The car wash and auto detailing industry in the U.S. is worth nearly $15 billion. And if you’re passionate about cars, auto detailing is a growing market you can tap into to maximize profits and build wealth.
Like any other venture, starting an auto detailing business requires a lot of planning, training, and grit.
We’ve put together this easy-to-use guide to get you off on the right foot. Learn everything you need to know to ensure that your auto detailing business thrives in a competitive market.
What Is Included in an Auto Detailing Service?
Many people confuse car washing with car detailing. But there are big differences between the two.
Source: Tint World
Simply put: an auto detailing service goes above and beyond a basic cleanup of your vehicle’s exterior and interior. It’s a systematic and thorough process that uses specialized tools and techniques to clean your car from the inside out.
The goal of an auto detailing service is to …
- Improve your car’s appearance and even restore it to its original condition
- Extend the life of your car
- Add a protective layer to your car to prevent any damage to the exterior
- Boost your car’s functionality and value
- Make vehicle maintenance hassle-free
Car detailing involves cleaning every nook and cranny of the vehicle — from the exterior paint to the interior trim, seats, windows, wheels, engine, etc. Later in the article, we’ll cover more about the car detailing process.
State of Auto Detailing Industry
Like any smart business owner, you want to know that there is a strong demand for the services you provide. Thankfully, auto detailing is growing in demand across the United States.
Source: Mobile Tech RX
Here are some key trends and statistics you need to know to navigate the auto detailing market:
- The U.S. car wash and auto detailing industry is valued at $14.5 billion in 2023. The demand for auto detailing services continues to rise as car ownership increases. More and more consumers also want to care for their cars more and keep them looking like new.
- There are nearly 60,000 car wash and auto detailing businesses in the U.S. But that number is simply not high enough in many parts of the country as people want to beat the car wash lines and get higher-quality cleanings.
- More than 190,000 people are employed in the car detailing industry in the U.S.
- California is the state with the highest number of auto detailing businesses at 3,999. This accounts for more than 13% of detailing businesses in the U.S.
- There are only 43 auto detailing businesses in Wyoming, the lowest among all the states.
- In terms of density — or the number of car detailing businesses in relation to population — Delaware is the state with the highest concentration of auto detailing businesses.
- The top three cities with the highest number of auto detailing businesses in the U.S. are Los Angeles, CA (2,035), New York, NY (838), and San Diego, CA (763).
- Cities with the highest density of car detailing businesses in the U.S. include East Honolulu, HI; Columbia, MD; and Knik-Fairview, AK.
- Cities with the lowest density of car detailing businesses in the U.S. include Roswell, NM; Topeka, KS; and Rock Springs, WY.
- Globally, the demand for mobile auto detailing services is on the rise. The global mobile car wash and detailing market is expected to grow 8.9% from 2022 to 2032.
Benefits of an Auto Detailing Business
You may be wondering: is it worth the risk? Here are some of the pros of launching your car detailing business.
- Low startup costs: One of the best things about starting a car detailing business is the relatively low entry costs. Plus, you can start on a part-time basis — with basic supplies and services — and then work your way towards growing your business.
Start-up costs vary based on your location, your business structure, the type of services you want to offer, and the equipment your business will need. On average, the initial investment to start a car detailing business ranges from $5,000 to more than $25,000.
- High earning potential: How much you can earn from your car detailing business will depend on several factors: the type and quality of your services, the location, and size of your business, how many workers you employ, etc.
On average, a high-quality full-service detail will cost anywhere from $150 and $250. If you provide full detailing services for two cars a day, five days a week, you can make anywhere between $1,500 to $2,500 a week. That’s an income of anywhere between $6,000 to $10,000 monthly. Of course, you have to factor in overhead expenses and upkeep. But all in all, you can turn a hefty profit if you manage your business well.
- Flexibility and scalability: With a car detailing business, you get the freedom to schedule appointments on your time. You can tailor your operations to your and your customers’ preferences — which means you can choose to work part-time or full-time, set your hours, and provide services at home or have your own space in a commercial location.
Plus, there’s always room for growth in the car detailing industry. Auto detailing services will always be in demand as more and more car owners invest in the longevity and maintenance of their vehicles. If you’re dedicated to offering exemplary car detailing work, you can retain repeat customers.
Key Auto Detailing Services
So what goes into an auto detailing process? Here are some of the most common auto detailing services.
Exterior Washing and Waxing
This service involves thoroughly washing the exterior of the car with soap and water, and removing all the dirt, grime, pollen, and other contaminants that have built up on the vehicle.
Once the car is clean, detailers will then apply a coat of wax to protect the car’s paint and give the vehicle a showroom shine.
Like the exterior of the car, the interior also takes a beating from harsh elements — dirt and dust, grime, stains, allergens, and more.
That’s why interior detailing is a very extensive process that includes:
- Vacuuming. Detailers will vacuum every corner and area of the car’s interior to remove all dust and particles and ensure that the interior is safe from bacteria and viruses.
- Brushing and steam cleaning. Detailers will thoroughly brush and steam clean carpets and mats to remove any stains, spills, and blemishes that are deeply embedded in the interior.
- Shampooing and leather cleaning. Detailers will shampoo the car’s upholstery. They may also use leather soap, saddle soap, and leather conditioner to clean all leather surfaces effectively.
- Glass cleaning. Detailers will clean your car’s windshield, windows, and mirrors and leave them streak-free.
- Wiping and vacuuming. Detailers will dust and wipe everything down to remove all the dirt. They will also do another round of vacuuming to make sure everything is clean.
- Perfuming. Detailers will spray deodorant to leave your car smelling fresh.
This service involves thoroughly cleaning and detailing the vehicle’s engine and engine compartment to remove any built-up grime, dirt, debris, and grease.
Engine cleaning helps to prevent corrosion, extends the life of the engine, and improves the car’s performance.
Paint Correction and Protection
This multi-stage service removes imperfections — scratches, swirl marks, water spots, bird droppings, etc. — in the vehicle’s paint and protects it from future damage through a coating or sealant. The goal is to restore the vehicle’s paint job to a like-new finish.
Source: Evolution Tint & Wraps
12 Steps To Start an Automotive Detailing Business
1. Get Professional Training
ThThe auto detailing industry doesn’t require any degree or certification. But learning the ins and outs of the business will help you get on the road to success. This step is easily accomplished by working under an experienced detailer.
To earn the trust of customers, you need to show them that you have a solid understanding of the various detailing and protective services — from cleaning and waxing to polishing and restoration.
You can also learn these skills and the latest techniques by enrolling in formal detailing classes and workshops that offer hands-on training from auto experts. Get a competitive edge by earning an industry certificate. You can also attend auto conventions and car detailing seminars to gain inspiration and wisdom from industry leaders.
2. Gain Experience
You can’t master the art of auto detailing if you don’t hone your skills and practice your craft. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience.
You can get this through car detailing apprenticeships. Many auto detailing schools also have courses that let students practice the techniques in an auto shop environment. Not only will you be able to demonstrate your skills and build a portfolio of your work, but you’ll also be more confident in your ability to open an auto detailing shop.
3. Conduct a Market Research
You can’t dive into the auto detailing industry without a firm grasp of the market landscape in your local area.
Here’s why you need to conduct a market analysis and research for your auto detailing business:
- It helps you know if there is a growing demand for car detailing in your local area.
Ask: how many people are seeking car detailing services in your area? How often do they seek these services?
- It helps you identify your target market.
Ask: what are the demographics of your target market? What do local customers want in a car detail — is it specialized techniques, low prices, or convenience? How much are customers willing to pay for a car detailing service? Should I specialize on certain makes, models, and types?
- It helps you understand your competitors.
Ask: how many car detailing companies have opened in your area over the last years? How many have stopped operations? How much are your competitors charging?
- It helps you identify opportunities.
Ask: how can I set my car detailing business apart from my competitors? what marketing tactics can I leverage to stand out?
4. Create a Business Plan
A well-thought-out business plan will help you map out the specifics of your car detailing venture and focus on key areas for growth. This will cover strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
A comprehensive business plan includes:
- The name, location, and structure of your business.
- The mission, vision, and goals of your business.
- The business’s financial plan covering start-up and ongoing costs.
- The business’s pricing models.
- A detailed description of your car detailing services and prices.
- An analysis of your target market and competition.
- A sales and marketing plan covering promotional strategies.
- An operational plan covering logistical details.
Remember that there are two types of business plans. The first type is one that you might use to secure funding from a bank or investor. The second kind of business plan is one that you build for yourself to make sure you’ve planned properly and can reference with your CPA or small business attorney.
5. Select a Type and Location
You’ll need to decide on a business type and location that will fit your business and your goals. These will be based on your budget and your customer’s needs.
A mobile car detailing business, for example, will appeal most to customers who are willing to pay a premium for the convenience of having a car detailing service at their homes. With this type of business, you need a reliable vehicle that’s big enough to fit all of your equipment and safely transport you from one customer location to another.
However, many local customers and passersby still prefer to have car detailing services at an auto shop. A fixed location can boost the efficiency of your car detailing operations and increase the number of jobs you can take daily. With this type, you need to buy or lease a garage or space that’s big enough to service multiple cars at a time.
6. Acquire Licenses and Permits
To get off to a great start, you need to ensure that your car detailing business is established properly and legally.
Each state has different laws and regulations regarding licensing requirements for businesses. Check with municipal and state authorities to make sure that you comply with the rules. It’s also best to consult a lawyer so you can navigate the legalities.
Generally, you will need to do the following:
- Choose a business name and business structure and register your business.
- Apply for an Employment Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS. Besides registering your business with the IRS, this also lets you run a partnership or corporation, hire employees, open a business bank account, and potentially get loans.
- Get a business license and other permits. Check with your state, local county, or town business license office for more information about local licenses and permits. Some states require a separate car detailing license, depending on the location and detailing services offered.
- Get a Certificate of Occupancy. You need to get this certificate if your car detailing business is operating at a fixed location. This confirms that your business complies with building codes and zoning regulations.
7. Acquire Licenses and Permits
The kind of auto detailing supplies and equipment you will need for your startup depends on the type of business you choose and the services you’ll be providing. Over time, you’ll be able to figure out the tools and technology you’ll need the most.
But if you want to get started right away, here’s a list of some of the basic supplies and equipment you should consider investing in:
- Pressure washer
- Vacuum cleaner
- Detailing towels
- Buffers, polishes, and sponges
- Wash buckets and grit guards
- Sprayer bottles
- Steam cleaner
- Foam and liquid chemicals
- Detailing hoses and reels
You can invest in more specialized equipment in the long run.
If you’re a mobile car detailing business, you’ll need to invest in a work vehicle. You may also need to look into adding mobile car detailing equipment like a water tank and a generator.
You may also consider getting a professional car detailing kit when you’re just starting. But you have to be very careful and choose kits that are put together by car detailing experts. It’s still better to source items individually if you’re after the highest quality. Check for tools with warranties.
8. Hire a Professional Team
While most auto detailing businesses start with either a one-man or two-person team, it’s still a good idea to have good, reliable people to fill essential roles so you can focus on offering excellent auto detailing services.
The decision to hire a professional team will depend on your budget, resources, and the number of services you will provide.
You may also consider working with independent contractors with the knowledge, skills, and techniques that will enable you to provide specialized detailing services for your customers.
Keep in mind that if you’re hiring employees or working with a crew, you’ll have to provide workers’ compensation, benefits, and insurance, and deduct employment taxes.
9. Get Insurance
The right insurance policies or coverage will protect you, your business, and its financial well-being from unexpected events that may have a devastating impact on your cash flow.
There are many types of risks your car detailing business may face — from injuries on equipment to slips and falls and potential hazards such as chemical exposure.
Most auto detailing businesses get general liability insurance to protect from damages arising from third-party claims.
For example, this type of insurance can protect your business if someone gets hurt on your property or if you or one of your employees accidentally damage a car during service.
There are many different types of business insurance available and each carries an extra level of risk. It’s best to consult professionals to help you analyze your options and figure out which kind of coverage will work best for your detailing business.
10. Draft a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan outlines the specific strategies you will use to attract new customers. You need to consider which marketing tactics will work best for your local market and will benefit your business in the long term.
Here are some marketing ideas that will help you bring in new prospects:
- Leverage word of mouth. Go around your local area and approach car owners. Have a business card ready so you can introduce yourself as the new detailer in town. You can also attend local car meet-ups and car events to reach out to potential customers.
- Use offline marketing collateral. Putting up eye-catching posters and handing out professional flyers can also drive results for your auto detailing business.
- Maintain a strong social media presence. Creating professional profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn will help you market your business and engage with your local community. If you have the budget, try exploring target ads on social media.
- Set up Google My Business (GMB). With a GMB account, your auto detailing business has a higher chance of appearing at the top of local search results. This will boost your online visibility and enable potential customers to easily find your business.
11. Stay in Touch With Customers
The statistics vary per industry but generally, it’s cheaper for businesses to retain customers than acquire new ones. That means you need to prioritize ways to keep in touch with your clients and get them to come back for more of your auto detailing services.
For many businesses, email marketing and text reminders are the most effective channels for customer retention. Have people sign up for your mailing list so you can occasionally send updates, special promos, and referral discounts to your loyal customers.
Connecting with customers via SMS, Messenger, and social media channels will also help you grow your customer base.
12. Advertise and Promote
Auto detailing is a very competitive industry. If you’re new to the game, you need to figure out how to grab the attention of your customers and make them choose you as their go-to auto detailer.
Some of the most popular advertising strategies include:
- Setting up a website and boosting SEO. An optimized website will help you gain a foothold in your local market through targeted keywords that allow customers to find you online. Make sure your website is complete with high-quality images, and all the necessary details like your address, services, operating hours, promos, etc.
- Run search advertising campaigns. Running online ads on Google, Bing, Yahoo Search, Yelp, and other platforms will help you attract customers actively searching for car detailing services online. Your car detailing advertisement will be displayed when prospects search for a related service. They will be redirected to your website when they click the link on the advertisement.
- Create referral programs. Make it more fun and exciting for people to refer your business to other customers by offering perks, discounts, gift cards, prizes, and more.
Conclusion: What To Do Next
Follow these steps to start an auto detailing business and get on the right track to success.
The road ahead may be bumpy, but with hard work and dedication, you’ll be able to perfect your strategy, provide exceptional car detailing services, and take your car detailing business to the next level.