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How to Start a Car Detailing Business In 6 Simple Steps [2023 Update]

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You love your job, but it’s not quite making ends meet.

Maybe you just want some extra money to save for a major purchase.

We’ve all been there!

Sometimes you just need an additional revenue stream, like a side hustle, to boost your finances.

Thankfully, there are many options available, including car detailing.

If you enjoy working with your hands and working on cars, then detailing them may be a good fit for your skill set.

Aside from being your own boss, you can earn extra money and maybe even lay the foundation for a successful business.

Read on to learn how to start a car detailing business in 6 simple steps.

How Profitable Is Owning a Car Detailing Business?

Naturally, your first consideration when deciding whether to start a car detailing business is to determine how profitable it can be.

In other words, is the earning potential of owning and operating a car detailing business worth the cost of setting it up?

Here are a few statistics to help you decide:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, auto detailers are classified as hand laborers and can expect to earn $14.00 to $15.00 per hour (roughly $30,000.00 per year).
  • But this can vary depending on the location. For instance, in California, where there are a large number of vehicles, auto detailers can make $20.00 to $21.00 per hour (roughly $41,000.00 per year)

These figures assume that you are working for someone else.

If you own a car detailing business and manage it well, you can expect to earn significantly more, but you assume all the financial risks.

What You’ll Need To Start a Car Detailing Business [& Associated Costs]

Starting a car detailing business not only requires a sharp eye for detail and some elbow grease but also a significant investment.

Professional car detailing requires specialized equipment, accessories, and supplies.

Here’s what you’ll need and their associated costs:

Equipment for Cleaning Car Interiors

It’s not just a car’s exterior that needs to glisten; the interior needs to be impeccably clean as well.

Car vacuums can cost between $300 to $800 and include special tips to vacuum all the hard-to-reach places inside your customer’s vehicle.

Carpet steamers will enable you to deep-clean the floor mats.

These will cost you anywhere from $300 to over $1,000 for a top-of-the-line model.

Exterior Cleaning Equipment

Detailing the exterior of a car begins with a thorough cleaning, and foam cannons are an indispensable tool.

Not only do they gently apply soap to the entire surface of a vehicle, but they also allow detergent to be used more economically by atomizing it with water.

Expect to pay between $150 and $250 for this equipment.

For tough cleaning jobs like the undercarriage and hard-to-reach places, you will need a pressure washer.

It will also make the job of rinsing off a car much faster and easier. Commercial-grade pressure washers can be costly, ranging from $2,000 to over $5,000.

Polishing and Buffing Equipment

Of all the tools of the trade you will need to start a car detailing business, polishers and buffers may be the most important.

After all, these specialized pieces of equipment will produce the showroom shine that keeps your happy customers coming back and spreading the word about your services.

Prices can vary depending on power and features, so you should budget between $300 to $800 for a polisher.

You will also need an assortment of polishing pads to remove blemishes and produce a mirror finish.

These range from $8 for simple foam pads to $60 for high-end polishing pads.

Cleaning and Finishing Agents

When starting a new car detailing business, you need to stock up on essential cleaning and finishing chemicals like car wash soap, tire dressing, waxes, and sealants.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for these items:

  • Car wash soap – $40 per gallon
  • Tire and wheel cleaner – $40 per gallon
  • Interior dressing – $60 per gallon
  • Wax and sealant – $43 per gallon
  • Polish – $160 per gallon

There are also treatments for specific parts like headlamp cleaner ($36 per pint) and automotive glass cleaner ($30 per gallon).

Detailing Accessories

Aside from equipment and chemicals, you will need accessories like buckets, spray bottles, sponges, brushes, and towels.

While some of these (e.g., buckets and spray bottles) can be purchased at any hardware store, certain items, like towels and sponges, are specially designed for car detailing.

Here’s a breakdown of costs:

  • Detailing brush – $18 each
  • Washing mitt – $9 each
  • Microfiber towel (16” x 16”) – $60 for a 25-pack

It is important to buy accessories specifically designed for car detailing.

Even something as simple as a towel can cause scratches and swirl marks if it is not gentle enough for use on automotive paint.

Do I Need a License or Certificates To Start a Car Detailing Business?

Depending on where you plan to operate your car detailing business, you may need to register with the appropriate agency and pay a licensing fee.

For example, the state of California requires any “car wash and polishing” business to pay an annual registration fee of $300 per location.

The key takeaway is do the research and find out what your local and state authorities require.

Why You Should Consider Starting a Car Detailing Business as a Side Hustle

If you’re eager to supplement your monthly paycheck with another income source, then starting a car detailing business can be the perfect side hustle.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Flexible scheduling, as in you decide how many hours per week or whether you want to work weekends.
  • Set your rates. You decide what your time and skill are worth by setting rates you believe to be fair compensation for your work.
  • Choose your clientele, meaning you decide whose car you want to work on.
  • Build something worthwhile. You can lay the foundation for a successful business that may someday become your primary source of income.

Detailing cars as a side hustle will enable you to gain valuable experience and build a customer base on your terms without giving up your day job.

How To Start a Car Detailing Business in 6 Simple Steps

Like starting any commercial enterprise, owning a new car detailing business requires thoughtful planning and realistic goal-setting.

Here are 6 simple steps to get started and set yourself up for success:

Step 1 – Identify Your Market

Identify how your new car detailing business will operate.

Ask yourself some serious questions about what you hope to accomplish.

  • Will you work from a brick-and-mortar location or perform mobile detailing services?
  • Will you specialize in particular vehicle types (e.g., sports cars, luxury makes, etc.)?
  • Do you live in a densely populated area, or will your customers be far away?

It will require some research into local competitors. Also, look at the most successful businesses on a larger scale to see what they do well.

Step 2 – Register Your Business

An improperly registered business, even a side gig, can be stopped dead in its tracks before you detail your first car.

Contact your local clerk’s office (or visit their website) to find out what registrations are required.

Also, understand the tax implications of your new business.

In particular, become familiar with the qualified business income deduction and how you might benefit from the tax savings it provides to small business owners and gig workers.

Step 3 – Acquire the Tools of the Trade

Detailing cars professionally requires an investment in commercial-grade equipment and supplies.

Your work will be judged by how your customers’ cars look when you’re done, so you must be properly equipped.

Step 4 – Establish Realistic Goals

To put yourself on a path to success, you need to set realistic goals.

Establish key milestones to help determine whether you are trending in the right direction or need to change your strategy.

Step 5 – Outreach

Whether announcing that you are officially open for business or offering a special promotion, effective outreach should be a focus.

Social media platforms and digital advertising are good options to consider.

Step 6 – Customer Service

Car detailing is a business where the results speak for themselves, and good service keeps clients coming back.

Happy customers can be your best form of advertising through word of mouth, referrals, and positive reviews on various platforms.

Things To Consider When Building a Car Detailing Business

One of the keys to starting a successful car detailing business is thinking about the various aspects of operating a commercial enterprise.

Here are a few things to consider:

Can You Afford the Start-Up Costs?

Start-up costs can be a big hurdle for new business owners, so it is important to determine whether you have the financial means to purchase the equipment and supplies to get started.

If you plan to operate out of a brick-and-mortar location (as opposed to a mobile detailing service), you will need to sign a lease and pay a security deposit.

If you do not have personal funds available to start a new car detailing business, it may be necessary to seek financing through a bank or lender.

Be prepared to identify assets you own that can be used for collateral.

Can You Run a Car Detailing Business by Yourself?

One of the advantages of starting a car detailing business as a side hustle is you can run this type of operation by yourself.

Your time management skills will be put to the test, but you can schedule your appointments, perform the work, and follow up with each customer without hiring any employees.

As your new business grows, you can bring on people to lighten your workload.

How Long Will It Take You To Turn a Profit?

Another important consideration is how long it will take your new business to become profitable.

Performing a break-even analysis will help you weigh your expenses versus revenue to see the financial picture of your car detailing venture.

INSPIRATION: Car Detailing Business Ideas

Coming up with fresh and creative ideas will help your car detailing business get off the ground and grow.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

Mobile Detailing

Starting a new business out of a physical location can add to start-up costs not to mention the liability that comes with signing a lease.

Starting with a mobile detailing operation will enable you to offer your customers the convenience of bringing the service to them while allowing you to start out with minimal expenses.

Frequent Customer Discounts

Encourage customers to come back by offering frequent customer discounts and other incentives to reward their loyalty.

Referral Program

A satisfied customer not only means likely repeat business but potential new business through referrals.

Offering both the referring and new customer special discounts is an excellent way to develop a strong referral program.

Business Partnerships

Aligning your car detailing business with other related businesses, for instance, a neighborhood car wash or a local auto repair center is a good way to put your company in front of the right audience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some commonly asked questions about starting a car detailing business:

Is a detailing business a good side hustle?

Yes, a detailing business is a good side hustle because you can operate it on your terms, such as what types of cars you want to work on and how much you will be paid.

What products do pro detailers use?

Pro detailers use professional polishing and buffing equipment and commercial-grade chemicals like cleaners, waxes, and sealants.

Can car detailers work out of their home?

You can operate a car detailing business out of your home or you can offer mobile services where you visit your customer and detail their car at their work or home.

Similar Businesses To Consider Starting

If car detailing is not a profession for you but the idea of starting a business as a side hustle appeals to you, here are some ideas to consider.

Wrapping Up

Starting a car detailing business is a great way to generate extra income while learning what it takes to own and manage a commercial enterprise.

If you follow the basic guidelines we’ve provided here, what may begin as a side hustle could grow into a successful business operation that exceeds your expectations.

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