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How to Start a Car Detailing Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Car Detailing Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$4,550 - $28,100

Revenue potential

$78,000 - $364,000 p.a.

Time to build

0 – 3 months

Profit potential

$70,000 - $145,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

Some people care for their cars like their children and always want them spic and span, which is why the car wash and detailing industry is worth almost $20 billion. Starting your own car detailing business offers a way for you to get a piece of that market and build a profitable company.

Challenges exist, however, when starting a car detailing business. You’ll have to work hard and be prepared with relevant knowledge to be successful. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place, as this step-by-step guide provides all the information you’ll need to put you on the road to entrepreneurial success.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and Cons

Every business, including a car detailing business, has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s the right path for you.

Pros

  • InexpensiveStart a mobile car detailing business with a low budget
  • Good money — Auto detailing has high profit margins
  • Flexibility — Schedule appointments on your time

Cons

  • Demanding clients — Customers may be very particular about the detailing
  • Competition — Many car washes offer detailing services

Car Detailing Industry Trends

As car prices continue to rise, consumers tend to want to care for their cars more, which boosts the car detailing industry.

Industry Size and Growth

car detailing industry size and growth
  • Industry size and past growth — The US car wash and auto detailing industry showed a 5.1% annual growth in the last five years and is valued at nearly $19.8 billion.
  • Growth forecast — The industry is expected to grow over the next five years.
  • Number of businesses — There are more than 60,000 car wash and auto detailing businesses in the US.
  • Number of people employed — The industry employs more than 208,000 people.((https://www.ibisworld.com/united-states/market-research-reports/car-wash-auto-detailing-industry/))

Trends and Challenges

car detailing industry Trends and Challenges

Trends

  • On-demand app-based auto detailing services are growing in demand. The mobile service comes to the customer’s home or workplace and does the work without any interruption to the customer’s day. The technology being used enables the detailing company to route detailers to customer locations. This offers customers speed and convenience by just clicking a few buttons on their phone.
  • Consumers are also demanding eco-friendly detailing products including biodegradable soaps and waterless options. Business application provider CGS found in a 2019 survey that more than two-thirds of consumers consider sustainability when making purchases and are willing to pay more.((https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/01/10/1686144/0/en/CGS-Survey-Reveals-Sustainability-Is-Driving-Demand-and-Customer-Loyalty.html))

Challenges

  • The industry is extremely competitive due to low barriers to entry for a mobile detailing service. Business owners can combat this challenge by offering exceptional service, increasing revenue by upselling services, and offering rewards programs.
  • Car detailing is considered a luxury purchase, so the industry is heavily impacted by economic fluctuations. When consumers have less disposable income the industry suffers.

Consumer Spending

car detailing industry consumer spending

Demand Hotspots

car detailing demand hotspots

What Kind of People Work in Car Detailing?

car detailing industry demographics

How Much Does It Cost to Start a Car Detailing Business?

Startup costs for a car detailing business range from $4,500 to $28,000. The low-end costs include purchasing used detailing tools and a used trailer to transport them. The high-end is for new detailing tools and renting a physical location. You can get all the tools you need in an auto detailer starter kit, which ranges in price from $2,000 to $15,000.

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Buckets
  • Vacuum
  • Applicators and brushes
  • Foam cannon
  • Drying tools
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corportation$150–$200$175
Licenses and permits$100–$300$200
Insurance$100–$300$200
Business cards and brochures$200–$300$250
Website setup$1,000–$3,000$2,000
Trailer for equipment$1,000–$4,000$2,500
Car detailing equipment$2,000–$15,000$8,500
Deposit on a physical space$0–$5,000$2,500
Total$4,550–$28,100$16,325

How Much Can You Earn From a Car Detailing Business?

Car Detailing business earnings forecast

The average price of car detailing is $100. Your profit margin if you start a one-person mobile service will be around 90%. In your first year or two, you could work from home and detail 15 cars a week, bringing in $78,000 in annual revenue. This would mean about $70,000 in profit, assuming that 90% margin.

As your brand gains recognition, sales could climb to 70 cars a week with the help of other detailers. At this stage, you would rent a commercial space and hire staff, reducing your profit margin to around 40%. With an annual revenue of $364,000, you would make about $145,000.

What Barriers to Entry Are There?

There are a few barriers to entry for a car detailing business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Startup costs to have a physical location are high
  • You’ll face competition from large chain car washes

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a car detailing business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an Opportunity

Research car detailing businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing an on-demand mobile service.

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry such as green detailing.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.

What? Determine Your Services and Package Offerings

You may want to offer different packages of services. A basic detailing service could include a wash and wax, vacuuming, and cleaning all non-fabric interior surfaces. A full detailing package could also include:

  • Fabric cleaning and stain removal
  • Trim paint repair
  • Engine cleaning
  • Tire cleaning

How Much Should You Charge for Car Detailing?

Prices can range from $75 to $150 for basic detailing and will depend on the size of the car. Full-service detailing could be as much as $250.

If you’re working by yourself as a mobile detailer, your only expenses will be cleaning supplies and fuel, so you should aim for a profit margin of 90%. Once you know your costs, use our profit margin calculator to determine your price points.

Who? Identify Your Target Market

Your target market will be car owners, particularly new or classic car owners, who will tend to be a more established group. You can find them on sites like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Where? Choose Your Business Premises

In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out an office space and garage. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

car detailing business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Car Detailing Business Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “car detailing” or “auto detailing,” boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for example, “Shine Time Detailing” over “RV Detailing Services” or “Mobile Detailing Services”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Discover over 290 unique car detailing business name ideas here. If you want your business name to include specific keywords, you can also use our car detailing business name generator. Just type in a few keywords,  hit Generate, and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Car Detailing Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive summary — A brief overview of your car detailing business, highlighting key elements such as your mission, vision, and primary objectives
  • Business overview — An in-depth look at your car detailing venture, including its history, mission, values, and the specific services you intend to offer
  • Product and services — Detailed descriptions of the car detailing services you provide, emphasizing any unique or specialized offerings
  • Market analysis — Research the car detailing market, including customer demographics, trends, and potential growth opportunities in your target area
  • Competitive analysis — Evaluation of other car detailing businesses in your area, emphasizing your competitive strengths and strategies for differentiating your services
  • Sales and marketing — Your plan for promoting and selling your car detailing services, covering advertising, promotions, and customer acquisition strategies
  • Management team — Introductions to key members of your car detailing business, emphasizing their skills and roles in ensuring the venture’s success
  • Operations plan — Details on the day-to-day operations of your car detailing business, including location, equipment, suppliers, and any strategic partnerships
  • Financial plan — A comprehensive financial projection for your car detailing business, covering startup costs, revenue forecasts, and profit margins
  • Appendix — Additional supporting documents, such as resumes of key team members, detailed market research data, or any other relevant information that provides further insight into your car detailing business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan yourself before, it can be an intimidating task. Consider hiring an experienced business plan writer to create a professional business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!

Choose Where to Register Your Company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to car detailing businesses.

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind that it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.

Choose Your Business Structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your car detailing business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole proprietorship — The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • Partnership — Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) — Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corporation – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corporation – This refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. A corporation or an LLC can elect to be an S Corp for tax status. In an S Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

Form Your LLC

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number or EIN. You can file for your EIN online, or by mail/fax. Visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund Your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business financing
  • Bank loans — This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and a strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans — The Small Business Administration can act as a guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and family — Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding — Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Your best options may be either personal funding or an SBA loan. SBA loans, however, have favorable terms, but you’ll have to make payments that will affect your cash flow.

Step 8: Apply for Car Detailing Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a car detailing business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments. You can get an auto detailing certification if you choose. It’s not required, but it will add to your credibility. You can learn more from the International Detailers Association.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health license and permit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.

You may also need state-level licenses and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes. You might consider a license compliance package from a filing firm such as MyCorporation or MyCompanyWorks, or hire an attorney via Avvo or FindLaw.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account. Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your car detailing business as a sole proprietorship.

Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability — The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business property — Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment breakdown insurance — Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property — Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability Protects against claims from clients who say they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP) This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.

Essential Software and Tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.

You can use industry-specific software, such as shopmonkey, Washify, or Managemart, to manage scheduling, dispatching, invoicing, hours tracking, and equipment.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, FreshBooks, and Xero.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences of filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Develop Your Website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using website builders. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

However, people are unlikely to find your website unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  • Local SEO — Optimize your website with relevant search terms and encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews to boost local visibility. Regularly update your Google My Business and Yelp profiles to strengthen your local search presence.
  • Professional branding — Ensure your branding reflects professionalism, from your logo to your business cards.
  • Direct outreach — Build connections with local businesses, car clubs, and dealerships to create partnerships or referral programs.
  • Social media engagement — Utilize Instagram and Facebook to showcase high-quality images of your detailing work and engage with customer feedback.
  • Car care blog — Share posts about car maintenance tips and detailing techniques to demonstrate expertise and attract car enthusiasts.
  • Customer testimonials and showcase — Highlight before-and-after photos of detailed vehicles to illustrate the quality of your services.
  • Detailing demonstrations — Conduct live demonstrations at local events or car shows to display your techniques and products.
  • Open house events — Host events at your location for potential customers to meet your team and learn about your services.
  • Partnerships with automotive businesses — Collaborate with local automotive shops and dealerships for cross-promotion opportunities.
  • Loyalty rewards program — Implement a program where frequent customers receive discounts or complimentary services.
  • Email marketing — Send newsletters with car care tips and exclusive promotions to keep in touch with customers.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that set it apart from the competition. Today, customers are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your car detailing meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your car detailing business could be:

  • Eco-friendly car detailing for our planet
  • Car detailing within two hours, guaranteed
  • Want your car detailed before or after work? We’ll be there on your time

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain but your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a car detailing business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in car detailing for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in car detailing. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a car detailing business would include:

  • Detailers — detail cars, customer service
  • Dispatcher — schedule and send detailers to jobs
  • General manager — staff management, ordering, accounting
  • Marketing lead — SEO strategies, social media, other marketing

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.

Step 13: Run a Car Detailing Business — Start Making Money!

Running a Business

Cars are expensive, and smart car owners care for their cars to keep them looking new for a long time. Car detailing is a big industry worth almost $20 billion, so even just capturing a small piece of that market can mean big profits. 

You can start a mobile auto detailing service for a little money and expand your business to a physical location or by adding more mobile detailers. With the wealth of information you now have, you’re ready to start your entrepreneurial journey and build a successful car detailing business.

Car Detailing Business FAQs

How much money can a one-person car detailing business make?

You can charge about $100 for basic car detailing. If you can acquire a lot of clients and stay busy, you could make $70,000 per year or more.

Can I get training in auto detailing?

Yes, you can get training in auto detailing and even get an auto detailing certification. You can learn more from the International Detailers Association.

What tools do I need to start an auto detailing business?

You can get an auto detailer starter kit that will have everything you need. They range in price generally from $2,000 all the way up to $15,000.

How long does it take to detail a car?

The time it takes to detail a car can vary depending on factors such as the size and condition of the vehicle, the level of service requested, and the detailing techniques used. Generally, a thorough car detailing session can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day, especially for extensive cleaning, paint correction, and interior detailing.

How can I attract new customers for car detailing?

To attract new customers for car detailing, consider implementing strategies such as establishing an online presence through a professional website and active social media accounts. Share before-and-after photos, engage with potential customers, and encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews and ratings.

How can I differentiate my car detailing business from competitors in the market?

To differentiate your car detailing business from competitors, focus on providing exceptional quality and attention to detail. Offer specialized services or niche expertise, such as paint correction or luxury vehicle detailing. Emphasize exceptional customer service by actively listening to clients’ needs and exceeding expectations. 

How profitable is car detailing?

The profitability of car detailing can vary depending on factors such as location, target market, pricing, and operational costs. While car detailing can be profitable, it is important to carefully manage expenses, optimize pricing strategies, and maintain a steady flow of customers to maximize profitability. 

What additional services can my car detailing business offer to increase revenue?

To increase revenue, consider offering additional services that complement car detailing. This could include services such as paint protection coatings, interior fabric protection, headlight restoration, scratch and dent repair, odor removal, or window tinting.

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How to Start a Car Detailing Business