Car Wash & Auto Detailing

How to Start a Mobile Car Wash Business From Scratch

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.

how to start a mobile car detailing business


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

learn how to mobile car washBefore 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 Competition

We 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.

Differentiate Yourself

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.

Ask yourself…

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 competitionMobile 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.

mobile car wash servicesExterior 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.

Add-On Services

  • Car wax
  • Scratch removal
  • Leather conditioning
  • Shampoo carpets
  • Shampoo seats
  • Pet hair removal
  • Engine cleaning
  • Mold removal
  • Clay bar treatment
  • Headlight restoration

Payment Options

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.

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.

mobile car wash equipmentHere is our list of common products needed for mobile details:

  • Microfiber Towels
  • Pressure washer
  • Vapor steamer
  • Paint correction
  • Buffers
  • Polishers
  • Cleaning and deodorizing equipment
  • Brushes
  • Chemical storage
  • Buckets
  • Sponges
  • Vacuums
  • 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.

mobile car wash business marketingOther 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.

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  • Reply
    January 25, 2017 at 1:20 am

    Hi! Do you have any idea how much I would need as a start-up capital? I have been planning to put up a business that is low-cost and easy to maintain. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Muhammad Ali Sial
      June 25, 2018 at 4:29 am

      HI, I’d like to suggest you regarding car wash … you are asking about start-up budget for car wash… so it might be $7000 to $ 12,000 (includes Machine (car wash, & mobile vehicle & employee 1st 2 month salary)). its is min.
      Thank You LARRY

  • Reply
    May 10, 2017 at 2:53 am

    Nice post very informative information.

    • Reply
      Oscar Arria
      June 11, 2019 at 6:25 pm

      Do you franchise?

  • Reply
    June 2, 2017 at 6:37 am

    Many Thanks for the mobile car wash article, i would like to know the minimum number of employees required at the begining? is it possible to start with one?

    • Reply
      Benjamin Guez
      June 15, 2017 at 10:45 am

      Yes, sure! Starting small is the best way to get to know the job. Then when you get enough experience you can definitely start hiring as long as you figure your unit economics.

      Or, you can join Washos and get a sustainable stream of revenues and only focus on what matters, making people happy by detailing their cars.

  • Reply
    Luxury Lords Auto
    August 5, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Just do your home work, its easy. No one on earth can determine how much would it coat you. People say that you have to buy a van. I started it with a toyota yaris, I cancelled the back seat and customized a water tank. I had my pressure washer in my trunk that was petrol operated which you can creat your self if you dont want to buy it. Just do it. Within the first month you would now how to operate. Dont think of things. The only reason im here today os to find ideas nothing else.

    • Reply
      Msizi ndlovu
      December 29, 2019 at 3:23 pm

      Wow thank you for sharing I was also stressed because I don’t have money to buy van , but if you can estimate how much does it cost you to customized a water tank and pressure washer in Rands ?

  • Reply
    September 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    What can you advise me to do if it was the first time in a country where there is not car wash
    What should I do if it is the first time in a country where there is not car wash Mobil.
    please and thank you.

  • Reply
    September 23, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    and Do you have any idea how much I would need as a start-up capital? I have been planning to put up a car wash mobil

  • Reply
    Rafael Carrillo
    November 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Great!!! Thank you for your excellent guidance, I am working on a mobile wash service project and this article will be of great help.

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  • Reply
    March 19, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Hopefully someone replys i was wondering do you need the pressure pump and washer or are you good woth just the washer ? Ive seen a lot of guys use just a gas powered pressure washer and other with both

    • Reply
      March 20, 2018 at 12:14 pm

      Hello Bryan! You will require a pressure washer for water-based washes and engine cleaning. You can also use a gas powered pressure washer. Keep in mind both options get the job done so it really comes down to the detailers preference. The gas powered pressure washers tend to cost more. Hope that helps!

      • Reply
        Christopher Fuller
        June 13, 2020 at 8:49 pm

        Hello. I’m wanting to open up my own automotive detailing business as soon as possible in the North Augusta area close to Augusta auto auction. Which way should I be going because this is my opportunity to run this business as calm and peaceful and it’s going to be called He Is Risen Automotive Detailing. Do I need any references or any other things to start my own business? Please let me know asap. Thank you

  • Reply
    Gavrila Adi
    April 27, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Hey to everybody!:) I am super exicted and want to start also my mobile car wash, but can anyone help me with a great website where i can buy the equipment from? Thanks! 🙂

  • Reply
    May 4, 2018 at 2:23 am

    Hi Benjamin, thanks for the comprehensive guide, will definitely make time to read your other blogs too! I’m interested in running the same business as yours over across in my country, would be happy to let you know how that goes. I will be focusing on 3 key services – external, internal and deluxe (includes wax and both internal/external) as my starting points, since I am new to business I’d like to keep it quite lean as my initial MVP. Yes I understand i lose out on upselling opportunities, but would like to focus on building my foundations first.

    A friend of mine operating successfully with an almost identical structure to yours but in a different industry uses contractors as his on-field cleaners, meaning they use their own equipment and so on. Would you agree that this would not work for this sort of business since you mentioned above that using ‘cheap products’ is not exactly ideal? So to ensure only quality products are used, we should provide them with the on-going materials?

    Another question I have is, I see that you are an advocate of green, waterless cleaning…Have you had any instances where waterless sprays and etc have not been effective? I am seriously considering a complete waterless service as it grants a higher degree of convenience and flexibility, but would not want to do so at the cost of quality.


  • Reply
    Ganesh Chavan
    July 27, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Nice information about car washing and detailing this was great experience to read

  • Reply
    Taraka joel
    September 4, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Hello, thanks for that useful information but my worry is that, here we have different types of cars with different sizes ,so how do u set your prices to fit every car and how dirty it can be , remember you don’t need to over charge the customer. Thanks

  • Reply
    Oliver Mendieta
    September 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Car wash detailing lesson online?

  • Reply
    Brenda V
    September 26, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Hi! Thanks for sharing such valuable information. How do you do when you go to say, an office building, to wash someone’s car? Who do you request permission from? I assume if you go to someone’s house you get permission from them to wash their car in their own space (with the car wash mat and all the adequate equipment). But how do you do it when it’s in a private space like an office building? Thanks in advance.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    I am planning to start this business,but need details how to take water along doing this and if the waterless type will be prefer and where can I get the require knowledge to run this business as a biginner

  • Reply
    Tony B
    January 4, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    Great overview article for the detailing business! I’m always looking at different knowledge bases to expand my business and offer new services and training to employees. I hadn’t checked out DetailingWorld but like the forum. Great post!

  • Reply
    January 21, 2019 at 3:30 am

    First of all i thank you for the valuable information here. Second what would you say was your biggest and most common hurdle/issue you personally encountered say the first qtr of your mobile carwash and detailing business

  • Reply
    February 7, 2019 at 6:19 am

    Thank you so much your information is very helpful

  • Reply
    June 8, 2019 at 4:59 am

    What’s your take on these classes / schools offered with certifications or simply classes on how to do everything you need to hands on w/ professional detailers?

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    Bharat Dubey
    August 11, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    This is so helpfull. I really appriciate the information you provide. I have a question, can i start my bussiness with a single van or truck initially or how much it’ll cost? How can i bring water along with van?

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    Jose Farinango
    May 22, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Do you guys franchise, I am interesting in opening a new business on the East (NY State) I will like to get more information if possible, thank you

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