Archived Blog Posts for auto detailing business plan

If you own and operate your own auto detailing or mobile auto detailing business chances are you do not know what it costs to operate your business on a daily basis. You are providing a service which is very labor intense; you actually need to know what your hourly operating cost is. Once you know what it takes to operate your detailing business per hour you will be able to price your detailing jobs better and provide more accurate estimates for over sized vehicles.

Knowing what your hourly break-even cost is will enable you to determine what you want your profit margin to be per job. Detail King has prepared a simple but effective cost/profit model that will enable just about any auto detailing business owner determine what their hourly break-even costs are. You need to know if you are making or losing money on each job especially the super-sized vehicles like super stretch limousines, boats, big rigs, box trucks, etc.

Your expenses can be broken down by what’s known as fixed costs and variable costs.


Fixed costs are costs that you have to pay every month and usually are the same “fixed” amount every month. Some examples could be rent on your building or your truck or van payment. Other examples of fixed costs could be a monthly loan payment for your start-up costs or your insurance premium for your business or company owned vehicle.

Variable costs are expenses that usually will fluctuate every month. Some typical variable costs would be utilities, auto detailing supplies, office supplies, advertising, marketing, fuel costs, labor, educational expenses, equipment maintenance and repairs, uniforms, trash pick-up, gray water disposal fees, and travel expense. The list will vary depending on the size of the business and the goals of its leader.

The formula to quickly compute your hourly operating cost is really quite easy. If you use an accounting software package like quick books for small businesses then you can easily total both fixed and variable costs. If you do not have use of accounting software you can still figure your over-head out easily.


First, list all of your monthly fixed cost for a typical month and total them up. Next, list all your variable costs and take a 4 month average of those expenses. The 4 months to include for your tabulation should include 2 of your busiest months, 1 slow month and 1 medium busy month. Add all of the 4 month totals together and then divide by 4, this will give you your average monthly variable cost total.

Now add both totals together. Let’s say your fixed costs to operate your business every month total $2150 and your average monthly variable costs total $1075. Your total monthly overhead is $3225.

Now take the amount of days you work per month, let’s say 26 days per month. Divide $3225 by 26 and your average per day cost is: $124.03. Now take the average amount of hours you work per day, let’s say its 8 hours – then divide $124.03 by 8. Your hourly break-even cost is $15.50.

Now you need to determine what your hourly rate should be. Deciding what you actually want to make per hour will help you develop what you should charge for your standard detailing services and how much to estimate for over-sized vehicles. You should at least triple the value of your hourly break-even cost. So if your hourly break-even is $15.50 your “hourly service rate” would be $46.50. So you will me “making” $31.00 per hour! That beats flipping burgers for $7.75 per hour doesn’t it?

When developing a service menu and listing your services and their price ranges the prices should be based on the amount of time you think it will take you for each service times your hourly rate. So let’s say you provide a wash, clay, buff and wax service for regular size vehicles and you determine that it should take you about 2.5 – 3.0 hours. Your advertised price range for that vehicle would be $116.50. For rounding purposes you could advertise that service at $109.00 – $129.00 depending on condition of the vehicle (and or size). You would use this same formula for determining what to charge for all of your services.


If you get a phone call whereas the customer is asking “how much to detail my RV” after you get all of the particulars including the length, color, surface type, etc. you would then determine how many hours this will take you. Let’s say it is 8 hours, and you know your hourly rate is $46.50 then you would quote your customer $372. For rounding and price range purposes; your quoted over the phone price range may be $375-$425. You cannot firm that up until you actually see the vehicle. But now you know how to price these over-sized vehicles while being fair with the customer and making $31 per hour or at least a $248 profit for a day’s work. Not bad!

Keep in mind if you have to bring along a helper your hourly rate goes up so you must factor his or her hourly wage plus at least 25% for employee taxes. But you should also be able to get the job done quicker; so you can be more productive and get more detail jobs completed per day.


It is critical to understand that if your overhead is too high and you use the formula for your cost and profit model stated earlier you may price yourself out of the market. Keep your over-head manageable. A good example would be if just starting out as a mobile auto detailer and you need to buy a mobile rig, don’t purchase a Cadillac Escalade as your mobile rig, your monthly bank note payment will be outrageous! A better decision would be to consider purchasing a reliable pre owned work van for $2500 versus paying $50,000 for a pre- owned expensive luxury SUV.

If you work smart, and work hard, you will be able to buy a Caddy Escalade someday as your personal vehicle or whatever motivates you. Keep your over-head down, do great work and keep taking your business to the next level and you will Thrive!

Operating as a mobile auto detailer can be very lucrative. People today are just too busy to take their car to someone and leave it there perhaps for the entire day. They may have problems finding someone to drop them off or pick them up or they simply just do not want to sit around for hours in a waiting room. Having a mobile auto detailing business allows you to go right to the customer’s home or work place. The mobile auto detailing business owner is has a lower overhead and start-up costs are usually more affordable.

Mobile detailers usually operate their detailing business out of a van, pick-up truck, trailer or cube truck. If you decide to go with a van it should be used, white, at least a ½ ton model (2500) and not showing a lot of wear on the outside. Never buy new when starting out. You can get a half decent pre owned van with still a lot of life in it for under $5K. Be sure you get commercial insurance for the vehicle, because you will be using it for business purpose. You should be able to fit everything in the van. Be sure you letter it up good or even wrap it, to make it noticeable.

You may also want to consider a good used cube truck, or a reconditioned U Haul truck would be perfect! There is lots of room on the sides and back panels to advertise your business and the services you provide. If you make it look good it will stand out and get noticed. Plus there is a ton of room inside for your detailing equipment and supplies. Keep in mind you will need a pressure washerwater tankcarpet extractor, plus a high speed buffer and orbital polisher. It’s a good idea to purchase about 4 or 5 large plastic bins to keep your detailing chemicalspolishesapplicatorsdetail towelsdetailing brushes and other miscellaneous auto detailing tools stowed and secure. If you are going to operate your mobile detailing business close to a large body of water like a lake, river or ocean you must be sure you are not allowing your wash water to be discharged into any storm drain. Detail King offers eco friendly low pressure washerscar wash water containment mats and water reclaim system so you can operate your business and be compliant with your city’s car washing regulations.

If you already have a pickup truck then considering a mobile detailing trailer or mobile car wash trailer may be a no brainer. Detail King carries 4 different models on enclosed and open bed trailers with various equipment options. The bed of the pickup truck can be used to store your bins, which contain your supplies and detail tools. You may want to consider installing a fiberglass lid or tonneau cover on the bed of your truck to keep the contents protected against the elements and theft. Open bed mobile detailing trailers typically consist of a commercial grade pressure washer, water tank, 50′ of pressurized hose and a generator to operate the power tools and vacuum. A 60 or 90 gallon water tank is all you really need unless you plan on doing commercial fleet washes, then you may want to consider a 200 or 300 gallon tank. You may also want to consider using a vapor steamer to assist with interior and exterior car cleaning. If you plan on using your personal pickup truck for business and also pull a trailer be sure to let your insurance company know you need a quote on a commercial policy. See if your insurance company can also insure the business by offering you an umbrella policy that would cover the vehicle, the trailer and its contents and the vehicles that you are working on.

You can establish weekly accounts at office building and business industrial parks where you are there the same day and time every week. You will find that there are many individuals that want their vehicles washed weekly and even detailed monthly or bi monthly. Work with the property managers of these office buildings to allow you on their property to serve their tenants. Your services may be an added benefit for the property management company to offer their tenants. You must be reliable and do outstanding work on every vehicle, every day! Operating mobile has advantages of running your detailing business out of a shop because you can take your “show on the road” and practically go anywhere to make money. Be sure you acquire the proper permits in the municipalities that you work in. And always get permission from the office building management if a customer requested your services directly from you. You may need $1,000,000.00 worth of general liability insurance to set up on some of these office building properties, so get a quote for that amount when shopping for insurance. General Liability insurance (slip and fall) does not cost that much, but you need it in case a customer get injured by possibly tripping over a cord or hose.

If you live in a climate where the temperatures never really get too cold then you can provide your mobile auto detailing services year-round. If you reside in the northeast for example you may want to rent a bay in a car wash or some other auto type shop (car repair shop, lube business, tint shop, etc.) for the winter months. Some detailers operate out of other states for the winter months like Florida or California and build up a diversified clientele for 4-5 months out of the year. Many smart mobile detailers bank enough money during the good weather so they don’t have to work too hard during the winter. But what they actually do is work on obtaining new business by attending networking events, chamber of commerce meetings, cultivating their territory and setting up accounts with office building and condo complexes.

Every car on the road is a potential car detail for your business! From the little old lady from Pasadena to the high powered corporate CEO. They all need your services, you just need to provide a service that is affordable for that little old lady and a program for the CEO that wants his Mercedes washed weekly and detailed every month. Set up the services, determine the pricing and cultivate the various niches. Before you know it you may have acquired numerous commercial accounts and retail customers that are booking appointments with you on a regular basis. Also as your business grows and your customer base increases with volume you may need to roll out another mobile unit. But let me caution you, do not make that move too early and only have someone operating that second unit that has been working with you for a long time and someone that you can trust with your customers and their automobiles.

If you are serious about starting a mobile detailing or mobile car wash business you should really consider attending a Detail King Training Seminar. We teach you what you need to know about starting, operating and growing an auto detailing business. We have been doing this since 1999 and can be a great business partner to assist you with taking your current detailing business to the next level. Tip #7 will discuss how important it is to be trained properly not on for the hands-on detailing side of your business but also for the business side!

Be Conservative – Take Your Time & Set Priorities! Determine whether you should start up as a Mobile or “Fixed” Detail Operation: You can begin working out of your garage at home, from the trunk of your car, the bed of your pick-up, from your van, out of an attached detailing trailer, from your own retail location, parking garage, parking lot or a shared location with a car wash or other auto related business types. All of these choices are reasons this opportunity is so lucrative. If you work out of your garage at home be sure your neighborhood is zoned for this type of business. If it isn’t you may want to request a “variance” from your local municipality. They may grant you permission to operate out of your driveway but they may have stipulations. If you must lease a physical location ask for flexible terms for the first 6-12 months, this will help you generate positive cash flow.

Start-Up Costs: You can start part-time from your home or operate mobile out of your vehicle for under $1600 and offer popular paint protection and express interior services. If you jumping in head first as a full time business and want to cultivate commercial and dealer business you could invest as much as $21,000. This would provide you a professional enclosed mobile detailing trailer including the necessary training, equipment, supplies, tools, auto reconditioning materials, web site and a protected territory. If you need financing be sure to shop around because interest rates vary. You may want to consider alternative financing, too.

Have a good Communications System: Especially if you are a one person, mobile operator you will need a procedure to take incoming phone calls and emails from new prospects and past customers. There are sophisticated automated voice mail services that can tell the caller more about your services and then give the option of scheduling an appointment, leaving a message or connecting live to your smart phone. Once the caller initiates the selected option you will be notified immediately. We have found that both and provide excellent virtual services for handling your incoming calls and even scheduling detailing appointments. Utilizing the features of these services will free up your time while representing your business as a state of the art company. It is recommended at the end of each business day you contact any leads or appointments that were handled with your virtual office, there is nothing like talking or emailing your contact direct. Be sure to also check your emails several times per day for prospects that are looking to book an appointment or have questions about your services. You can easily check and reply to emails on your smart phone.

Set-up a credit card account for business purchases: Many suppliers do not offer credit terms or COD, so you can organize your business purchases with a credit card account, it will provide you cash flow flexibility. Chase and American Express have flexible credit card programs for new businesses. Be sure you pay your balances off every month before you incur interest charges.

Accept credit cards from your customers: Customers that are paying with credit cards tend to spend more with you. Let’s say your average charge of a complete detail may be $175. But there are additional services that need performed like headlight restoration, cigarette burn repair or even rock paint chip repair. So you offer them a “package price” for all of the above mentioned services. If you don’t accept “plastic” you may be losing sales opportunities. Today it is easier than ever before to offer to take a credit card payment. You can obtain a “credit card reader” for your smart phone from companies like PayPal Here™, or Just plug the device into your smart phone and slide the card through it. It will charge your customer’s credit card and even send them an emailed receipt.

Investigate state and city tax laws: Some require that you charge sales tax on the services you will be providing. If so you will need to apply for a sales tax number. This will also allow you to purchase many auto detailing related products “tax free.” You can apply for your sales tax number typically through your Dept. of State. There is a lot of great information at for each particular state. It is wise to set up an appointment and meet with an attorney and or an accountant so they can make sure all your “I’s” are dotted and “T’s” are crossed. It is well worth the couple hundred dollars they will each charge you to meet with them. is a legal online service that can provide you professional services like incorporating your business and even applying for your federal ID number (EIN) any permits that you may need. is an organization mainly comprised of retired business owners and executives that will offer complimentary consultation services for your business. You may have a SCORE in your home town.

Open a business bank account: Keep your business expenses and your personal expenses separate. If you don’t it could become a nightmare managing your personal finances along with your business affairs. The nightmare even gets worse around tax time. Shop around for the best deal with the banks. They all want your business, see who will give you the best service at the lowest cost. Try and have both your personal account and business account at the same bank, it could make transferring funds very easy.

Executing the above items now before you actually start your business will alleviate headaches down the road. Blog Post Tip #3 will discuss choosing a great name and reserving your web site address. Until then have a great day!

Tailor your detailing business to meet the needs of the local customer base. You may operate your business in an area where offering a mobile service or pick-up and delivery would be very beneficial to your customers. Study your community each hour spent on research can equal a year of success. You will need to develop a business plan so you will have a road map to lead you down the right path. Be sure to review our sample Business Plan, it will provide you a plethora of information and put you on the right track for developing yours.

Determine the demand for high-quality detailing in your area. Survey the entire area, look for high concentrations of traffic, locate retail businesses, auto dealerships, manufacturing plants, medical buildings, airports, transportation companies, office buildings, industrial parks, country clubs, up-scale neighborhoods, etc.

Investigate local environmental laws with the EPA; state, county and city laws vary greatly. If you plan on operating your detailing business close to a body of water you will need to be compliant regarding EPA regulations. Many counties and cities will not allow your run-off water to be discharged into the storm drains. You will have to contain your wash water and then properly dispose of it (gray water) at the end of the day. Detail King offers many Water Containment and Reclamation Systems that start at as low as $300. You want your detailing or mobile car wash business to be compliant and the upfront cost of the equipment needed is much less than the fines you could be looking at. Even fixed locations needs to be aware of where your discharged water is going. It cannot be discharged into the storm drains. Plus you may need a water/grease separator installed in your drain so the oil and grease is trapped.

If you are looking for a building to lease or buy be sure you know the costs of putting in a separator before you sign the lease! You may find that you can negotiate the installation of the separator with your landlord. Costs vary from $600 and up depending on what needs to be done. Check with your local municipal office to see what you need to do, to be compliant. Be sure the area that you are planning on opening your new auto detailing business is “zoned” for this type of business. Separate yourself from your competition and show your professionalism. Your customers will appreciate your extra effort by being “Green” and EPA compliant. There usually is not a special “auto detailing license” needed but some coastal communities don’t want any wash water even touching the pavement, you will need a “waterless car wash permit” typically in those areas. We have the equipment and supplies needed for those requirements too.

Check out the competition: Have your car detailed and ask questions. Do a search online for detailing businesses in your area and be the “mystery shopper.” Find out how professional they are. Do they answer their phone like a business should when you call them? How informative is their web site? If you emailed them did they respond promptly? Were they able to answer your questions completely and did they seem knowledgeable? How were their services priced? Do they offer pick-up and delivery or are they strictly affixed? Take good notes and plan your phone presentation accordingly. Try to fill the voids that your competition has. You will notice that many of the calls you make will surprise you on how un-professional and lacking knowledge your competition may be. Or you may really have to “step up to the plate” to offer your customers a “better value” than the other guys!

Educate yourself: Consider attending one of Detail King’s Training Seminars. You will receive both hands on detailing training and we will educate you on what you need to know to actually run your auto detailing business. Being a great “craftsman” is one thing but knowing how to promote your services and keep the customers coming back and telling their friends to use your services is another thing. We teach you both and this newsletter series will explain some of the critical things you need to know including how to promote your business using all the relevant social media tools like Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat and more! We also offer Training DVD’s if you cannot attend a training seminar in Pittsburgh. Detail King will be presenting their King On The Road class room training seminars which are new for 2014. Our “Bonus” newsletters will inform you where the King will be traveling this year to present special one- day seminars.

Decide on the services you will offer: A well-rounded detailing business should give the customer at least 4 choices of value oriented detailing packages. Eventually you should offer specialized auto reconditioning services such as headlight restoration, paint chip repair, plastic trim restoration, carpet dying, cigarette burn repair, vinyl and leather repair, paintless dent repair and even glass repair. You generate more revenues per customer by offering the reconditioning service above. Turn a $150 detail into a $300 complete auto reconditioning package, what car today doesn’t need rock paint chips repaired? Plus there are many that have foggy, unsafe headlights.

Decide on the types of vehicles you will detail: fleet vehicles, commercial vehicles, emergency vehicles, limousines, car dealer trade-ins, private owners, and car rental agency vehicles just to name a few. It is really endless with the types of vehicles and the market niches that you can procure. Boats, RV’s and motorcycles are very profitable niches to go after. Your success will be based on the niches that you develop. Developing niches can yield high profits and reoccurring revenues. There are literally hundreds of niches you can cultivate. You can learn more about developing niches at our seminars. We really go into depth on how to find these customers and keep them. Once you acquire a new niche be sure you have the proper equipment and supplies so you can proficiently detail these vehicles. For example if you acquire RV’s as a niche you may need to purchase used scaffolding, a pressure washer spray wand extension, double wide buckets, and anything else that will enable you get the job done right and be profitable. There may be some jobs you just have to pass on if they are not profitable or if you do not have the proper equipment and products to complete the job properly.

You can call us anytime to discuss your situation so we can advise the best route to take. Detail King offers a two-hour long business training and marketing DVD titled: “How to Start, Operate and Grow an Auto Detailing Business” this DVD also includes a follow-along printed narrative.

The DVD and narrative publication was crafted by Detail King’s founder and CEO Nick Vacco. We also include our Methods & Procedures Guide and a new 2014 Detail King Catalog. The cost of the DVD is only $89.95, to order yours please call 1-888-314-0847 or click here! If you would like to download our 2014 Detail King Catalog please click here or email us to request a hard copy to be mailed to you. I look forward to you receiving, reading and enjoying the next 9 newsletters. Get ready for some very AMAZING information about the extremely lucrative business of auto detailing and reconditioning. Until next time, best wishes!


Nick Vacco

Founder and CEO

Detail King LP