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How to Start a Mobile Car Wash Business From Scratch

If you are looking to start a business with relatively small startup capital, then a mobile car wash business can be a lucrative opportunity for you.

Like most other businesses, however, starting the mobile car wash business will require patience and hard work. While it can take a while for the business to take off into an established brand where you have built a client base, the payoff will be totally worth it.

You can certainly start small and build your way up when building the mobile car wash business, and here we will discuss how.

Mobile Car Wash and Detailing Services You Can Offer

Although a mobile car wash business might seem simple at first glance, actually you can offer various different services for your clients:

Exterior car washing services

Washing the exterior of the vehicle, removal of tar and bugs, paint polishing/claying, and cleaning the tires and rims.

Interior car washing services

Removal of trash, thorough vacuum cleaning, window cleaning, cleaning and maintenance of leather seats, etc.

There are also various other services you can offer, including but not limited to:

  • Car wax
  • Scratch removal
  • Leather conditioning
  • Carpets shampooing
  • Seats cleaning/shampooing
  • Pet hair removal
  • Mold removal
  • Headlight restoration
  • Engine cleaning and maintenance

What You’ll Need To Start a Mobile Car Wash Business

While the essentials you’ll need may vary depending on the type and scale of the mobile car wash business you’re planning to run, here are the basic things you’ll need:

  • A phone/mobile phone so people can call your business
  • Required business permit and licenses depending on your location (more on this later)
  • Vehicle for transporting your equipment, buying supplies, etc.
  • Water tank, complete with pump, hose, and extension cords
  • Electric generator
  • Cleaning supplies (detergents, wax polish supplies, air fresheners, etc. )
  • Tools and equipment like brushes, soft clothes, vacuum cleaner, and more
  • Marketing essentials like a website, social media profiles, brochures, etc.

For a mobile car wash business, the biggest initial investment would typically go to the vehicle. The size of the vehicle would depend on the services you offer and the size of the equipment you’ll need. However, an SUV is typically a decent choice for most situations. You can buy a used vehicle for under $5,000.

Legal Requirements for a Mobile Car Wash Business

In the U.S., the car wash industry is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

EPA mainly regulates excessive water use and chemical use on your business, while OSHA is focused on worker safety, including equipment usage and usage of toxic chemical substances.

Depending on your location, some states may require a permit and certifications before you can start the mobile car wash business, and some states may also regulate where you can open the business while considering excessive discharge of water and what kinds of chemicals you are allowed to use.

Double-check your local regulations whether city and state licenses and permits are required to run a mobile car wash or car detailing business in your area. You may want to get professional help from a legal professional in your area to ensure you will avoid future legal issues.

However, even if you aren’t legally required to be certified, a certification can be an additional competitive advantage for your business and will attract customers who prefer working with certified and trustworthy businesses. You might want to consider certifications by:

International Car Wash Association

  • State Car Wash Associations
  • International Detailing Association

Business structure

If you plan to start the business yourself, you can certainly start a sole proprietorship for the mobile car wash business. However, it’s typically more beneficial to form an LLC that will protect your liability during legal disputes.

Insurance requirements

Most states in the U.S. do legally require your mobile car wash business to be insured before you can serve your clients. However, again, even if you are not legally required to be insured in your area, it’s a good idea to get insured. Not only insurance policies can protect your business from future risks and accidents, but there are also potential clients that only want to deal with insured businesses.

You should at least get: 

  • General liability insurance: protects the business when clients are injured in the process of your service.
  • Commercial property insurance: protection when the business’s property is damaged
  • Commercial auto liability insurance: covers any vehicle that is used for business purposes
  • Workers comp insurance: covers lost wages or medical bills for injured employees

Attracting More Clients By Establishing Credibility

The biggest challenge of starting a mobile car wash business is attracting new customers, and the answer to this challenge is to provide customer service excellence.

It’s very important to always deliver on your promises. If you say that you will clean a car in less than 20 minutes, then make sure you can deliver on that, or don’t promise anything.

Time management can be a very important issue in a field service business like your mobile car wash business, and this is why it’s important to invest as early as possible in a mobile car wash software like fieldd so you can always deliver on your promises. You can make sure your employees are actually using their time to perform and finish their tasks rather than administrative duties.

In fact, by simply being on time, you are going to beat more than 80% of your competitors.

Conclusion

A  mobile car wash business is, above anything else, a service business, and so your focus should be to deliver high-quality services and always be on time.

By delivering customer service excellence, you can retain happy customers and turn them into advocates that will recommend your service to their peers and family members. This is how you are going to grow your client base, revenue, and profit.

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