Guide to Starting a Car Detailing Business

If you’re thinking of starting a car detailing business, you may already be familiar with the auto detailing industry. Starting out with a solid understanding of your offering is key for those learning how to start a car detailing business, but detailing knowledge isn’t all you need to find success. We’ll go over everything you need to know to get your detailing business up and running, from the basic necessities to determining your type of shop, operating costs, insurance coverage and more.

Getting Started

Before taking the first steps in setting up your business, determine whether there is a need for car detailing services in your area. Study your community carefully to find out where the need is highest, and where the traffic is best for exposure, and try to choose locations with other businesses like retail, car dealerships, office and industrial parks, or upscale neighborhoods.
Check out the competition, too. Try having your own car detailed and asking questions during the process. Take note of competitors’ customer service, and find out what information is available about them online. Are they missing drop-off and pick-up services your company could offer? Take note of any weak places in your competitors’ repertoire and ensure your car detailing business can fill those gaps.

Next, choose what services you’ll offer. A well-rounded detailing business should provide at least four choices when it comes to detailing packages. At first, you can focus on a few areas and move into more detailing services later. Examples of these services include: pain repair, trim restoration, cigarette burn repair, vinyl and leather repair, dent repair, glass repair, and headlight restoration. Offering specialized, additional services will make create easy opportunities to upsell and create custom detailing packages.

Finally, determine which types of vehicles are your specialty. Options aren’t scarce, allowing you to choose from: fleet vehicles, commercial vehicles, limousines and luxury cars, car dealer trade-ins, private cars, or rental car fleets. Detailing opportunities don’t end on this list, though. There are also opportunities in boats, RVs, and motorcycles. Developing specialized niches in your detailing business may require some additional start-up costs, but will likely pay off in the long run.

Types of Detailing Businesses

Mobile detailing businesses are taking the world by storm thanks to their convenience for consumers. Starting a mobile car detailing business is a great way to capitalize on this trend. Mobile car detailing companies offer at-home car detailing and remove the inconvenience of sitting in a waiting room for hours while your car is cleaned.

Mobile detailers usually operate from a van, truck, trailer, or similar vehicle. It’s typically a good idea to invest in a used vehicle when starting out, as new vehicles don’t offer as much bang for your buck. Search for a pre-owned van or truck that doesn’t have a lot of visible wear and tear—this will help your customers feel confident in your abilities. After all, who wants to hire a car detailer with an old or messy vehicle? Mileage costs, vehicle maintenance and parking challenges are good to keep in mind when considering taking the mobile detailing path.

If you choose to open a brick-and-mortar detailing operation, you’ll need to consider rent costs, building maintenance, and location when selecting your operation’s headquarters. A few things to consider when choosing your spot:

  • Is the facility large enough? You’ll need to ensure there’s enough space for your employers and all their appliances, detailing tools, and storage.
  • Is the location accessible? Unless you specialize in luxury 2-seater convertibles, you’ll need to make sure there is enough space and accessible entrances to accommodate large vehicles like trucks and RVs.
  • Where are your competitors located? Choose a location that centralizes your business—somewhere with lots of customers and no competition is ideal.

What Do I Need to Start a Detailing Business?

When looking into how to start a detailing business, supplies are top-of-mind. Whether you choose a mobile or brick-and-mortar business model, you’ll need most of the same equipment and supplies. If you’ve been detailing on the side or already have a stock built up, you can likely just upgrade and fill in gaps to complete your toolbox. But if you’re just getting into the auto detailing industry, it may be a good idea to start with a car detailing business kit. This kit (or your a la carte supply cache) should include:

  • Towels, shammies, and squeegees
  • Odor removal products
  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Polishing chemicals and equipment
  • Vacuums and carpet cleaning equipment
  • Pressure washer
  • Detailing brushes for: interior, exterior, and specialty cleaning
  • Specialty cleaners for tires and glass
  • Spray bottles or automatic sprayers

How Much Does it Cost to Start?

Coming soon

How Much Can a Detailing Business Make?

Car detailing can be a lucrative business opportunity, with the highest-earning detailers earning upwards of $100,000/year. But numbers like this don’t just appear on your balance sheet, you first have to determine your break-even numbers and learn what pricing will get you the most revenue while providing a good value for your customer. Let’s break down how to calculate these numbers:

  • Calculate all your fixed monthly costs: Fixed costs are expenses that don’t change month to month like rent, vehicle payments, loans, and insurance premiums. Don’t forget to include any subscriptions or membership fees in this section to ensure you’re able to take home as much pay as possible.
  • Calculate variable costs: These costs can’t quite be predicted in the same way as fixed expenses. Car detailing tools and supplies will need to be replaced as they run out or wear out, utility costs will vary based on weather conditions, and employee wages and taxes may fluctuate as your organization grows. These will likely be harder to calculate in your first year of business, so it’s a good idea to over-estimate and leave some wiggle room for higher costs.
  • Use these costs to create a four-month average: When you arrive at this total, divide it by the number of working days you’ll be detailing. For most four-month periods, that’s about 26 days—but don’t forget, how much you work is up to you as the business owner.

Now that you’ve determined your bottom line, it’s time to develop your service menu. Choose prices for your services that are accessible to customers but also meet your bottom-line needs. The best place to start when setting prices? Setting your own hourly wage. Whether you’ll be detailing cars yourself or delegating jobs to employees, determine how many hours each task will take to complete. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of goods to detail each car. Most successful car detailers quadruple their break-even prices in order to maintain a healthy profit, so don’t be afraid to increase the cost of your services beyond hourly wages and supplies. Don’t forget, you’ll still have to pay all of those monthly fees mentioned above, so building in some extra revenue can never hurt.

How to Charge for Auto Detailing

Now that you’ve determined the cost of your services, how will you collect payment? While dealing with the hassle and fees of credit card processing may seem like a racket, in reality it’s highly important that your business is able to accept payment via credit or debit card. While accepting cash, checks, or cashier’s checks is fine, many customers only carry plastic these days—meaning if you don’t have a way to run their card, they may run to a competitor who does. Credit card processing platforms like Square provide the equipment and processing technology you need for only a minimal fee.

How to Write a Business Plan

You’ve already taken a few of the necessary steps toward your goal of starting a car detailing business, but you can’t really dive in without first creating a business plan. You can use our in-depth car wash and detailing business plan outline to get started, but we’ll also summarize the steps here:

  • Create a mission statement: Summarize your company’s goals and values to determine what you bring to the community you serve.
  • Determine what customers you’ll serve: Share where your customers are, and how you’ll reach them. Share whether you’ve chosen a physical location to serve a specific area or opting for mobile detailing to expand your reach.
  • Decide what services you’ll offer: Car wash, paint correction, chrome polishing, RV cleaning—the possibilities are endless, so be sure to include every service you’d like to offer in your business plan to help potential investors determine your value. If you’re creating a mobile detailing business plan, be sure to include pickup, dropoff, and other niche services as well.
  • Financing: Speaking of investors, you’ll need to create a plan for how to fund your car detailing business. You can opt for self-funding, raising venture capital from investors, crowdfunding, taking out business loans, or even asking friends and family to contribute.
  • Create a marketing plan: Determine how you’ll draw in customers—this plan should include your online presence, local connections like the Chamber of Commerce, off-site advertisements like signs, billboards, and newspaper ads, and of course auto detail business cards to distribute.
  • Share the cost and profit model you’ve worked out above: Investors and lenders need to know how your business will make money, so be sure to share the calculations you used to determine your pricing.
  • Equipment and product needs: You’ll also want to share the products and equipment you’ll need to run your car detailing business. Curate the lists you’ve made into a digestible format for investors and lenders to look at.
  • Determine your best practices: Sharing your methods and procedures will help build confidence in your brand and let investors know you’re truly experts in the car detailing field.
  • Licenses, Permits, and Regulations: List all permits, licenses and compliance necessities you’ll need to operate in your area so investors know what their capital is covering for your startup.
  • Business structure: Share how your business will hire employees and the hierarchy of staffing. This creates a sense of organization, and smooth operation for both your employees and those interested in funding your new business.
  • Growth plans: If your marketing is successful, you’ll need a plan for how to maintain quality work when your business takes off. Plan to stay ahead on hiring and equipment maintenance so you’re prepared for an influx of new customers.

Trainings & Certifications

Insurance is a necessity for any business, but for auto detailers working with cars, boats, and other vehicles well-loved by their owners, there’s more than just monetary liability at stake. The importance of having the right insurance and certifications truly can’t be understated. The most common coverage obtained by car detailing businesses is “garage keeper’s liability” coverage.

Even for mobile detailing operations, garage keeper’s coverage is a necessity. Be sure your policy includes coverage for picking up and dropping off vehicles, any damage that may be accidentally caused in the detailing process, and worker’s compensation for your employees. It’s also a good idea to insure your equipment and supplies in case of theft or natural disaster.

Read more about auto detailing insurance coverage.

To limit the possibility of needing to file a claim, everyone at your business should look into additional training and certification opportunities like Detail King’s training courses.


How to choose a name?

Choose a name that reflects both what your company does, and who you are. Make it simple, easy to remember (and spell), and easy to differentiate from your competitors.

How do I market the business?

Marketing detailing businesses isn’t much different than marketing any other business. There are many ways to market a new business—you can grow your online presence by posting useful or entertaining content, meet with other business owners to collaborate, offer discounts or rewards programs for referrals, or explore paid opportunities like online ads or media placements.

How do I grow the business?

The most important thing you can do to grow your business is to provide quality work. By combining expertise with marketing plans and networking, you’ll prime your business to take on more customers every day.

How do I hire employees?

Set best practices for your hiring process to ensure every new staff member has the same hiring experience. To find new employees, make sure to clearly and accurately represent the positions that are open. Try posting on job sits like Indeed, or spreading your message on Linkedin to leverage your connections.