Start a Detailing Business

As long as there have been cars on the road, there have been professional detailers.  The profession dates back to the days of horse-drawn carriages and professional carriage drivers.  In the 1940s, professional detailing shifted from services rendered to elite motorcar owners to car dealerships, where previously owned cars were professionally detailed for resale.  Until the 1970s, most car dealerships had a staff of professional detailers.  Economic changes forced many dealerships to trim their detailing staff and contract the service out to the lowest bidder.  This spawned the booming car detailing and carwash business we have today. 

Several car ownership factors play into making car detailing a viable and growing business.  First, the price of new cars continues to rise at an average of $1,000 per year.  This is causing many car owners to realize that maintaining their car is a wise investment.   Second, people are keeping their cars longer.  According to R. L. Polk, a Detroit-based research company, Americans are keeping their cars for more than 7.5 years, as opposed to 5.5 years in 1970.   This is largely due to the cost of buying a new car and the change in U.S. tax laws, which no longer allow car loan interest deductions.  Finally, modern cars are far more reliable and durable.  In addition to simple mechanical improvements, the paint, trim and interior finishes on new cars are far superior to the previous generation's.  With the longer periods of ownership, car owners are realizing that they must keep their cars' appearance maintained.

Cashing in on Detailing
According to
Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine's latest estimates, there are more than 8,000 independent detailers across the U.S., with average annual sales in excess of $25,000.   This information is a few years old, and the figures have since improved.  The more important figure is the average hourly earning potential for independent detailers, which ranges from $15 to $75 per hour, depending on location and specialty jobs.   High-income demographics, like South Florida and Southern California, have an image-conscious customer base with expensive luxury cars.  In these areas, it's not unheard of for a seasoned detailer to charge $250 or more for a full detail service.   However, you don't have to set up shop in a high-income, high-cost-of-living area to make a nice living as a detailer.  By adding special services to your detailing business, you can increase revenue and attract new clients.

Typical detailing services charge out as follows:

· Vacuum and hand wash, $12 - $25 · Full detail, $100 - $150 · Engine detail, $40 - $55

Of course, the price of professional detailing services does not paint the complete picture.  To really understand the full potential, you'll need to estimate jobs per day, as follows:

· 1 detailing job per day @ $100 x 5 days = $500 per week · 2 detailing jobs per day @ $100 x 5 days = $1,000 per week · 3 detailing jobs per day @ $100 x 5 days = $1,500 per week

Professional detailing is one of those businesses where you can choose how busy you want to be.  It's easy to see that keeping a busy schedule of three detailing jobs per day and three add-on services per week will bring a revenue stream of $1,725 or more per week.  That's $89,700 revenue per year, working alone.  Add an assistant, and your revenue will be significantly higher.

Mobile Detailing Business
Mobile detailers operate out of the back of a van, truck or trailer.   There are many benefits to this type of operation, including a low initial start-up cost, low monthly fees, and higher rates from clients who prefer the convenience of having their car detailed at their home or office.

Outfitting a mobile detailing system is largely a matter of personal taste and pocketbook.  It's important to realize that your mobile rig will be your central work facility and deserves significant thought.  You'll be using it as your office, workshop, transportation and shelter for eight or more hours per day.  Creating an organized layout will make it easier and faster to set up, find tools, get the job done, close up and get to the next job.  

Reliable used vans and trucks can be purchased for as little as $3,000 to $5,000.  You'll need another $2,000 to $4,000 to properly equip the van or truck.  If you already own a truck or van, but want to keep it available for nonbusiness use, a trailer is your best bet.  Fully equipped detailing trailers start at $3,500 and can easily reach $8,000 or more for a serious rig.

Mobile detailing is a great business model in the southern regions that enjoy mild winters.  You can comfortably work outside most of the year.  Waste management is a big concern for most states and cities.   In most areas, it is no longer acceptable to dump chemicals into the drainage system.  This means the mobile detailer must have a containment and water reclamation system when using any chemicals that are not biodegradable and safe for fish.   California uses a 2-gallon rule.  If the detail job requires more than 2 gallons of wash water, the water must be contained.

A mobile detailing business has special equipment requirements.   To be effective, a mobile detailer must truly be mobile.  This means that you must carry all the water, power and shelter you need with you.  At a minimum, you should have an 90- to 100-gallon water capacity and enough power to operate a professional buffer and vacuum.


Professional detailing is a great business opportunity.  Like any business, it requires careful planning and execution.  Be smart.  Don't stumble blindly into professional detailing.  Take the time to understand your market and build a strategy.  Then plan your business and work your plan.


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