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10 Things to Know Before Becoming an Auto Detailer

Working either part-time or full-time as an auto detailer can be a HUGE opportunity to make real money without a huge upfront investment. It really is a great business to be in considering the market size of over 13 billion according to IBISWorld.

If you haven’t already checked out my webinar The Future of Auto Detailing in 2020 and Beyond, you can view that here.

With that said, if you are considering getting into auto detailing, today I wanted to share 10 things to know about auto detailing that I feel are important to note.

1. Auto detailing is competitive. Really competitive.

Like most large industries with a low barrier-to-entry, it can be very competitive. Depending on the area you live, you may be competing with solo entrepreneurs, large mobile car wash and detailing companies, detailers at dealerships, and of course– drive through car washes.

While the market is large, be prepared to set your auto detailing business apart from the rest. Are you the detailing company with the cool looking vans and rock solid technology, or just your average run-of-the-mill detailer?

While you should always focus on technique and providing the best possible services, decide how you will stand out in the minds of consumers in your area.

2. Serving the average consumer vs high-paying clientele

As an auto detailer, you may be performing less high-end detailing than you desire, depending on the area you live. For example, many high-volume outdoor mobile detailers don’t typically clay or provide advanced services like paint correction the average consumer may not desire or be willing to pay for.

On the other hand, if you are a detailer with a dedicated shop and have access to higher paying clients, you will undoubtedly receive more money per detail by providing more white glove high-end services.

At the end of the day, it’s important to decide what type of clientele you want to service as an auto detailer.

3. Detailing has different business models

Do you want to operate as an independent mobile detailer, open up a shop, or simply work for a large detailing company that provides benefits?

Decide what type of detailing services you enjoy performing before deciding on a business model. Are you perfectly okay with ‘maintenance’ washing in office parks, or would you prefer detailing exotic sports cars that command more money (and more of your time)?

While you can definitely adjust your business model later on, it’s important to set out on a path that lines up with your passions. Do you enjoy offering good quality maintenance washes to clients at an affordable price? Mobile detailing may be for you.

Are you a car lover interested in learning more difficult-to-master techniques, while building relationships with sports car owners? Low-volume shop detailing may be the way to go. Of course the demand for these services may dictate your business model as well.

4. Reputation and trust are really important

For many people, the automobile is the first or second most expensive asset they own, and trusting a complete stranger (or even someone you’ve built a relationship with) with your vehicle can be a tall order.

If you’re a small one-person operation, going the extra mile and offering individualized attention (like explaining what you’ve done) can help establish trust and rapport.

Adding things like testimonials to your website or social media profiles can also be a great way to put customers at ease, but at the end of the day it’s about making things right with your customer.

This is something the large detailing chains don’t really focus on in my opinion. Many large detailing chains round robin jobs to different detailers, with the consumer not having any say as to who they are paired with.

5. There is money to be made in washing fleets

Auto detailing is really competitive in many cases, but one subset of the car wash market–fleet washing–has tremendous earning potential.

Whether you are detailing limos, large trucks, or even for auto dealerships, if you have the right equipment and the capacity to wash a lot of vehicles, this is a pretty nice niche to make a living in.

Check out my blog post, 8 Tips for Starting a Fleet Washing Business for Beginners that outlines a few things to know about this business in general.

6. Technique matters

While detailing certifications are not a prerequisite to entering this industry, there are some basic fundamentals of auto detailing worth knowing about.

From correctly applying wax, to removing substances, to knowing how to use a polisher, detailing is really an artform.

Since most of the larger detailing companies simply focus on maintenance washing, the more advanced detailing techniques are worth learning to separate your business from the rest.

If you’re interested in a few interior techniques, check out my blog post 17 Interior Detailing Tips the Pros Keep a Secret.

7. Technology continues to change auto detailing

In the current post-COVID-19 era, technology, apps, and how customers interact with your brand online matters more than it ever has.

Tools like a basic CRM or point-of-sale system are critical for growth, but that’s really just the starting point. From email marketing, social media advertising, to more advanced strategies like sending text messages, reaching younger consumers will require you embrace technology.

To compete for the business of such a tech-savvy consumer, you need to have a business that doesn’t rely on pen and paper, but reaches customers where they are.

While technology-free detailing businesses may have worked in the 1980s and 1990s, these pen-and-paper-based operations I believe will slowly become extinct as consumers flock to businesses with better technology experiences.

8. Be prepared for cashless payments

Relying on cash payments is also a dated strategy. According to studies, 78 percent of American consumers prefer to pay for things with a credit or debit card, while on 9 percent prefer cash.

Contactless payments are becoming the norm (in response to global pandemics like COVID-19) so having a strategy for accepting mobile payments is something to definitely explore.

Whether you provide a credit card reader customers can use (or mobile payments), only accepting cash or checks can really hold you back.

9. Residential vs office park detailing

Depending on your business model, you may decide to focus on office parks (small or large) or stick to residential.

If your customer base is a little older, it may be wise to stick to washing and detailing in residential areas, since you won’t have to worry about getting permission from the building owner.

Another determining factor is the trend in the work-from-home movement. If you live in an area where most residents are involved in online businesses (and thus can work from home), residential detailing can certainly be profitable.

Assuming that residents will allow you to hook up to water sources and electricity, you can also save time and money as a mobile detailer filling tanks fuel costs for generators, for example.

10. Customer loyalty is more important than ever

Attracting customers on 1-off basis is a strategy that is likely to be unsuccessful as more consumers prefer the convenience and mobile apps.

While auto detailing is a large market, consumers are moving towards the convenience of booking appointments (on mobile devices when possible), as opposed to staying loyal to those who don’t offer those types of perks.

With that said, technology and strategies like sending emails as an auto detailer can be a huge opportunity as a small detailer looking to build brand loyalty and get their name out there.

As always, providing a better experience creates that customer loyalty every auto detailer needs.


Detailing offers tremendous freedom and potential if you are looking to earn extra money or work for yourself. While high salaries can be difficult to achieve overnight, it’s one of the largest markets you can enter.

If you’re thinking of starting an auto detailing business or just want to learn more, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel and email list.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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