How to Open a Hand Car Wash and Detailing Business

by Kevin Hart ; Updated September 26, 2017
Car washing and detailing can be lucrative businesses.

Because of the low cost of entry, hand car washes and detailing businesses are easy to start—but creating a successful, lasting business is a different matter entirely. Starting an automotive-care business entails much more than purchasing a bucket and sponge and hanging out your shingle. Determine how to structure and protect the business, which services to offer and how to attract a mix of consumer and fleet accounts. With careful planning, a hand car wash or detail business can be started that stands the test of time and offers an attractive income.

Decide on a business concept. Will you operate a car-care business from a fixed site, or will you offer mobile services? If planning to operate from a fixed site, make sure you have enough room to store and maneuver multiple cars. If planning to operate a mobile service, remember that many communities have specific ordinances related to run-off water from car wash operations. The waste water may need to be trapped using a wash mat in order to prevent it from reaching storm drains.

Purchase supplies. Basic supplies are needed to perform wash and detail jobs on the first several cars. At a minimum, purchase a quality, concentrated car-wash soap; non-abrasive sponges; chamois for drying; a finishing wax or sealant; an orbital polisher for applying wax; a wet-dry vacuum for car interiors; shop towels; upholstery shampoo; leather and vinyl cleaner; and glass cleaner. The list may grow based on the services being offered. I you plan to offer pain reconditioning services, a rotary buffer and polish are needed.

Get insured. Because it is relatively inexpensive to start a hand car wash or detail business, many proprietors skip the simple but important step of purchasing insurance. Big mistake. One accident with an expensive vehicle could leave you broke and out of business. Liability insurance may seem like just another expense or hassle, but it may turn out to be the best investment made.

Attract retail consumers. A thriving hand car wash or detail business attracts clients in the highly competitive consumer market. Consumers care deeply about their cars and are willing to pay a higher, retail cost to have them professionally cleaned and maintained. Consumers are often careful about entrusting their vehicles to new, unfamiliar car wash services, so you may need to offer coupons or other incentives to encourage them to give you a shot. Develop loyalty programs to ensure consumers return, and provide coupons they can use to refer your car-wash business to their friends.

Build fleet business. Fleet customers can provide a steady source of revenue and even keep the business afloat during slow times. Any organization with a fleet of cars is a potential client. Focus on car dealerships, rental car companies, taxi and limousine fleets, and delivery or service trucks. Speak with the owners or general managers at these businesses, and learn whether they sub-contract the cleaning and maintenance of their vehicles. If the companies are happy with their current vendor, offer to serve as a backup or to handle overflow business. You might end up outperforming their current vendor. Remember that fleet accounts often pay less than retail jobs, and you are expected to wash and detail cars quickly.

About the Author

Kevin Hart has been writing and editing since 1998. He served as publisher of "Professional Carwashing & Detailing" magazine, "Water Technology" magazine, "Health Revelations" and "The Douglass Report." He has also written for "Cleanfax," "Cleaning & Maintenance Management," and "Boating Industry." He has a Bachelor of Arts in Russian from Colgate University and a Master of Science in communications from Utah State.

Photo Credits

  • Car washing image by Evgeny Berdjansky from Fotolia.com
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