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How to Start a Car Detailing Business: A Step-by-Step Guide

February 17, 2024

12 Min Read

car detailing business
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If you ever wish to make money by loving cars, then starting a car detailing business could be your dream route! There are over 286 million cars in the US, and nearly 91% of families own one. That means plenty of dusty dashboards, windows, and seats waiting for some love. And could be the go-to person for that.

Starting a car detailing business doesn’t require a fancy degree or breaking the bank. Just some tools, some cleaning know-how, and a passion for making cars shine.

So, If you’re good at cleaning and want to be your own boss, this guide is your map to detailing success. We’ll show you everything, from launching your business to making it sparkle.

The Auto Detailing Industry Overview

63,490 car detailing businesses across the country are already making their mark, generating  $17 billion in 2023 alone. And guess what? That number’s only zooming forward – experts predict it’ll hit $58.06 billion by 2030.

This sudden surge is all about convenience. People are busy and have no time to scrub their cars all day. Plus, professional detailers make their cars look like they have just been delivered from the showroom – who wouldn’t want that?

This boom isn’t limited to big cities. Even in smaller towns, people are turning their cars to professional detailing services. That means there’s more opportunity than ever for smart entrepreneurs to jump in and start their own successful car detailing business.

Here are some stats to prove it:

  • 4% annual growth: This industry is outpacing other sectors in the US, so you know it’s going places.
  • Two billion car washes: That’s a lot of suds, people! And the number is only going up.
  • 72% professional wash: Forget the bucket and sponge – people are turning to the pros for a sparkling finish.
  • 3,999 businesses in California: The Golden State leads the pack with more than 13% of the nation’s detailing businesses.
  • 43 businesses in Wyoming: Even in smaller states, the detailing industry is making its mark.

Now that you’ve learned about the important industry trends in this business, let’s explore how you can start your own car detailing business in nine easy steps.

1. Gain experience and understand the market

Don’t just soap and wipe! Car detailing is like running a restaurant for cars. You wouldn’t open a kitchen without knowing your spices. The same goes for details. You have to master basics like washing, but also deep-clean interiors.

But it’s not just about shine. It’s about smarts! You have to manage money, juggle schedules, and make people say, “Wow!”

That’s why it’s wise to spend some time working with experienced detailers. Watch them work different cars and see what makes customers tick. Think of it as a business boot camp for your detailing dreams.

Now, formal training isn’t a must, but it’s like a secret recipe. Programs like the one by the International Detailing Association teach you to trade tricks and give you a certificate to impress clients and stand out from the crowd.

2. Create a car detailing business plan

Starting a business is exciting, but there’s a lot to think about before you jump in. That’s where a business plan comes in. It clearly outlines what you want to achieve and what makes your car detailing business stand out. It also talks about who you’re aiming to serve and the financial aspects.

While making a plan, include a section on your budget covering the costs for equipment, supplies, and products you’ll need to start. Also, describe how you plan to let people know about your business, like using social media or getting involved in local car events.

Detail the services you’ll offer, from exterior washes and polishes to deep cleaning inside the car with steam cleaning and carpet care.

A solid plan helps you run your business smoothly, keeping your final goals in focus. In addition, it also attracts investors and business partners.

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3. Register your business

Before opening your doors, make sure your detailing business is standing on solid ground, both legally and financially. It might sound boring, but these steps are like building blocks for a successful and responsible business.

Picking Your Business Structure

Are you going solo, grabbing some partners, or forming an LLC? Each choice affects how you pay taxes, where your responsibility lies, and even how you register your business. Do some research and pick the one that fits you best.

Getting a federal business tax ID

Think of this as your business’s special tax number. You’ll need it for a business bank account, dealing with taxes, and all official things. Just head to the IRS website and pick your way (online, by mail, or by fax).

Select your tax year

Does your detailing business want to follow the usual January-December tax year, or maybe pick a different 12-month period? This is called your fiscal year, and it decides when you deal with taxes. Choose based on what works best for your accounting and money stuff.

To make your business do well, it’s a good idea to start a bank account just for your business. This helps you keep your personal money and business money apart. Business bank accounts can be either opened with an online bank or a traditional bank or credit union.

4. Get business licenses and permits

Depending on where your business is, you might need different permits, but here are a few common types:

State and Local Business Operating License: This is your official OK to do business in your area.

Zoning and Land Use Permits: These check that your business is a good fit for its location and follows local rules.

Building Permits: Planning to build or remodel a detailing shop? You’ll need this to ensure everything is built safely and meets standards.

Fire Department Permits: These confirm you’re ready to handle and prevent fires safely.

Certificate of Occupancy: This shows your space is safe and meets all building and zoning laws.

Since car detailing uses a lot of water, some places have extra rules to protect the environment. You might need to register with the water department and show how you’ll use and dispose of water responsibly.

Remember, some states and cities might have specific car detailing licenses you need, like in California, where your car washing skills need official recognition to shine.

In addition to these permits, you should also take business insurance. It will offer protection against financial losses due to injuries, any damages that can happen to your property or legal battles.

There are plenty of resources available to help you out, like your local government office or business development center. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction and ensure your car detailing company gets a smooth and legal launch.

5. Finalize a business location

The car detailing business is great because you can even start it from your home. If you decide to go for a mobile car detailing business, you won’t need a fixed place to work. Just make sure you have a secure spot to keep your cleaning supplies, a way for customers to reach you, and a van to move from one job to another.

But if you decide to start a brick-and-mortar car detailing business, then consider these points:

Competition Nearby: It’s good to know if there are other detailers around. If there are, think about what makes you different. Ideally, you want to be where there are more potential customers than competitors to ensure a good profit.

Size Needs: Think about what services you’ll offer. Do you need special equipment like a conveyor belt or places for treating water? The services you provide will help determine how big your shop needs to be, which will affect how much it costs to run.

Rent and Utility Costs: Obviously, you’ll need to afford the place, including rent and utilities like water, phone, and electricity. Make sure it’s something you can keep up with financially.

Location’s Reputation: Being in a well-regarded part of town can help build your brand and allow you to charge more for your services. A prestigious address signals quality.

Ease of Access: Your shop should be easy for customers to get to, in a safe and visible location. It’s important for your team and your customers to feel secure and valued.

6. Invest in the right equipment

Before you can start transforming dirty cars into shining beauties, you’ll need to collect some important tools. Equipment like vacuums, cleaning solutions, and a pressure washer are all the basic tools needed to get your business started.

But the exact equipment you need depends on your setup. Mobile detailing businesses can get started with a basic kit for around $3,000 to $10,000.

But maybe you envision a brick-and-mortar place for cars. In that case, renting a space will cost a bit more. But the possibilities for equipment and services grow along with your place!

If you think the price tag is high, don’t worry! There are friendly options like Small Business Administration loans that offer helpful terms to get your business started. Or, you can explore business loans or equipment financing.

Of course, you can always take it slow and steady. Begin with a few basic services and add more tools as your customer base grows. Remember, even a small kit can work wonders with dedication and a passion for making cars gleam!

7. Financing your business

Starting a car detailing business comes with its challenges, and one big hurdle is finding enough money to get going. Whether you’re thinking about a mobile detailing business or creating custom detail packages, getting the cash you need is crucial.

So, what are your choices?

First off, you could use your own savings. It’s straightforward, but risky if things don’t go as expected. You don’t want to run out of money and have to pause your dream.

You might also consider borrowing from friends or family. It feels easier but can get awkward if your business struggles.

Then there’s outside funding, which opens up a few interesting paths:

SBA Loans: These loans are designed to help small businesses grow. Car wash owners have used them to either boost their current business or start fresh. Just last year, the SBA gave out over $670 million to car washes.

Grants: If your car detailing dream has a community focus, you might score some free funding from the government.

Crowdfunding: This is a great way to raise funds from a large group of people to support your venture and build a community around it.

Many in the car detailing world prefer the SBA 7(a) loan for its flexible payback plans and the support it offers to smaller outfits.

8. Hire car detailing staff

Starting out solo is totally normal! Many successful car detailers run a one or two-person show. But even if you’re starting, you would need support. Think of a few people you can tap for advice, motivation, or a brainstorming session when needed. It could be a mentor, a successful business coach, or even your family.

As your business starts growing, you might need some extra hands to keep things going. Here’s how to hire your first detailer:

  • First, figure out if you need someone part-time or full-time and what you can afford to pay them.
  • Next, What’s the role like? What skills and personality rock? Write a job description that paints a clear picture.
  • Post the job on websites like Indeed to find applicants.
  • Interview your top choices to see who fits best with your team.
  • Offer the job to the best fit and teach them how to detail cars like an expert.
If you’re planning to bring on help, think about whether you need employees or contractors. Employees give you more control, but contractors can save you money and reduce risk.

9. Develop a growth marketing strategy

Getting your business online with a website is a smart move. The next step is drawing in customers, which can be tricky at first.

When you start, it’s all about trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t. You can then change your approach to get better results.

With that being said, you can advertise your business in two main ways: the traditional way and the online way. The traditional way has been around for a long time, but online advertising is relatively new.

Let’s look at both methods closely:

Traditional Marketing

Even though we’re all about social media these days, don’t overlook traditional marketing. It’s still everywhere in our daily lives.

Traditional ways to market include:

  • Billboards and posters
  • Shop window displays and signs
  • TV and radio ads
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Catalogs sent by mail
  • Phone calls

You could make flyers, business cards, or even branded items like t-shirts. Hand these out in your local area or at businesses nearby. Offering discounts for new customers or referrals can also help.

The key is to keep at it without becoming annoying.

Digital Marketing

We’re in the digital era, and the stats are staggering: there are 5.3 billion people online and on social media. This shows how many people you could reach online.

Digital marketing includes:

  • Email campaigns
  • Improving your website’s visibility (SEO & SEM)
  • Social media posts
  • Creating online content
  • Partnering with other websites
  • Working with influencers
  • PPC marketing

With so many people online, using these digital methods to reach out makes a lot of sense.

The Bottom Line

The internet isn’t going to take over businesses that focus on services, like making cars look new and shiny. That’s here to stay. When thinking about your car detailing business plan, start with two simple questions:

  • What should I look into?
  • Can I make my customers really happy with excellent service?

It sounds like a lot to think about, but it’s pretty straightforward to get an auto detailing business going.

Focus on delivering great service, enjoying your work, earning money, and bringing smiles to people’s faces. That’s everything you need for success.

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About the Author


Upmetrics Team

Upmetrics is the #1 business planning software that helps entrepreneurs and business owners create investment-ready business plans using AI. We regularly share business planning insights on our blog. Check out the Upmetrics blog for such interesting reads. Read more


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