OC drivers need to drive the perfect car. You can profit.

Start an Auto Detailing Business in Orange County


When I was growing up, parents had their kids wash the cars for 50 cents.  Today, people have their car professionally detailed.  Professionals can tout extras that used to be included for 50 cents such as hand washing and hand drying.  There is not clear distinction between a thorough cleaning and a detail job except for one factor—the price.  Some people will pay up for that just cleaned smell.  It makes them feel important.  The market is not just limited to cars.  RV’s and boat owners are also willing to pay to have that detailed look.

We will look at mobile detailing.  It has a low start-up cost and since you are invited onto people’s driveway or boat, you don’t have to pay rent.  You just need a place to keep all your stuff.  You may also consider buying a franchise.  They will help with marketing and as with fast food; people are more willing to deal with some business that has a reputation than take a chance on an independent.

This was a hot start-up business a while ago, so there are some books on the subject.  One interesting book is

Start Your Own Auto Detailing Business by Rich Mintzer.


Auto Detail Pro Disk Set



http://www.nationaldetail.com/ National Detail Systems of Ohio


A local company that supplies everything you need including hands-on and online training is RIGHT LOOK

http://rightlook.com/auto-detailing.html and their store http://www.autodetailingwarehouse.com They are just a bit south in San Diego.

This company also offers training/products that complement the auto detailing business such as dent removal and interior repair kits.

Trailer King offers a kit of all the supplies you will need to get started for just under $200. http://www.thetrailerkingonline.com/page4


Generally speaking, equipment is purchased on a trailer.  You can also use a van or pick-up truck, but a trailer is more practical unless you can afford to have a dedicated vehicle.


  • Water tank 50-100 gal
  • A/C generator
  • Presser washer with washing attachments
  • Good shop-vac with attachments
  • Buffer, polisher, pads
  • Wax polish, soaps,..
  • A truck trailer or van to haul all this stuff around in.


The best way to get a good deal on these seems to be on Craig’s List from someone who is quitting the business.  I noticed an almost new trailer with all the equipment which would have gone for over $7,000 new for $3,500.  The price range for all necessary equipment seems to be from $2,800 to $7,000.

Surf’s Up For good values, look in other cities on Craigslist.  It’s worth the drive if you can save a couple thousand.

The Trailer King in Tustin offers a new custom trailer for around $2,500 http://www.thetrailerkingonline.com/page2


We don’t have any information about insuring an auto detail business.  A business policy would be a good idea as your homeowners, renters, or auto policy would not cover this.

How much can you make?

The hardest part of this business will be finding customers.  Depending on your customer’s income and amount of work you want to do on each car, you can charge from $50 – $200 per detail job.  (Some people may pay more.  If you are driving a $65,000 car spending $200 for someone to come out and wash your status symbol doesn’t sound that bad.  It doesn’t make much a statement if it’s filthy.  Frankly I have no clue as to pricing as I have an environmentally friendly and low-cost system for washing my car—wait for the rain.)

A quick survey of  Craigslist indicates that a wash and wax job is going for about $60 and a detail job is going for around $125.

Your gross margin is approaching 70% (this is a guess) because your major cost is your equipment.  It cost the same whether you do one car or ten.

Reader Question I was hooking up with my customer in a public parking.  I wasn’t bothering anyone, and this guy comes out of the building and says that I cannot run my business here.  Can he say that?  I will give that jerk a piece of my mind next time I am working.

Well, you can get into a lot of trouble.  Most of these centers have sings up some place indicating that the lot is for customer use only.  It’s our understanding that the guy wanted to, he could have called the police and you could have been charged with criminal trespass.  If you threaten the “jerk,” he could get a restraining order against you.  On top of that, he could have determined that you were not currently a customer of the business and had your car towed along with your customer’s cars (while you were dealing with the cops).  You might have to  explain the misdemeanor and restraining order this if you ever want to apply for a job in the future.  So he did you a favor by not calling the cops.  If you want to fight with him, you have a lot to loose and he has nothing to lose, you could be paying thousands of dollars in legal fees, tow charges; and a criminal record could reduce your chance of getting a job or joining the military.  While he will look good in the eyes of his employer for protecting the tenants who pay rent.  

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