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Launching Your Own Mobile Auto Detailing Business

Posted by rich weichand on
Launching Your Own Mobile Auto Detailing Business

Launching Your Own Mobile Auto Detailing Business!

Are you passionate about cars? Do you possess an eye for detail that can make vehicles shine like new? Well, buckle up because we're about to embark on an exhilarating journey into mobile auto detailing! Get ready to rev up your entrepreneurial spirit and cruise toward success with your very own mobile auto detailing business!

Picture this: the sun shining, birds chirping, and you, the proud owner of a thriving mobile auto detailing business, setting out to make cars sparkle and gleam like never before. The possibilities are endless, and the rewards are immense.

First things first, let's talk about why starting a mobile auto detailing business is the ultimate ride to success.

Freedom and Flexibility: Say goodbye to the confines of a traditional 9-to-5 job. With a mobile auto detailing business, you call the shots. You can set your schedule and work when it suits you best. No problem! Your business revolves around your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Low Overhead Costs: Unlike brick-and-mortar car wash businesses, a mobile auto detailing business requires minimal overhead costs. You don't need a physical location, which means no expensive rent or utility bills eating into your profits. With just your trusty van or truck equipped with detailing supplies, you're ready to hit the road and start making money.

Unlimited Growth Potential: The automotive industry is booming, with millions of cars hitting the road daily. As a mobile auto detailer, you tap into this vast market and cater to a diverse range of clients, from busy professionals to car enthusiasts and everyone in between. Plus, with add-on services like ceramic coatings, paint correction, and interior protection, the sky's the limit when upselling and expanding your business offerings.

Now, let's talk about the thrill of transforming dull and dirty cars into showroom-worthy masterpieces. As a mobile auto detailer, you're not just washing cars – you're performing automotive alchemy, turning ordinary vehicles into objects of envy and admiration.

From meticulously hand washing the exterior to steam cleaning the interior, every step of the detailing process is an opportunity to showcase your skills and craftsmanship. And when your clients see the jaw-dropping results, their satisfaction becomes your greatest reward.

But it's not just about making cars look good; it's about building lasting relationships with your clients. You'll earn their trust and loyalty by providing top-notch service and exceeding expectations, ensuring repeat business and glowing referrals.

You might be wondering, "How do I get started?" Fear not, because we've got you covered. Here's a step-by-step guide to kickstarting your mobile auto detailing business:

  1. Business Planning: Define your target market, set your pricing structure, and create a solid business plan outlining your goals and strategies for success.
  2. Legalities and Regulations: Register your business, obtain necessary permits and licenses, and ensure compliance with local regulations.
  3. Equipment and Supplies: Invest in high-quality detailing equipment and supplies, including cleaning products, buffers, polishers, vacuums, and pressure washers.
  4. Marketing and Branding: Build a strong online presence through a professional website and social media channels. Utilize digital marketing strategies such as SEO, PPC advertising, and social media marketing to attract clients.
  5. Networking and Partnerships: Forge partnerships with local businesses such as car dealerships, auto repair shops, and car rental agencies to generate leads and referrals.
  6. Customer Service: Focus on delivering exceptional customer service to build a loyal customer base and earn rave reviews.
  7. Continuous Learning: Stay updated on the latest detailing techniques, products, and industry trends through training workshops, seminars, and online resources.

With determination, passion, and a little elbow grease, you can make your dream of owning a mobile auto detailing business a reality. So, what are you waiting for? Embark on the thrilling entrepreneurship journey today!


Mobile Auto Detailing Trailers and Equipment

Many detailers who started in the automobile auto detailing business decided to pursue mobile detailing as their first choice.  Mobile auto detailing allows individuals to begin business ventures without much capital.  I have seen small business owners work out of the trunk of their car to those who have invested tens of thousands of dollars on fully outfitted vans or trailers.

In this article, I will discuss some of the different types of mobile units and equipment and the pros and cons of all the items described below.  Please note: Many factors can make one of these options better for you, and this is my opinion from experience. Factors such as weather conditions, rural areas vs urban areas, driving experience, comfort level, level of commitment, and many additional factors will come into play when determining the best option to begin your business. 


Small sedan setup

Using a 4-door sedan or some other minor type of vehicle can present some challenges, but many have started utilizing this method.  While carrying water will be limited, some users opted for a smaller tank, such as a 30-gallon low profile. Taking this amount of water should create no issues with standard vehicle suspensions. Water weighs around 8.33 pounds per gallon, and utilizing a 30-gallon water tank will roughly only weigh 249 pounds plus the tank itself.  This tank will be placed near the back seats, typically above the rear tire and suspension area. This weight, including the water tank, is approximately the same as two adult people.  

Some detailers have opted to remove the rear seats of their vehicle to mount small extension cord reels, pressure washer reels, and other equipment on a platform. This setup converts your truck into a business vehicle that will be harder to utilize for personal functions. This is an excellent setup for someone with another vehicle for personal use.


Pickup truck

Operating out of a pickup is an excellent option since you have additional room compared to a sedan set-up, but pickups also have limitations.  A pickup allows you to carry abundant water and not have to analyze what equipment will fit in the vehicle's bed. You can take all your large equipment, such as a pressure washer, generator, air compressor, etc, without the fear of running out of room. All equipment can be quickly unloaded from the pickup bed to utilize the truck for other errands.  A taller utility cap can also prevent equipment theft and provide additional protection against the weather. Some companies produce pickup skids containing many leading pieces of equipment secured to a platform. This is an excellent purchase if you use your vehicle for business only. This is a more permanent solution for emptying the equipment from the bed.  This type of setup no longer allows you to use your pickup truck for other means quickly. The bed is utilized by equipment that cannot be easily uploaded.  Note: While the skid is turnkey-ready, it typically comes with a high price tag.



A van, especially a high-top type, is one of the best options. All your equipment is secured, the outside of the truck becomes a billboard for your company, all items can be neatly organized on the wall and doors of the car, parking should not be an issue, and equipment stays protected from the elements.  In our opinion, there are not too many cons to having a van unless it is not a high-top van and you are taller than average. Trying to gain access to many items in a truck with a low roof will have you constantly bending over to retrieve the items. Lastly, this vehicle will be dedicated for business use only, and a more upfront investment must be made.


Open utility trailer

Having an open utility trailer was my favorite setup out of all the setups I ever configured. An open-style trailer is typically lightweight, which allows one person to move the trailer around and attach it to the tow vehicle.  The trailer can be stored indoors with a garage or storage unit to protect your equipment further.  Since most of the equipment is stored on the trailer, your truck, van, or SUV can still be your primary personal vehicle and your business vehicle. Once the trailer is detached from the tow vehicle, very few items, if any, will remain in your vehicle's pickup bed or cargo areas.  These open-style trailers, such as a small pickup truck, can be typically towed with various cars. A large pickup truck is unnecessary for many setups, saving you on fuel and helping with parking issues.

Since the trailer is low to the ground, you can easily access all equipment, allowing quick refueling, powering the items on/off, maintenance of equipment, and water refilling.  Utility trailers range in various sizes, with a 4’x8’ or a 5’x10’ trailer being large enough to accommodate all the necessary equipment for a self-contained mobile unit.  These trailer styles are often reasonably priced, and an open mesh metal deck is not a problem.  Pressure-treated plywood can be purchased to lay on top of the mesh decking, allowing a solid platform to mount your equipment. 


Pressure Washer

For limited space, we recommend utilizing an electric pressure washer. (Note: Some electric pressure washers require a large starting watt, and while you save money on the electric pressure washer compared to some gas units, more upfront money will be needed for a more powerful generator).  An electric pressure washer typically has smaller footprints than a gas unit, eliminating carrying additional items, such as a gas can, for refilling purposes.  Many of these units are inexpensive and can be bought for as little as 100.00 dollars.  While gallons per minute will be limited and not built for commercial use, these are great starter units. High PSI (pounds per square inch) is not required, and the entry-level units that claim operating pressure between 1,200 and 2000 PSI are more than sufficient for auto detailing. A pressure washer will allow you to restrict the water flow and complete up to two to three average-sized vehicles using a 30–35-gallon water tank.   Some users use the customer’s water, but this is not always an option. 

Please do not be scammed by cheaper electric pressure washers claiming they provide 2.0 GPM to 3.0 GPM.  These specs can be calculated using a soap tip nozzle, which completely defeats the use of a pressure washer.  Once a 40-degree or 25-degree tip is used on the unit, you will quickly see that the GPM Will drop significantly to 1.0 or 1.1 GPM. Why is this important? Many auto detailers love to use foam cannons, which require a high GPM pressure washer for optimum results. Detailers will often blame the soap manufacturer for the lack of foam, but their pressure washer unit does not meet the specs to allow the cannon to function correctly. 

Many customers live in apartment complexes where the water spigot might be located in an area that does not provide access to vehicle washing. This might also be prohibited for use by the facility.   Strip malls and a variety of other small and large business parking lots might not have access to water. Detailing a vehicle in this area is very lucrative to the business owner.  You will not believe how many people will inquire and book with you immediately as they observe you performing a detail.  Spending a couple thousand dollars to have a fully self-contained unit will allow you to quickly recoup your investment, as you can detail anywhere without asking if water or electricity is available.

Note: Always look for a gas or electric pressure washer with an oil pump. Oil-free pumps typically wear out much quicker, and maintenance can be an issue. While oil-sealed pumps are ideal, they come with a higher price tag. If you plan on marketing towards fleet-washing, where the pressure washer will run longer than usual, you are better off investing in a commercial oil-sealed pump.  Most water tanks and pressure washers will be “in line” with one another, meaning gravity flow is NOT an option.  Always use a pump between the pressure washer and water tank.  While your pressure washer will “pull” the water from the tank, the pump will prematurely wear out.  Utilizing a pump like a Shurflo RV Pump will add years to your pressure washer!


Air Compressor

Utilizing an air compressor is necessary during any detail. Trying to vacuum inside tight ventilation areas, around seat tracks, underneath seats, and other small areas where debris is trapped is challenging.  By using compressed air, you can safely get into all the tight areas of the vehicle where people will notice the difference.

Size of compressor

Since some of you will be limited in space, focus on CFM.  Many detailing tools need at least 4 CFM or higher to operate efficiently.  While the tank size can be smaller and must be refilled often, having a higher CFM rating is essential to run interior cleaning guns.  Look for a compact unit of around 4 to 6 gallons with a CFM of about 5.  This will allow you to run most of the detailing tools, saving you valuable time while completing the job more thoroughly.  


Inverter Generator Vs. Generator

The generator usually provides more running watts, but they will take up much more space, use more fuel, have a higher dBA operation, and be heavier.  We recommend utilizing a generator if you’re on a budget to purchase a piece of equipment, have more room, such as a van, utility trailer, or large pickup truck, and do not have too many restrictions within your working area regarding noise.


Inverter Generators

Inverter generators are a newer technology, with Honda releasing one of the first inverter generators in the 1980s.  These machines are typically lighter, use less fuel, are easily portable, take up less room, and are extremely quiet, but they come with a much higher price tag.  Auto detailing tools, such as rotary buffers, dual action buffers, vacuum cleaners, air compressors, steamers, and carpet extractors, can utilize many watts, which might exceed the inverter's capacity.  Many detailers can only run one machine at a time due to having a smaller inverter, while a generator can easily power multiple devices simultaneously. This is incredibly beneficial if you have an employee working with you and both are utilizing devices that need to be powered via an inverter generator or generator.   Some inverter generators cost two or three times more than a standard generator that produces nearly identical “power” in regards to watts.


How many watts do you need?

Most detailers should have a device that will produce at least 3000 watts.  These units typically allow any tool you want to be easily powered without maxing the generator out and using more fuel.  These units can also let MOST devices be run at the same time. Still, they might have difficulty running a heater, carpet extractor, and a giant vacuum simultaneously due to the heating element within the extractor. For approximately 15 years, I used a 2400-watt Pramac T-handle Generator that powered all my equipment.  At times, the small 10-gallon air compressor would have trouble “turning over” without revving the engine on the generator to max load or have difficulty starting the carpet extractor's heating stage without assistance. While this generator is still in operation, approximately 20 years later, having the additional wattage rating of roughly 500 watts would have prevented some of these annoyances.  My unit utilized a Honda Motor, which I avidly support. I believe this is a quality brand, but it comes with a price tag.  If you cannot afford a Honda product, I suggest looking into the Harbor Freight Brand of Generators and purchasing the extended warranty in case issues arise.  Having equipment down for several weeks can be very costly to your business. Most warranties cover repairs, whereas Harbor Freight Tools is a company that remains in business and allows instant exchanges.


Small plug-in car power inverters

We do NOT suggest the use of any car plug-in power inverters.  These items can quickly cause damage to your vehicle or a customer’s vehicle. These devices should be reserved for personal use to power small items of your own. 



Choosing the right vacuum is extremely important.  Many detailers look for the most extensive vacuum canister capacity that boosts the highest horsepower rating, which should be disregarded entirely. Typically, detailing involves smaller particles within the vehicle, such as common debris, pebbles, sand, wrappers, etc.  Filling a canister would take a very long time since most of the debris is minor.  The large canister can cause headaches when navigating an automobile or transportation if you are a mobile detailer.  If the vacuum is within a fixed location, the sizing of the canister might not be an issue for most, depending on the building size.

Vacuum airflow (CFM) and suction pressure, or sealed pressure or water lift pressure, are among the most important factors when deciding what vacuum to purchase.  The vacuum airflow allows items to move down the vacuum hose and into the canister while the suction picks up the debris you are trying to remove from the surface.  It is essential to find a balanced relationship between the two values.  Suction can be present WITHOUT airflow, but airflow will NEVER be present without suction.

As airflow increases, suction will DECREASE within the vacuum. You will often see large, expensive, two-stage vacuums that would lead one to believe the airflow (CFM) will be greater than, say, a 4-gallon portable vacuum that is half the price; this is not the case.  The two-stage vacuums will typically be much quieter, allow for longer hose options, and outlast a single-stage vacuum, but they come with a much higher price tag.

Most mobile auto detailers will be entirely satisfied with a vacuum producing around 110 CFM and a lift of approximately 50.  Many of these units can be purchased for around 100.00 dollars. Do not be fooled by the lifetime warranty claims. The warranty is for issues with workmanship defects and materials.   Many of these vacuums have a run time of around 500-700 hundred hours. While this appears to be extremely long, in reality, for auto detailing, it is not.  Vacuuming is one of the most extended processes for an auto detailer.  While paint correction is typically the longest, cleaning a dirty interior takes a lot of time.  As a long-time Ridgid Brand vacuum user, I can attest that these run times are nearly spot on.  Almost every year, I would have to replace the vacuum, and while I was thrilled with the item's performance while it was functional, I never understood why the vacuum would stop working. After further consideration of the time I used the vacuum weekly, I realized that I was running the vacuum at least 500 hours per year.

While other equipment is needed for the auto detailing business, the equipment mentioned in this article is one of the more significant purchases required for a fully self-contained mobile auto detailing setup. Equipment such as ozone machines, extractors, and steamers are only sometimes necessary when starting.  If you have any questions about starting your business, please contact us at or (888) 724-5144!









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