If you’re considering becoming an auto detailer, it’s important to understand what the earning potential is – whether that be an hourly rate or a salary range.
According to Leading job site Glassdoor, the average salary of an auto detailer is around $44,000 per year. This is an average based on self-reported data, and since auto detailing is such a large and diverse industry what you can expect to earn may be less or a little more depending on who you are working for.
It really does vary widely, since mobile maintenance washing and high end luxury detailing both command drastically different price points. Are you planning to grow your own business as an entrepreneur, or work for someone else first?
These are all legitimate questions for determining how much you can expect to earn. In this post, I’ll cover everything wage-related, and give a basic breakdown by US state to give you a general idea.
Working as an entrepreneur vs an employee in the auto detailing industry
It can sometimes be scary to make the jump from employee to boss, but if you are willing to put the work in and wait until you have a good reputation, it could be worth the risk. There is obviously a certain stability that comes with being an employee, you don’t have to worry about overhead charges or finding clients or keeping the business afloat – you simply do the job, get paid and leave.
However, the stats show that it can be more profitable to own your own mobile detailing unit or be a one-man show detailer. The top hourly paid detailers in 2020 (according to Indeed.com) cap out at $26,088 and the higher end of this range tops out at around $71,928.00.
Expected earnings can vary based on experience
Building up a client base is going to be the one variable as an entrepreneur that will initially limit the amount of money you earn. If you do choose to work for yourself instead of working for someone else, just know that one isn’t necessarily going to pay more, at least at first. Some full-time positions may offer salaries to detailers, but usually, these types of positions can be difficult to find and usually require a high level of expertise and experience.
If you are just getting started as an auto detailer, I would highly recommend working part-time for another auto detailer or an auto detailing company to get started. Even if you have aspirations of starting your own business, this will allow you to master the techniques required if you are unfamiliar.
Nothing beats hands-on experience in my opinion, and even if you have a full-time job and you are considering one day starting your own detailing business, look for part-time work to cut your teeth.
Getting paid to learn how to detail a vehicle for a few months can pay off in the long run. If being your boss, along with paying taxes, and diving into profit and loss spreadsheets doesn’t intimidate you, then you should consider working part-time as more of an educational experience than anything.
However, if you’re just looking for part-time work or are looking to make extra money in the summer, working for someone else isn’t a bad choice depending on where you live. In this next section, I’ll break down how much you can expect to earn based on where you live.
Earnings by state can vary in auto detailing
Depending on where you live (in the United States at least), it can be more or less profitable to work as an auto detailer. Below is a basic breakdown by state that illustrates the range in average hourly wages for auto detailers. This data is from the job site Indeed.com as of February 2020.
Average hourly wage for an auto detailer (by state)
*Source: Indeed.com. Data for the following states:KS,ME,MS,NM,WY collected from Glassdoor.com.
Regional differences in earnings
As you can see by the map, hourly wages can range from $10 per hour to over $17 depending on the U.S. state. Factors like demand, competition, and cost of living very can determine your hourly wages as an auto detailer.
According to data used in the map above from Glassdoor and Indeed.com, the average hourly wage of an auto detailer in the United States is $13.29.
Expected earnings as a carwash attendant vs a detailer
Based on my research, car wash attendants receive considerably less per hour than most hourly auto detailers do. So if you are considering a job at a car wash chain like Mister Car Wash, just know that while you won’t have to travel to two different locations like a detailer would, you also make less money.
If you simply want to come into work wipe down a few cars and leave, I’d suggest working at the car wash attendant. However, if you are considering starting your own business, or just really love auto detailing then working for a mobile detailer it’s probably the better route.
A basic auto detailing profitability equation for a beginner
Depending on the source, the cost of a typical basic maintenance wash/wax package a mobile detailer can expect to charge a customer usually ranges anywhere from around $50 to $100 per job.
Example: Over an 8-hour day, washing 3 vehicles based on my research is probably a good starting point for beginners.
Assuming you work 5 days per week as a sole proprietor with no employees, the revenue equation is as follows:
($75 per wash x 3 vehicles per day) x 5 days per week = $1,125 per week.
Assuming you want to work 30 weeks per year (roughly part-time) the equation becomes:
$1,125 per week x 30 weeks per year = $33,750 per year.
Assuming you operate on 75% margins, that equates to:
$33,750 per year x 75% = $25,312 per year in profit.
After paying yourself 60%, and reinvesting the other 40% into the business, that’s still around $15,000 extra. In this equation, that works out to about 13 bucks per hour, which is pretty close to what the average salary is for a detailer. If you want freedom to work for yourself, it’s not a bad alternative to a traditional part-time job.
Profitability and earning potential can fluctuate
This is a difficult equation to depend on, but hopefully, it gives you a good starting point for thinking about what you may be able to earn. There are so many factors that can affect profitability, including:
- Fuel costs (if you are a mobile detailer)
- Cost of supplies
- Local competition
- Local demand and repeat customers
- Market rate for auto detailing services in your area
- Taxes and insurance
All of these factors can eat into profit margins, which is why it is so important to keep track of expenses and your overall profitability before deciding to grow an auto detailing business.
For many beginners just starting, you may find that you are only making $12-$15 per hour initially, similar to most other jobs.
But detailing is scaleable, and with add-on services in the mix, your profitability per customer can skyrocket. Check out these add-on services you may want to consider adding to your services menu that can boost your profit margins as a beginner.
Overall, auto detailing is a great way to generate a pretty substantial income for yourself, and the outlook for auto detailing is pretty good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor expects it to grow at around 11% per year by 2026.
If you’re considering entering the auto detailing space, check out our video course, Auto Detailing for Beginners to learn the basics that will help you in your career.