When starting an auto detailing business, the decision to go mobile may be easy for some but hard for others. If the decision to go mobile is hard to make, maybe this information will help you decide. We will go through the tools you will need as a mobile auto detailer and how to be most efficient when detailing on the go.
This is going to be a starter guide for mobile detailing tools and equipment. We will go through the basics needed for beginners, but for those looking for the absolute basics check out the starting an auto detailing business with $500 article.
Mode of transportation
First thing is first, a mode of transportation is needed. Starting out, a personal vehicle will work for most. If you can snatch up an older minivan or Chevy S10 on Craigslist that would also be great.
Try to manage your finances for your business appropriately and not get yourself into debt before you start, don't feel like you need to have the fleet of 5 detailing rigs. Everyone starts from somewhere and those with fancy rigs get them after years of hard work and proper budgeting.
Once you have your car, truck, van and/or trailer it is time to start filling it with your equipment and products.
As a mobile detailer a water source might be necessary if you are using products that require it. If you are going waterless then a hose won't be necessary. Be aware of your local water restrictions and be sure to follow what is required.
If you detail at a customer's home, using the water source there shouldn't be a problem. Eventually you can upgrade and get a water tank. If you detail at a business or apartment parking lot you might be able to get permission to use water hookups.
Get a lightweight hose with the aluminum quick connectors. This will make it quick and easy when switching from the pressure washer to the foam gun and then to the regular spray nozzle.
As a mobile detailer the proper tools are needed to be effective. A mobile detailer without a shop vacuum would be useless for cleaning out interiors. A shop vacuum is used for large debris and can also be used to pull product out of seats to help them dry faster.
Get a small shop vac so it can easily be transported and moved around. The small 3 gallon ones at Lowe's or Home Depot will suffice and has enough suction for most jobs.
If you are looking for some with more suction and size, check out the ones below.
Starting out as a mobile detailer, an electric pressure washer is sufficient for what is encountered. As time goes on and the funds are available, a full blown gas pressure washer can be purchased.
The benefit of an electric pressure washer for detailing is how portable they are. The amount of PSI is plenty for detailing.
The problem might be the need for electricity. If you are at a residential location 95% of your customers will let you use their outlet, otherwise a generator is your best bet.
For a more comprehensive list of pressure washers, check out the review on the best pressure washers.
Ryobi Pressure Washer
A generator may be necessary for mobile detailers without access to electricity. Space is crucial here so only get one if absolutely necessary.
Be mindful of the weight and portability. This should be left in the trailer and extension cords ran from it. The cost of a generator can be high for most detailers starting their business, keep in mind that gas will need to be kept up with it as well. There are electric generators that are good to use as well and are much more affordable
A generator for auto detailing is used for electric pressure washers, steamers, dual action polishers, etc.
Dual Action Polisher
A dual action polisher is the most used tool for mobile auto detailing. Any detailer will tell you that the time saved using a Dual Action (DA) polisher is invaluable.
There is a wide selection available for DA polishers, the top of the line Rupes LHR 21ES is the best to get for those who can afford it, if not then go with the Porter Cable 7424XP or Griot's Garage 6 inch polisher to start off.
Make sure you know how to correctly use a dual action polisher before using it on a client's car. The DA polisher is used for paint correction, waxing, and even interior seats and plastics with the proper brush attachments.
Chemical Guys Polisher
Polishing Pads are needed to go along with the dual action polisher. Depending on which one you go with will depend on the pad size to get.
The Lake Country CCS pads are great to go with as discussed on the start mobile detailing with $500 article. Make sure you have enough pads for each type of product you are using and have a lot on hand if you are doing multiple details a day. You could invest in a polishing pad washing system as well which will help you reduce the number of pads you use and improve the correction ability of your pads.
Containers and spray bottles
As a mobile detailer, having everything in a proper place when you need it is crucial. Grab a stacking toolbox set for easy transportation and portability.
When storing products it is easiest to store them by package level, all of your products required for your silver package are in one bin or box, gold in another, etc. Check out the how to name and create packages for auto detailing article to learn more about proper package structure.
Having enough spray bottles for all of the product mixtures is an absolute must. When going to a customer to detail, have the product already diluted and mixed into the spray bottle for the task required. This way time is not wasted during the detail mixing and diluting product.
Head over to the dollar store or hardware store and grab at least ten 32 ounce spray bottles. Write on each of the bottles what the product is and the dilution used or the purpose (heavy cleaning vs. light cleaning). Use the how to start a detailing business with $500 article for reference on the products and dilutions that can be used.
Microfiber Towels and Wash Mitt
Microfiber towels are used on every aspect of the detailing process. Exterior, trim, engine, interior carpets, interior plastics, etc. Having a lot of microfiber towels is a must for any detailer, both higher quality and lower quality for different uses.
Not all microfiber towels are made equally and if you have used a high quality microfiber you can tell the difference than the ones you see for pennies at the dollar store or Autozone. To get started, grab a pack of the cheap ones from Costco, Sam's Club, BJ's, etc. to use on the interiors and plastics.
The high quality microfibers are needed for the exterior paint and sometimes the interior depending on the quality of the plastics. The microfibers for the exterior that I like are The Rag Company's Dual Plush and the Eagle Edgeless towels. These towels are super high quality and do a fantastic job and pulling the dirt from the car.
The same goes for having a high quality wash mitt, I like The Rag Company here as well and would grab the Chenille Knobby Wash Mitt 2-pack. Having more than one wash mitt is almost a must, not only when detailing multiple cars in a day but it is also a good idea to use one wash mitt for the top half of the car and the other for the bottom half. This way, the likelihood of scratching the paint with a dirty wash mitt is reduced.
Some auto detailers have started to use foam guns recently. Whether this is a fad or not I will leave up to you.
A foam gun for an auto detailer can sometimes take longer to setup, clean and break down. If time is of the essence, a waterless wash is your best bet. The foam gun is only necessary if you are using traditional washing instead of waterless washing.
Using a foam gun can help to remove some of the surface dirt without needing to touch the paint. This will help with lubrication to reduce the odds of scratching the paint when washing. Make sure to still physically wash the car properly and not rely entirely on foam "washing" the car for you, it may look as though it is clean but if a polisher is put onto a car that was not properly washed, there is a risk of inducing scratches on the paint.
Pop up canopy
As a mobile detailing, shade is not always available. Using the proper sun safe products will help but a tent canopy to shade the car makes things a lot easier on you.
Working on a car in direct sunlight is more difficult and can take more time to get the results desired than in the shade. A canopy will only take a few extra minutes before to set up and after to take down.
A basic 10 x 10 canopy is a good start if you already have one available, it will be a tight fit so if possible save up to get a 10 x 15 or 10 x 12 canopy. If the funds are available getting two side by side will be ideal and provide the most shade for detailing. If you are detailing alone, the larger canopies are difficult to put up by yourself so two side by side would be easier.
Make sure to get one with straight legs rather than angled. This will help with overall clearance and space available to work around. To anchor the feet of the canopy fill 5 gallon buckets filled with water and bungee cord the legs onto the bucket.
In order to be an efficient mobile auto detailer, the proper tools and equipment are necessary. When starting out, do not go out and get every single tool and equipment listed, start small and work up to the larger and more expensive items. As discussed here before, I want you to be successful and staying out of debt is best when running a business.
As you learn what works best and what techniques you can use to get each job done faster, the more you will understand which products, tools and equipment are right for you. Starting a mobile auto detailing business might not be the best option for everyone but it is a great way to get into the business of detailing.
As always, continue to serve, learn, and grow as an auto detailing professional.