Car washes can be incredibly lucrative businesses but tend to require more startup capital and permits to get started. However, a mobile car wash business is much simpler to start and can become profitable quickly. However, the process to getting started can be daunting.
Now, you’re probably wondering..
How the heck do I start a mobile car wash business? What kind of car washing equipment do I need to buy? What permits do I need to get?
Here’s the deal
Using our vast experience in the car wash industry we’ve assembled this awesome and detailed guide that covers every step of the way.
Note: While we haven’t covered some of the more obvious things in the post like accounting, managing your money and legal costs, this guide serves a reference to getting started quickly.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction to the Mobile Car Wash Business
In the United States, the car wash industry is massive:
- Annual industry revenue is roughly $10 billion
- There are more than 60,000 car wash companies
- The industry is growing at approximately 3% per year
What’s the bottom line?
Running a mobile auto detailing business can be lucrative and yet has a really low startup cost.As a small business owner, trust and credibility are critically important in running a successful business.Click To Tweet
It takes a long time to build trust and credibility but only minutes to erode it.
Start by writing out core values of what you’d like to business to have and build your business around them. For example, many successful businesses like Amazon have a customer first culture, which requires them to deliver outstanding customer service to anyone buying from them. While this can be expensive, like having to go above and beyond your services to satisfy a customer, it will benefit you in the long run.
Remember that people are going to be trusting you with their car keys so it is important to appear and be professional. For example, buy a uniform with your company logo and have a professional looking website. Word of mouth is important for any small business to become successful.
Learn How to Wash & Detail Cars
Before you start a mobile auto detailing business, it is important to learn the basics of car detailing and washing. There are tons of forums and websites where you can learn about car detailing and washing.
We cannot stress how important it is to use the right techniques. Firstly it will prevent you from paying for damages you may cause and secondly it will help you educate your clients. Secondly, when you educate your clients on the importance of regular washes or certain products, then it increases your chances of closing the sale. Lastly, it gives you credibility as an expert in your field which as we mentioned earlier is hard to build.
Want to know the best part?
The Internet is filled with resources that will teach you to become an expert detailer quickly. These are some of our favorites websites to learn about car detailing:
The best way to learn however is by doing than just reading or watching videos online. Go out and experiment. Watch videos on YouTube and try detailing your own car or a friend’s car. Keep practicing until you master the techniques.
Scope Out the CompetitionWe cannot stress this point enough: study the competition!Click To Tweet
Do extensive research to find out which car wash companies are operating in your area. You will want to know whether they offer on-site or mobile car washes, services offered and the price range. The more you understand your competitors, the better you can shape your brand and services to be superior.
Having this information will help you differentiate yourself from the other car wash businesses and help you figure out what mobile car wash services you should be offering and what price point. Your goal should be to find a niche for yourself that will help you find clients as quickly as possible.
Other than your services or prices, you can also create a competitive edge by offering better customer service or flexibility in scheduling appointments. Maybe you are the only mobile car wash business that exclusively uses green products to clean cars.
What is my unique value proposition that customers cannot get from other car wash businesses? What do I bring to the table?
Mobile Car Wash Business Plan
A business plan is necessary while starting a new venture because it guides and keeps you in check. Even though it seems intimidating, you should spend the necessary time to write out a detailed plan. A business plan will also help you plan for the future in terms of growth, cash flow, sales and hiring so this exercise will pay off in the long run.
It gets better…
There are many free business plan templates available online. We found this super useful business plan template that was created by the University of Michigan along with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Mobile Detailing Services You Can Offer
Based on your analysis of local on-site and mobile car wash or auto detailing businesses, you can start to carve out which services you would like to offer to differentiate your business from your competitors. Keep in mind that you can offer a menu of services with add-ons like we do at Washos. Doing so allows you to attract people who have different price points and you boost your appeal to a wider audience.
Your pricing should ideally reflect the demographics of the area you are targeting and the prices of your competitors. Obviously, higher priced services require more professionalism and higher quality. If you’re going to price yourself above the market, then carefully consider why someone would want to pay $x more for your service than your competitor. What do you offer that is unique? Can the demographics in the area support the prices you want to charge?
You may want to start lower than your ideal price and increase as you gain clients.
These are some suggestions of services you could offer. You can combine and mix the services in any way you feel like. For example, many mobile auto detailing services combine exterior and interior cleaning.
Exterior Car Washing Services
Generally an exterior car wash comprises of washing the vehicle, claying the paint and removal of all bugs & tar. Additionally, all exterior rubber tires are dressed and the rims are cleaned.
Interior Car Washing Services
Usually, an interior car wash includes thorough vacuuming, trash removal and window cleaning. Many detailers offer leather surface wipe downs too to get those leather seats looking new.
- Car wax
- Scratch removal
- Leather conditioning
- Shampoo carpets
- Shampoo seats
- Pet hair removal
- Engine cleaning
- Mold removal
- Clay bar treatment
- Headlight restoration
Accepting a wider range of payment options is more beneficial for customers. In addition to accepting cash, you should also accept credit card payments through a dongle like Square attached to your smartphone.
Car Wash Business Formation
While many small business owners opt to start a sole proprietorship, it may be more beneficial to form an LLC. This type of business structure limits your liability if a creditor or client decides to sue you. Forming an LLC is less burdensome than forming a S Corp but requires more paperwork than a sole proprietorship.
Learn more about the different types of business structures at the U.S. Small Business Administration
Permits for a Mobile Car Wash Business
Research about all the city and state licenses and permits required to run a mobile car business (or mobile auto detailing). Also remember to check the laws of the city you are going to operate in to make sure you’re in compliance. For example the California Department of Industrial Relations has a page dedicated state requirements to run a car wash business. Some states may also regulate where you wash cars, where you can discharge water and what kinds of chemicals you aren’t allowed to use.
Some cities have additional requirements for environmental compliance, so to avoid any fines be mindful and follow the laws.
What’s the bottom line?
It is ultimately your responsibility to know what is required by law.
Pro Tip – You may want to speak with a lawyer and a CPA after you’ve completed your research to ensure that you are on the right track.
Mobile Car Wash Insurance
Don’t forget to get liability insurance and/or business insurance. Having good coverage is a sign of trust so mention it on your website and business card.
The most common insurance for a mobile car wash business is Garage Keeper’s Liability. This will cover you while you are working on a vehicle and while it is in your possession.
Mobile Car Wash Equipment
Start making a list of equipment you will require and what you have available. Keep in mind that your equipment needs will be based on services you decide to offer. While we don’t recommend buying very expensive car wash equipment, you shouldn’t pick the cheapest either. High quality products deliver better results.
Next up, you will need a vehicle large enough to store all your equipment. The size of your vehicle will depend on the services you offer. In most cases a large sedan or SUV is enough. You can alternatively buy a used van for $3,000 to $5,000.
In most states you can’t dump water so you will need a water reclamation system. And if you are offering water car washes then you will need to carry water with you. You should have between 80 to 100 gallon water capacity and enough power to operate a professional buffer and vacuum.
Here is our list of common products needed for mobile details:
- Microfiber Towels
- Pressure washer
- Vapor steamer
- Paint correction
- Cleaning and deodorizing equipment
- Chemical storage
- Water Supply Tank and Pump
- Portable Generator
Pro Tip: You can offer waterless car washes which don’t require the use of the water supply tank and generator. They are as effective as regular car washes.
Marketing a Mobile Car Wash Business
Visit local businesses or office parks to find employees who may be interested in getting their car washed while they are at work. You could also offer them discounts to refer your services to people they know. Word of mouth marketing is an effective way for small businesses to grow quickly.
You can try to sell your services to local car dealerships and limousine services.
Now, the worst part…
Be prepared to hear no many times. It takes time to build a business and you’ll often face rejection. Prepare yourself, work hard and the rest will follow.
Other Marketing Tools Required for a Successful Mobile Car Wash Business
- Online Presence – in the form of a professional website and active social media accounts. Yelp is an important site for local businesses to have a presence.
- Chamber of Commerce – many local Chamber of Commerce let businesses advertise special offers to other members.
- Branding – you should invest a little in creating a nice logo, business cards and apparel for people interacting with customers.
- Flyers – something you can distribute to local businesses or hand out to people to spread the word about your business.
While we have covered the basics, there are tons of other ways to advertise and market yourself. Our advice is to be frugal with advertising until you have a solid customer base.
A lot of hard work and dedication is required to making a mobile car wash business successful. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment below. If you’re interested in becoming a Washos technician, click here to sign up.