Do I Need a Business License to Operate a Mobile Car Wash?

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A mobile car wash business caters to busy people who don't have time to go through a traditional car wash facility. Depending on your clientele, you may offer a variety of services, from simple soap and water wash to waxing, upholstery shampoo, vacuuming and other custom services.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Whether you need a business license for your mobile car wash business depends on the structure of your business, your location and the scope of services you offer. Check state and local regulations as one of the first steps in starting your business.

Your Business Structure

If you're working on your own, you're considered a sole proprietor. Your Social Security number serves as your tax identification number. When filing taxes, you complete 1040 Form SE to compute the self-employment tax. You can deduct the cost of your car washing supplies from your gross income and take depreciation on equipment such as pressure washers, compressors and vacuum cleaners.

With one or more employees, you need a free Employer Identification Number (EIN), which you obtain by visiting the website of the IRS. Talk with an accountant or a business advisor at a local office of the Small Business Development Center (SMDC) to determine the best structure for your business.

It makes sense to form a limited liability company (LLC) rather than a sole proprietorship to separate your personal assets from your business assets. If someone files a claim for damages against you, monies can only be paid out of the business account; your personal assets are protected. Seek advice from an accountant or attorney on how to set up an LLC in your state.

State and Local Licensing

Depending on where you live, general state and local business licensing may be required. Check with your town or county clerk's office to get started. In addition you may need a specific mobile car wash license, depending on the services you provide. There may be car wash regulations that specify where you can wash cars, where you can discharge water, and what chemicals you can and cannot use. Check with your state's Department of Industrial Relations to find out what's required where you live.

Legal Requirements for a Car Wash

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are the primary regulators for the car wash industry. The EPA governs the impact of chemicals and excessive water use on the environment. OSHA is concerned with worker safety, such as the handling of toxic substances and the use of equipment. Fines for violations can range from several hundred dollars to $1,000 or more. Knowing the car wash regulations where you live and work is your responsibility.

Business Insurance

Talk with your insurance agent to get information on coverage and rates for your mobile car wash business. Risks in this business are generally low, but you want to be protected in the event something goes wrong. Depending on your policy, business insurance protects you in the event of lawsuits, property damage, theft, vandalism, loss of income and employee injuries.

Services to Offer With a Mobile Car Wash Business

Look at what the competition is offering in your area to determine your pricing and services. When building your business, think about how you can distinguish yourself from other companies.

Services to offer, depending on car wash regulations where you live, include:

  • Hand wash and towel dry
  • Wheel cleaning
  • Interior detailing, including windows, dash and instrument console
  • Vacuuming
  • Removal of sap or asphalt
  • Leather cleaning
  • Wax application and polishing
  • Upholstery and carpet shampoo
  • Smoothing light paint scratches

References

About the Author

Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.

Photo Credits

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