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Car detailing can be a fun and lucrative business, but it’s also one that requires specialized equipment. For any equipment-heavy enterprise, you need to find a good balance between affordability and high-quality equipment.
Deciding on what key tools you need and choosing the right brands can have a big impact on your company’s bottom line.
- Car detailing businesses rely on specialized equipment.
- Tailor your equipment purchases to the services you plan to offer.
- Consider buying used equipment to help control costs.
- Equipment financing can help you borrow money to buy the tools you need.
What Equipment Is Needed for a Car Detailing Business?
Car detailing companies need a lot of unique tools, supplies, and pieces of equipment to effectively clean and detail vehicles. That means buying everything from tools for cleaning the exterior and interior of the car before you start detailing to buying the supplies that let you have a car looking brand new when it leaves the shop.
That means buying things like hoses, sponges, soap, and other tools that car washes need, plus specialized tools like buffers and polishers.
List of Essential Exterior Car Detailing Equipment
Car detailing can be broken into two parts, exterior detailing, and interior detailing. Some essential tools you’ll need for the exterior of your car include:
- Pressure Washer. Pressure washers are powerful cleaners that use high-power jets of water to remove dirt and grime from a vehicle. These aren’t essential for detailers but are highly useful to speed up the cleaning process. These can cost as little as $100 or upwards of $1,000.
- Buckets. You’ll want buckets for holding water, soap, and sponges.
- Car Wash Soap. Of course, a car needs to be clean before you can start detailing it, so soap will be a key tool. Soap is usually relatively inexpensive.
- Microfiber Towels. Microfiber towels are among the most popular towels because they can be used to clean, dry, and polish vehicles. A set of multiple towels will usually cost about $20.
- Wax. Car wax helps protect the car’s paint from corrosion and the elements, such as snow, rain, salt, and bird droppings. High-quality waxes can cost about $20 per vehicle.
- Polish. Polish will help a car shine when it comes out of the detailing shop. You’ll also need a polisher or buffer to apply it. Cheap polishers can start under $100 but professional-grade ones can run upward of $250.
- Clay Bar. Clay bars help you remove old wax, dirt, and contaminants from a vehicle before you begin the detailing process. They’re usually very cheap.
- Wheel Cleaner. Wheel cleaner helps remove grime, dirt, and caked-on material from a car’s wheels.
- Tire Shine. Once you’ve cleaned the car’s tires, tire shine helps polish it to a shiny finish.
List of Essential Interior Car Detailing Equipment
Once you clean and get the exterior of the car looking great, you should turn your focus to the interior of the vehicle. You want the cars you work on to look great from the outside and feel great to sit inside.
Some key tools you’ll need for interior detailing include:
- Vacuum Cleaner. A vacuum is the most basic tool you need to get the interior of a car clean. You can go with a simple, low-cost vacuum when you’re starting out, but you’ll likely want to upgrade to one that costs more, often hundreds of dollars. More advanced units come with multiple attachments and settings to help them clean deep crevices in the car.
- Upholstery or Leather Cleaner. Professional grade upholstery cleaners cost as much as $2,000, but they’re worth the investment. They can make the inside of a car look brand new even after years of wear and dirt build-up. A leather cleaner will also be key for cars with leather seats.
- Glass Cleaner. Glass cleaner will help clean the interior windows and windshields of a car, making them pristine and easy to see through.
- Detailing Brushes. Every car detail shop needs a wide variety of different brushes. Each brush has a different purpose, from cleaning to washing to drying, to polishing. You’ll need brushes of different sizes and shapes to get around all of the space inside of a car.
- Air Freshener. Air fresheners can help the interior of a car smell nice or bring back some of that new car smell, creating a lasting impression on your customers.
List of Mobile Detailing Equipment
Some car detailers choose to bring their business on the road, offering mobile detailing at events or other locations. You’ll need much of the same equipment as a stationery detailing shop but in miniature form.
Some basic needs include:
- Mobile Detailing Van or Trailer. You’ll need a way to get from place to place and haul all of your equipment. A van or trailer will be essential. Make sure it has space for all of your equipment.
- Water Tank. Cleaning and detailing a car means using water. If you can’t rely on water hookups wherever you set up shop for the day, you’ll have to bring your own in a tank.
- Pressure Washer. Mobile pressure washing tools will be essential for cleaning cars before you start the detailing work. Ones small enough to move will cost hundreds of dollars.
- Steam Cleaner. A steam cleaner will help you clean the interior of the vehicles that you detail. You can expect to spend a few hundred dollars on this.
- Generator. You’ll need electricity to power all of the tools you use to clean and detail cars. Plan to have a generator so you can operate from anywhere.
- Vacuum Cleaner. You’ll need a vacuum to remove all the dirt and mess from the interior of a car. You can use a small handheld unit or a more powerful mobile one that will cost hundreds of dollars.
- Polishing and Buffing Machine. Handheld polishers and buffers will let you get the exterior of cars bright and shiny.
- Towels and Cleaning Supplies. Don’t forget basic cleaning supplies like soap, sponges, and towels.
Optional Car Detailing Equipment
Some car detailing equipment isn’t necessary to run your business but can be useful if you want to add value or offer premium services.
- Carpet Extractors. These are the most effective ways to clean the interior of cars that use carpet or cloth upholstery. They can make old cars look like new ones.
- Upholstery Cleaners. These tools are designed to give the interior of a car the best cleaning possible.
- Ozone Machines. These machines generate ozone which helps to remove odors from the interior of a car and can also eliminate bacteria.
- Paint Thickness Gauges. These tools will help measure the thickness of paint on a car’s exterior to ensure you’ve applied an even coat and can touch up areas where the paint is wearing thin.
- Infrared Curing Lamps. Curing lamps can cost more than $1,000 but will help cut down on the amount of time it takes to detail a car by speeding up the curing and drying of paint and other coatings.
Other Car Detailing Supplies You May Need
Car detailing involves a lot of heavy equipment and machinery, but you’ll need some basic tools and supplies as well. Make sure you have these on hand and ready to use.
- Safety glasses. A lot of the materials used in car detailing can be toxic or harmful and using power tools can be dangerous. Safety glasses can help protect your eyes from injuries.
- Gloves. Like safety glasses, gloves are an essential piece of equipment that can protect your hands from corrosive and harsh chemicals.
- Boots. Rubber boots keep your feet dry and safe from spills.
- First-aid kit. Every business, especially those that use power tools, should have a first-aid kit handy in case of an accident.
How to Choose the Right Car Detailing Equipment
When you’re buying equipment for your car detailing business, there are many factors to consider. Some of the things to keep in mind include:
- Budget. Your budget obviously impacts the equipment you buy. Spend on the essentials and try to save on less important tools. Remember you can always upgrade as your company grows.
- Size of the Business. Larger businesses will need to buy more tools and multiple of the same tool so they can provide services to more customers.
- Types of Services Offered. Not every business offers every service under the sun. If you focus on exterior detailing, you might not buy many interior detailing tools.
- Customer Base. Your customer base’s desires will help you focus on the equipment to buy. If you’re serving customers with a lower income, for example, you’ll be able to pass on expensive tools that are used in luxury services.
- Quality and Durability. It’s always important to make sure you get high-quality equipment that will last a long time. Usually, you have to pay for quality, so try not to scrimp on the essential equipment.
- Maintenance and Care of Equipment. Maintenance takes a lot of time and effort, so try to avoid finicky tools that require very specific and constant upkeep.
- Storage of Equipment. If you have a small work area, don’t go crazy buying every tool you can find. Make sure you have a plan for storing it.
New vs Used Car Detailing Equipment
When starting a car detailing business, one of the best ways to save money is to buy equipment used rather than new. Used equipment is often much cheaper, but it’s important to make sure it’s been well maintained.
Some things to consider buying used include pressure washers, vacuums, buffers, and steam cleaners. Items that wear out quickly or that you want to maintain yourself like generators, brushes, and clothes should be purchased new.
Eco-Friendly Car Detailing Equipment and Supplies
Car cleaning and detailing uses a lot of water and harsh chemicals which can be damaging to the environment. Investing in eco-friendly equipment can help you feel good about your business and reduce your environmental impact.
For example, a water filtering system can help you reuse water multiple times, which can also save money. Also, look into degradable and less harsh cleaners and other chemicals.
Where Do You Get Financing for Car Detailing Equipment?
Buying equipment for a car detailing business can get expensive. Getting a car wash loan to buy the tools is a common strategy when you’re starting out.
Many banks and lenders offer equipment loans that businesses can use. One of the best types of loans in this situation is an equipment loan. The tools you buy serve as collateral for the loan. That reduces the lender’s risk and makes it easier to qualify for the loan. You can also usually borrow larger amounts at lower rates.