When looking into a pressure washer for mobile detailing, you have a few different options. It really all begins with what type of vehicle you will be working out of, whether that be a truck bed, an open or enclosed trailer, or a van.
Skid-mounted units are by far the most popular option to consider, simply because everything you need for cleaning is contained, eliminating movement and clutter, and they can easily be unloaded with a forklift and moved around if you need to. However, some of these units can cost upwards of $5-6,000.
In this blog, I’ll break down the anatomy of a typical skid mount setup, as well as offer a few ideas for building your own. I’m simply going off of some common DIY setups that I’ve seen, (as I am not a fabricator).
Building a skid mounted unit
Before you get started, just keep in mind that it really depends on the space you have available in your truck, trailer, or van. If you already have a pressure washer with wheels, you may be able to just remove the motor (or wheels) from the main frame.
Mounting your equipment
Whatever unit you purchase, just be sure you will have the ability to secure it to a flat surface. I would also suggest purchasing a few rubber feet for your skid plate frame to avoid damaging your trailer or vehicle.
Step 1: Scope out the right pressure washer unit
This is probably the most important part of the entire setup, and really the centerpiece of your setup. When it comes to pressure washers, you have two main types to choose from: electric vs gas-powered.
Since maximum PSI shouldn’t exceed 1,900 when washing vehicles, electric models are a great choice if you use your customer’s power. However, gas-powered units are usually the more convenient and common option for mobile detailers.
Consumer-grade pressure washers
Most gas-powered pressure washers you find at Lowes or Home Depot fall into the consumer-grade category. Perfect for home use, but if you are a detailer, it may get costly over time if you begin to have issues like if the pump fails (pretty common) or it begins to leak oil. Most of these units that I see have tires and attached to a frame, which you should be able to remove.
Professional-grade pressure washers
The professional skid units I see for sale usually contain Briggs and Stratton motors that are typically at least $1,000 at a minimum, but these typically will last longer and be more reliable.
One option I would look into is something with a steel roll cage (with attached hose reel) like this one at WaterCannon.com. These are perfect for attaching to a base (Step 2) and eliminates the need to buy an extra hose reel.
Direct drive vs belt drive motors
Keep in mind, if you are pumping from a water tank, you will probably need a belt-drive (or gear drive) pressure washer pump to effectively pull water from the tank. However, many detailers will to use a small pump from their water tank, in order to create enough pressure to feed into a cheaper direct drive unit.
I have also heard of people using direct-drive motors and letting gravity create enough pressure to feed the motor. You will want to keep the water tank higher than the pressure washer unit, and as full as possible to create the pressure needed. It may be something to try, but keep in mind it can be hit or miss depending on your motor.
Pressure washer pumps
When it comes to pumping water out of a tank, the pressure washer pumps are likely to play out first if you purchase a consumer-grade unit, even if you purchase a higher-end motor like a Honda. A few pump brands that I have heard are pretty good are Simpson, CAT, GP, or Gorman Rupp.
Be sure to check the warranty on whatever unit you purchase, as it may cover the pump in addition to the motor. Also, be sure to look for a triplex pump. These are typically higher quality than standard axial pumps and what higher-end units will usually have.
Gallons per minute (GPM) and PSI
Most of the time anywhere from 1 – 2.5 gallons per minute should be okay for cleaning most cars, but you may want to look for a unit in the 4-5 GPM range for larger SUVs and vehicles. With the water doing all of the cleaning, a higher GPM rating will enable you to dispense more water faster, speeding up cleaning.
PSI is not as big of a deal for detailing cars and trucks, since you don’t want to exceed 1,200 – 1,900 PSI at max.
Step 2: Select a good base
The base (or skid) is a great way to keep everything organized, secure, and mobile . If you’re operating out of a pickup truck (for example), it’s nice to be able to move everything easily if you have a forklift or pallet jack and don’t feel like carrying your equipment on the weekends.
Ultimate washer also makes a powder-coated skid plate frame specifically for certain pressure washers you can pick up on Amazon here. This is a good starting point that you can incorporate into your base, or simply use it as-is. Perfect for vans or truck beds.
One configuration that I have seen utilizes plastic (or wooden) pallets as the base as pictured above. However, one alternative you could potentially start from is a steel pallet like this one. These are made from galvanized steel and can be found for around 100 bucks. You can also find some pretty strong plastic pallets for around the same price.
You need to determine how much weight both your vehicle can support as well as the skid unit you will be constructing before getting started, but pallets are one option to try.
Steel frame fabrication
Another option if you are familiar with fabrication is to create a steel frame. Most of these bases that I have seen consist of rectangular steel bars (like a picture frame), with a rectangular arch for mounting the hose reel, and a few other steel bars for mounting a pressure washer and/or generator.
Alternative option: wooden trailer bed or plywood
One popular alternative to skids is to secure all of your equipment to wooden planks in a flatbed trailer. This is probably the most cost-effective option if you already have trailer you intend to use for detailing.
I have even seen people use a sheet of plywood to mount their equipment on, that can slide out of a truck bed onto a sawhorse or flat elevated surface without having to lift.
Step 3: Select a water tank
You will probably want your water tank you select to be centered over the back of the skid and out of the way. If you are working out of a pickup truck, a 65 gallon tank should be just small enough to close a bed cover if you have one. Some larger tanks you may not even want to attach to a pallet or other structure.
You should probably also pick up a couple of ratchet straps to secure your tank (as in the picture above), just to keep it from moving around when empty.
Another thing to keep in mind is how many cars you plan to wash per day. Some 200+ gallon tanks can be overkill if you do not have the proper towing equipment, so I’d suggest somewhere around 65-100 gallons to start.
Step 4: Water hose and electrical reels
Many of the setups I see contain the pressure washer unit with a built-in hose reel stacked on top. However, you might prefer a larger reel that can be mounted horizontally. Keep in mind, some hose reels can be expensive, especially if they are retractable and do not require a hand crank.
This unit I found here on Amazon requires fittings and a pigtail hose to convert, but has a nice flat base plate, perfect for attaching to steel or wood. Most hoses you can pick up for around $100 if your pressure washer didn’t come with one.
I recently wrote a post all about hose reels in detailing you can read about here.
Whenever you select the hose you need, just be sure you select one with a PSI rating of at least 2,000 PSI. There are a lot of consumer-grade hoses that are not meant for commercial use and pressurized water.
If you are operating electric polishers, having a hose reel is also a great idea for mounting to your skid if you have the space. Reelworks makes some pretty affordable options that you can either mount to the wall or to a steel 90 degree wall bracket in order to mount to your skid.
They do make retractable electrical cords that you can mount to the floor, but can range anywhere from $100 to $200 usually.
Step 5: Select a generator
If you are thinking about pumping water from your tank to feed into a cheaper pressure washer, a small generator is a must have. Many setups I have seen have the generator on the front right, pressure washer and hose reel on the left, and tank (with pump) on the back.
The Honda EU2200i or 3000 series are great portable options, but if you are looking for something a little more affordable check out our detailing generator buyer’s guide here.
Adding up the total cost
If you are thinking about creating your own custom skid setup, the important thing to keep in mind is the total cost of materials that it may take. Some custom-built, professional setups can cost anywhere from $3-10,000 depending on what’s included.
For beginners, you probably don’t need a carpet extractor as part of your skid, and can potentially save a lot of money building one yourself.
Here is a basic cost rundown of a basic skid setup after checking pricing on a few different items:
- Galvanized steel pallet: $85
- Steel hose reel with swivel arm and mounting bracket: $69
- Honda EU2200i inverter generator: $1,000
- 65 Gallon Water Tank: $134
- 12V water pump (for tank, if necessary):$90
- 2.5 GPM Simpson PowerBoss 3300 PSI pressure washer, Honda GX200 motor with hose: $529
- Misc. accessories: $120
TOTAL COST: $2,027
You can obviously choose to go with more expensive components, but you can definitely get started with a custom setup for less than $1,500 with a basic conventional generator and wash unit which you may already have.
Is buying a better option?
While we’re on the topic, keep in mind that there are some pretty good units on the market to take a look at if you find out building a custom setup isn’t for you. If you’re new to mobile detailing, or are looking to replace some old equipment you already have, it’s a very convenient option if you have the budget.
Where to buy
By far the most popular skid mount I see (made specifically for detailing) is made by Right Look. Detail King and Alkota also make a few skid units as well. You may want to look at the preowned marketplace like Craigslist if you are considering this route, since these can be several thousand dollars if purchased new.
Most of these units include pressure washer/reel/tank combos, and even a unit with vacs, generators, and everything all in one. Most of the units I see contain:
- Steel bar skid frames (or cages)
- Pressure washer engine unit
- Retractable hose reel
- Water tank with straps
When buying a fully assembled unit, you are definitely going to pay a premium. Most of these units start at $3,500 – $4,000 at a minimum (plus $300-$400 shipping), with some costing more than $5,000. You get a powder-coated steel frame and some decent components, but these packages you can usually assemble yourself for a lot less.
I hope this at least gives you some ideas to think about when creating a custom detailing skid. If you have any other ideas or suggestions, leave a comment or send us a few pictures of your current setup!
I would love to hear your feedback or anything to add that has worked for your mobile detailing business.