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How to Start a Car Detailing Business in 11 Steps

October 3, 2023 8 min. read
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If you love taking care of cars and want to be your own boss with your own schedule, starting a car detailing business may be a great career move for you.

Keep reading for our step-by-step guide on how to start an auto detailing business legally, find your first customers, and grow.

Learn how to start a car detailing business and earn up to $180k a year:

1. Get on the job experience

Washing cars sounds easy enough, but many things can go wrong if you’re inexperienced—like damaging a vehicle with too much water pressure.

Before you start your own business, gain on the job experience to improve your car detailing skills. You can also get certified from the International Detailing Association (IDA)

While not a requirement for starting a car detailing business, an IDA certification shows customers that you have professional detailing skills and knowledge to get the job done right.

2. Write a car detailing business plan

Writing a business plan helps you start your auto detailing company on the right foot and keeps you moving in the right direction. It also comes in handy if you need to attract investors and secure funding for your business.

Your car detailing business plan should include:

  • Cover page that includes your auto detailing business name, logo, and contact information
  • Executive summary with a quick overview of your business, what makes you stand out from the competition, and how much funding you need to get up and running
  • Business overview providing a brief summary of your business structure and history
  • Services list showing which car detailing services you’ll offer customers
  • Pricing strategy showing how you plan to price your services
  • Market and competitive analysis describing who your ideal customer is and the other car detailing businesses in your area
  • Marketing plan describing how you intend to market your business and attract new customers
  • Financial plan showing the money coming into and going out of your business for the first year (including a sales forecast, budget, and any employee costs)

Learn how to write a business plan with a complete guide from the Small Business Administration.

3. Get the necessary licenses and permits

The licenses and permits you need to legally run your business will depend on whether you’re starting a mobile car detailing business or opening a physical location.

Most states will require you to obtain a car detailing license which includes a mobile detailing license and a business license. You’ll also need a sales permit if you plan on selling car care products.

Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to make sure you have the right local, state, and federal permits before opening your business.

4. Register your business

Before you can start offering auto detailing services, you need to register your business. Here’s how:

  • Pick a business name that describes who you are and what services you offer. Make sure it’s memorable, easy to spell, and unique in your geographic area.
  • Visit your local registry to register your business. If you’re in the U.S., you’ll need to pay the business registration fee, trademark your business name, and register your domain name. (Here’s how to register your name in Canada, the UK, or Australia.)
  • Choose a business structure. In the U.S., you can register your business as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or limited liability company (LLC). There are more business entity options in other countries. You can also decide if you’d like to incorporate your business.
  • If you plan to have employees or work with a partner, apply for an employer identification number (EIN) so you can accurately file taxes with the Internal Revenue Service.

The process for registering a business and the type of business structures available will differ based on your location. Check with the business registration division of your local, regional, or federal government to see what’s required.

5. Secure funding

Unless you have money set aside for your new business venture, you’ll need financing to purchase equipment, pay for insurance, and get your marketing under way.

There are a number of ways you can secure funding for your business, including:

  • Government funding: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides nationwide financing to help you become a small business owner, including loans and investment funds. The Government of Canada also offers grants and financing for businesses. If you’re starting a business outside Canada or the U.S., search your government name and small business funding to see what options are available.
  • Business loan: Apply for a small business loan from your bank or a business line of credit to help you pay startup costs.
  • Personal loan: Tell your family and friends that you’re starting an auto detailing business and see if they’d be willing to provide a small startup loan. They may be willing to support you in exchange for a stake in the business.
  • Business financing: Access flexible business financing through Jobber’s partnership with Stripe Capital. Eligibility is based on your history of sales paid through Jobber Payments, so you’ll need to be up and running for a little while before you can apply for financing.
  • Jobber Grants: The Jobber Grants program offers thousands of dollars in available funding to recognize excellence in small home services businesses.

6. Invest in the right insurance

Cleaning expensive vehicles and working with chemicals means that running an auto detailing business comes with risk. 

To make sure you covered in the event of an accident or injury, you’ll need a comprehensive small business insurance policy that includes: 

  • General liability to cover any property damage and personal injury
  • Commercial property insurance for equipment or property damage
  • Commercial auto in case a company vehicle is involved in a collision or other damage 
  • Garage keeper’s liability to cover any damage to a customer’s vehicle
  • Worker’s compensation in case an employee is injured on the job

Speak to your insurance provider to determine what coverage you’ll need for your detailing business and the services you offer.

7. Open a business bank account

Set up a business bank account and get a business credit card. This will help keep your auto detailing income and expenses separate from your personal finances. 

You’ll also want to invest in accounting software like QuickBooks Online to track expenses, view your income, and run payroll—all in one place.

8. Create a car detailing service list

Make a list of the car detailing services you plan to offer. Some of the most common services you can provide for customers include:

  • Car washing
  • Vacuuming
  • Carpet cleaning
  • Engine detailing
  • Mobile auto detailing
  • Exterior detailing
  • Interior detailing
  • Overspraying
  • Paint touch-ups
  • Trim restoration
  • Windshield repair
  • Dent repair

The auto detailing services you offer should depend on the experience you have and whether you’re running a mobile business or working out of a detailing shop.

Once you have your services in place, price your auto detailing services based on the time it takes to complete, materials used, overhead, and profit margin.

9. Purchase auto detailing equipment and chemicals

To start offering services to clients, you’ll need to stock the necessary equipment and chemicals to get the job done. 

Here’s what you’ll need to start a car detailing business.

Equipment:

  • Pressure washer
  • Hot water extractor
  • Dry vapor steamer
  • Rotary polisher
  • Wet/dry vacuum cleaners

Chemicals:

  • All purpose cleaner
  • Car wash soap
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Tire dressing
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner
  • Glass cleaner
  • Waxes, sealants, and coatings for paint protection
  • Interior cleaner

Because you’ll be working with tools and chemicals, make sure to stock the necessary personal protective equipment, like safety goggles, gloves, face masks, and non-slip shoes.

You’ll also need a first-aid kit, fire extinguishers, safety data sheets for all chemicals, and storage containers for chemicals and equipment.

If you’re starting a mobile business, you’ll need to invest in a truck or a van. Detailers opening a fixed location will have to invest in garage space.

11. Hire auto detailers and grow your business

As your auto detailing business grows, you’ll need to hire car detailers to keep up with the workload. Here’s how to hire your first employee:

  • Decide whether you need a part-time or permanent detailer and how much your business can afford to pay them.
  • Create a job description that includes an overview of the role, responsibilities, qualifications, and personality traits that would make a candidate successful.
  • Share your job posting on online job boards like Indeed, and make it easy for potential employees to apply.
  • Schedule interviews with the top candidates and ask interview questions to determine who would be the best addition to your team.
  • Make an offer to your top candidate and train them to wash and detail cars like a pro.

READ MORE: Stan Genadek’s top 7 small business hiring tips

Now that you know how to start a car detailing business, it’s time to get started. Use the steps above as your checklist to start and grow your new auto detailing venture.

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