velcro-backed pads are a huge time-saver!

Dual-Action Buffer

This will be your best friend when it comes to polishing and waxing the paint.  You will also need a good dual-action (orbital) buffer.

The same rules apply as above.

Wet-Dry Vacuum

Don’t underestimate the value of a good wet-dry vacuum, look for 5hp or more. 


An extractor is a cleaning system for carpet and upholstery. This tool pays for itself in a very short period of time. Without an extractor, interior detailing is very laborious. You can start with a cheap Bissell spot cleaner and move up to the big industrial one as your business grows.

Air Compressor

A portable compressor will come in handy for jobs such as blowing water off a freshly detailed engine or blowing out dirty vents.

Some detailers use an electric leaf blower for drying vehicles.

Clay Bar or Synthetic Clay

I prefer the synthetic clay over traditional bar.  Easier to use and you don't have to throw it away if you drop it on the ground.

Detail Brushes

Professional detailers use a wide assortment of brushes to detail cars.

Drill brushes work GREAT on carpet!!!

You’ll need interior brushes, exterior brushes, tire and wheel brushes and engine brushes. For each of these areas you’ll need fine, medium and possibly even hard bristles.


You’re going to be amazed at how many towels you use!!

You want to invest in good microfiber towels!!!

I prefer to use new towels for the washing of the exterior.  Once the towels have been run through the washing machine, those have now become interior towels. After a number of uses in the interior, they then become wheel, tire or engine bay towels, which get thrown away after use.  Always use a seperate drying towel, not a chamois.

Pressure Washer

Electric or gas, your choice.  Gas is more powerful and better overall.  Can be used for other jobs, like driveway cleaning, house cleaning etc. more ways to make money.  Electric is quieter and easier to take mobile if your not running a truck, van or trailer.

Foam Gun

This always looks great for photos, and gives the illusion to the customer they are getting a thorough cleaning, but in my opinion, it just uses ALOT of more product and wastes more water.  It does, however, give you a very lubricated surface to run your wash towel over.


Great for interior, engine bays, wheels, getting crayons out of upholstery, makeup off, MANY uses!!!


We could write a book on all this alone!!!  Detailing chemicals are your number one supply item. Over time, you will spend more money on chemicals than all of your tools and other supplies put together.

Car wash soap (NOT DISH SOAP!!)

Citrol 266 - great for, bug and tar removal, tree sap, degreaser, ect.

APC (All Purpose Cleaner)

Interior Cleaner

Wheel Cleaner

Carpet Shampoo

Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Glass Cleaner - I also have a trick that works great if you don’t want to buy seperate glass cleaner - check out my how to guide.

Glass Sealant - sure makes seeing in the rain alot easier, especially at night!

Paint Compound

Paint Polish


All in One Polish

Spray Wax

Synthetic Sealant

Spray Sealant

Vinyl Dressing

Tire Shine

This is not everything you will ever use or ever need, as a professional detailer, we are always trying something new, coming up with tricks that allow use to use the same chemicals for different jobs.

practice makes perfect.


Legal Requirements

Every business has legal requirements it must meet to operate.

Business Permits/ License

Each city, county and state government body in the U.S. has different guidelines for operating a detailing business.

Some regions will require one or more licenses, while others require no licenses at all.

The best place to learn about obtaining a business license in your area is your local city hall, city administration or county administration office. Every town or county in the U.S. has an administration office. 

Sign Permits

Some cities and counties have strict sign ordinances that restrict the size, lighting and location of business signs.

Most landlords will be able to guide you on proper signage for your location. If you’re starting a mobile operation, there are very few restrictions.


Fire Department Permits

Fire departments often require businesses to get a permit if they use flammable materials or if the premises will be occupied by customers.

Check with your local fire department if you are establishing a fixed-site business.

Zoning Ordinances

Zoning applies to business use of property in a residential area.

Zoning regulation will most likely not be a problem IF you’re locating the business in an existing facility.

However, in a new location (including your home) check zoning ordinances to make sure you’re in compliance.

Good Record Keeping

Why keep accurate records?

They’re an invaluable tool for managing your business. They are also required by law!

It’s necessary for basic day-to-day operations just from a management perspective.

Records help you track sales and measure your financial situation.

Again, records must also be kept to determine tax liability. I suggest that you hire a bookkeeper and an accountant.

Advertising & Promotion

What motivates people to buy!

There are essentially 5 motivators that prompt folks give up hard-earned money for a product or service:

·         Pride – When you park your car and walk away, do you turn back to see how your car looks? Sure you do! That’s because you have pride in your car. Pride is a strong motivator, especially for men. Most luxury and sports car owners fall into this category.

·         Protection – Some car owners use detailing services to maintain the cosmetic appearance of their vehicles. They are protecting their assets. I receive a lot of phone calls from customers with new cars asking how best to maintain their investment.

·         Pleasure – Some people buy things for the sheer pleasure of it. In the case of detailing, the pleasure customer is buying “kiss my feet” service.

·         Price – For most people, buying at the best price isn’t the top priority. Detailers should not cater to the best price buyer. There are plenty of bottom feeder detailers around. Let them have the guy who wants an all-day detail job for $75. Never allow a potential customer to talk you into losing money on a deal because they say they can find a service for less money.

·         Profit – When a client wants to sell a car, he or she will seek a detailer to make it look its best. They are motivated by higher profit from the sale.

For every reason people buy, there are an equal number of reasons they don’t:

·         No cash – Not much you can do here. No money, no service. Don’t waste your time.

·         No faith – Do you trust just anyone with your car? Of course you don’t, so don’t expect your clients to have faith in you immediately. You have to work at building trust.

·         No need – This is pretty easy to understand. If a person does it themselves, or if they do not care about their car, they don’t need your service.

·         No desire – If you can’t explain the benefits of your services, it will be very difficult to create a desire to purchase. Don’t expect that everyone understands what they need to do to maintain their car. Spend time educating your clients.

·         No rush – How many times have you said to a salesman, “Hey, let me think about it.” You may have some interest in the product, but there’s no urgency. Sometimes you will need to create the urgency.

How To Price & Promote

There’s a range of prices for goods and services in every line of business.

Service prices typically reflect the quality and professionalism provided to the customer. Successful detailers price appropriately and avoid competing with bottom feeders. The truth is bottom feeders are forced to cut corners and deliver less than stellar service. If they don’t, they will quickly be out of business. The demise of most bottom feeders is the lack of repeat business (what makes a truly professional detailer thrive).

Here’s something that’s overlooked:

As prices increase, so does the caliber of clientele. Clients with new, expensive cars will use your services regularly. These are your loyal, repeat business customers. They are the customers you want to attract and keep. Most detailers never figure this out. Instead, they try to compete with bottom feeders on price. 

Be careful, though…

Jack up your prices too high and you may lose customers you already have.

With each price increase you MUST also improve your image and service level.

The Bottom Line:

People purchase on quality, service and price. Each must be in balance.

Do Promotion or Die!

Build your marketing and promotion plan around your customer’s buying motives.

Make sure your marketing plan outlines how to gain first-thought recognition, and to answer a simple question for customers: “What will it do for me?”

The name of your detailing business should pop into customers’ heads when their vehicles need detailing services.

Very few detailers formalize advertising and promotion plans. Take it from me…

Word of mouth is important. However, it only comes after you’ve built a successful business.

Do this:

Create a realistic marketing plan and aggressively work your plan!

Summary on Starting a Car Detailing Business

Professional detailing is a great business opportunity.

That’s for sure. You can make a lot of money.

You can do it!

But, like any business, it requires careful planning and execution.

Be smart! Don’t stumble blindly into professional detailing.

Take the time to understand your market and build a strategy. Then plan your business and work your plan!

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