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How to start a car detailing business: 8 key steps 

How to start a car detailing business: car detailer wiping the headlight of a car

Key takeaways

  • Hands-on training can ensure you have the experience necessary to provide quality car detailing services
  • Choose a car detailing niche and unique business name to stand out from your competitors
  • Research legal requirements even after you register your business to ensure you’re clear to operate

Vehicles are among the largest purchases that Americans make in their lifetimes. Naturally, consumers want to take care of their investments and keep them looking (and smelling) like new. It’s no wonder why the car wash and auto detailing industry is worth over $13 billion. Learn how to start a car detailing business to claim your share of this profitable market and grow a loyal customer base.

How to start a car detailing business

If you’re a car lover who wants more hands-on work than a car dealership allows but you’re not interested in becoming a mechanic, learning how to start a car detailing business could be a great fit. Starting your own detailing shop requires a mix of technical skills and business knowledge that you can obtain by following these eight steps.

1. Improve your car detailing skills

A passion for and knowledge of cars can help you attract potential customers. But ultimately, while you don’t need any formal education to start your company, you must provide quality detailing services to run a successful business.

Begin by improving your professional detailing skills, including manual car washing, interior steam cleaning, car polishing, and engine pressure washing. If you’re learning from scratch, you can get hands-on experience through car detailing apprenticeships. You can find them on job listing sites like ZipRecruiter and Indeed or through courses at a local auto detailing school.

If you want to go the extra mile, consider completing a car detailing certification. Doing so can help you improve your skills while making your company more marketable and reputable. The International Detailing Association (IDA) offers a well-known certification program that requires skills testing and 10 exams. The total cost is $700 or $350 for IDA members. Every two years, you must complete eight hours of detailing education, which can include IDA webinars and trade show events. You’ll also need to pay $100-$150 to maintain your certification.

If you don’t want to perform your own car detailing services, you can hire employees with the proper skills instead. However, you should still have strong knowledge of detailing processes—which can be obtained through consultations with experts or online courses—so you are truly well-versed in the industry and can effectively sell your services.

2. Choose your car detailing niche

How to start a car detailing business: car detailer cleaning the interior of a car

The term “car detailing” encompasses a variety of services. Many detailing shops focus on consumers with specific needs rather than trying to appeal to everyone who needs a car cleaning service. Choose a niche that helps you attract a specific target market. For instance, you can start a luxury car detailing business or exclusively offer interior detailing services.

Your business location can also help you stand out. For example, mobile detailing businesses can help you attract people who are willing to pay a premium for the convenience of having you come to them. Meanwhile, renting or buying a physical location can help you attract locals and passersby. Contact your city government for zoning regulations before you settle on your small business location.

3. Identify your startup costs

One of the biggest challenges of starting an auto detailing business is paying for all the up-front costs. To make sure you’re budgeting enough money or getting the necessary funding, you need to know what expenses to cover before launching.

Make a complete list of all your startup costs, such as certification fees and detailing tools, like pressure washers, carpet extractors, and air compressors. Then, make a list of the monthly expenses you need to cover to stay in business, such as rent, gas, insurance, and detailing equipment, like buffing pads, sponges, car wax, and car soap.

These two lists will help you identify any need for loans, what credit cards work for your business, and how much revenue you need to turn a profit each month.

4. Choose your business name

A great business name can make your detailing shop memorable while giving potential customers a clear idea of what you do. For instance, if you’re opening a mobile car detailing business, a creative yet specific name like “Clean Wheels on Wheels” will stand out more than a generic name like “Good Mobile Car Detailing.”

To legally use a business name, it must be unique from other businesses in your state that offer similar services. Your state agency will have an online search tool you can use to find out if your ideal name is available.

Legal business names also can’t be trademarked by similar businesses, regardless of whether or not they’re in the same state. Use the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to ensure your business name can be used.

5. Register your car detailing business

Car detailer polishing a car

Before you can use your chosen business name, you need to register your company with your state agency. The process required depends on your business structure.

If you plan to operate your business as a sole proprietorship or partnership, which considers you and your company as one and the same, you must file a doing business as (DBA) application to use any name other than your own.

If you’re using any other legal structure, you can lock in your business name when you register your business. You can complete the registration process directly on your state agency’s website or with the printable forms they provide. In most states, you’ll pay less than $300 to register.

You’ll also need to complete the Employer Identification Number (EIN) application. This process registers your new business with the IRS, allows you to run a corporation or partnership, hire employees, open a business bank account, and potentially get loans.

6. Research additional legal requirements

Some local governments have stricter requirements than others. While some auto detailing business owners won’t have to meet additional legal requirements before launching, others may have to. Do some research to understand if you require any business licenses or permits. Your Small Business Administration district office can provide assistance if needed.

Also, stay abreast of environmental and safety regulations that may affect your car detailing business.

7. Purchase business insurance

When starting a car detailing business, it’s crucial to know the types of insurance your company might need. Auto detailers commonly get general liability insurance, which can protect you if you accidentally damage a car during a service or someone gets hurt on your property. If you’re hiring employees, you should obtain worker’s compensation insurance to cover employees’ on-the-job injuries as well.

If you’ll have a physical location, consider garage keepers insurance to provide extra damage protection for vehicles in your possession. This type of insurance is available from companies like Progressive and CoverWallet.

8. Market and advertise your business

The final step of starting a car detailing business is strategizing how to attract new customers to your company. Consider what car detailing advertising ideas can best help you reach car owners who are likely to use your services. Then, build a marketing plan that includes the specific techniques you’ll use to reach potential customers and boost word-of-mouth referrals. Some effective marketing strategies include:

  • Share car care tips on social media to showcase your expertise
  • Claim your Yelp Business Page and update it with photos and accurate business information up to a month before your grand opening to attract searchers
  • Create a referral program that rewards anyone who refers customers to your business with gift cards, discounts, cash, or other perks
  • Use paid advertising, like Yelp Ads, to reach more members of your target market

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Build a successful car detailing business

Now that you know how to start a car detailing business, you can dive into the automotive industry with greater confidence in your technical and business skills. Start by getting the training you need to provide quality service. Then, start selecting the types of services you want to offer, register your new business, and promote it to your target market.

Even when your car detailing business is established, perfecting your business strategy is key to growing your business. Get top tips on how to write a business plan to further solidify your success.

Small Business Guide

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.