Earn extra money detailing cars
Last Saturday I pulled into a gas station to fuel up. While I waited for the pump to click off, I noticed an associate from work was also there filling up his car. It was a BMW X5 M—a really nice mid-size SUV—and it looked new. I thought to myself, “How in the world can he afford a car like that???”
(They sell for upwards of $100,000.) I could not believe my eyes. I walked over to compliment him on the car, and (truthfully) to find out how he could afford it. He chuckled and replied, “It’s not mine. I detail cars to make some extra money”.
I got to look the car over. It was a nice car. It wasn’t new, but it sure looked and smelled like it was. It was a couple of years old (So maybe? it hadn’t cost as much as I thought, but it was still a pricey automobile.) and very well kept. My friend had done an awesome job detailing it. He said it belonged to a regular client, so this was not the first time he had worked on it.
I asked him a few questions about this work, and he explained to me that he goes to his customer’s residence or office, trades his car for the customer’s and takes it back home to detail it there. When he’s finished detailing the car, he tops off the fuel and returns it to where he’d picked it up. The customer then pays him—after inspecting the car if they wish.
In past posts, I’ve suggested taking on side jobs as a way to earn extra money, and that’s exactly what my coworker does by detailing cars. This article is not about how to get into the detailing business per se. It’s more a list of considerations my friend brought up as he talked about his work.
Earn extra money detailing cars
If you treat it as a business, detailing cars can be a lucrative endeavor—even on a small scale. But… You have to know your limits.
Know your limits
You know what resources you have. Initially I’m talking about time, but space and money also need to be considerations. How much “free” time do you have, and of that time how much could you devote to a side job, specifically to detailing cars? The work is labor intensive and requires you be particular. (Detailing…)
What can you reasonably do? In general, how long will particular aspects of the job take? What kind of equipment and products will you have? What will you do if you encounter a special need?
What can you provide
Some people who earn extra money detailing cars don’t do much more than a simple wash and wax job. Others provide services that restore (or maintain) a car to prime condition—inside and out. More amenities mean more money in your pocket. That only makes sense since more work means you invest more time—and (probably) tools and products. My friend prefers the bigger jobs, but he offers several levels of service and will tailor them for his clients.
You need to decide what services you are able and willing to provide. (You can always add more—or abandon them—when you get to know the needs of your customer base and as your business grows.) And of course, how much will you charge for the services you offer?
And how do you figure that out? Well, research. Find out what both the professionals and the part timers do and how much they charge. You can find out a lot online, but why not call around—shop—for information? And then, you need to get good at detailing.
Practice before you start charging
The saying goes “Practice makes perfect.” Well…maybe not, but it will make you proficient. Practice getting all the dirt out of the cracks and creases between the doors and seats, etc. of your own vehicle. Practice on the cars of friends and family. Develop a system so that when you have a paying customer there’s no question as to where to start or what to do. There is nothing worse than starting a job only to discover you can’t complete it because you had underestimated what you need or how long it would take to do it..
Try different techniques
What is the best way to do this job? That should always be the question. Try different methods and procedures. Maybe you should clean the inside first, then the outside? Or maybe you should start with the outside? What’s the most efficient way to clean the trunk?
You’ll ask yourself a lot of that type of question, and the best way to get the answers is to do it—first one way, then another. Experiment, practice…learn what works best for you.
Know the limits of the products you use
A variety of products will be used in the cleaning process. You’ll do yourself (and your customers) a favor by knowing what effect the chemicals you choose to use will have on the finishes and materials in a car.
There is a type of wax my friend hates because it clouds when humidity is high. This requires more buffing time. Since he charges according to service rather that by the hour, the extra time cuts into his profit. He has a couple of regular customers, however, who think it’s the best product to use on their cars. He says he has an ongoing campaign to convince them otherwise. It’s important to know the products you like/dislike and why.
Even more important is to know if a product should not be used on a particular finish. Ignorance can be disastrous—and costly. Research and if possible test your products before you use them on other people’s vehicles.
Items you may think about stocking for use
The products and equipment you use will depend largely on the service you provide. No matter what those items are make sure you keep plenty in stock. Halfway through a job, you certainly won’t enjoy having to go pick up something you’ve run out of, and your customer won’t appreciate a delay in the return of his vehicle. Running out of product can cost valuable time—and whose car will you use to make the run? My friend leaves his where he picks up the vehicle he’s going to detail, and he’s very sure none of his clients would be pleased to find out he was using theirs. (That could cost him future business, or worse.)
We got into quite a conversation about products and tools. Here’s a short list of items I found interesting:
Waterless car wash
With a waterless car wash you can clean the exterior of a car pretty much anywhere—in the middle of a parking lot or while you’re watching the kids at the playground. (There are similar products for auto interiors.)
Well, I’d heard the term “Waterless car wash” before, but I never looked into this product. In my mind if it didn’t use water, it had to be a dry product. I was wrong. I was told it’s a liquid mix of chemicals applied with a sprayer and works best on cars that aren’t very dirty. My friend sometimes uses this product at a client’s office when his car needs a quick “shine up” before he leaves for a business meeting.
Of course most owners want their cars to look good. Wax not only makes your car look good, it protects the paint from fading. A nice shine is part of “looking good” but giving a car a good wax job is a lot of work. It can be the reason a car owner wants someone else earn extra money detailing cars.
You apply the wax and buff it off. You can do it by hand. Or use an electric or battery operated car buffer. A powered buffer can save a lot of time and effort. My friend prefers one that’s battery operated: saves trying to find an outlet. However…He says there are always some spots you’ll have to do by hand.
To prevent scratches use soft bristle brushes (paint brushes) to clean dirt and debris from crevices. (Mostly inside the car.)
Dust cloth or feather duster
When it comes to removing dust from inside a car, any old rag is not ideal. A dust cloth with not texture just moves dust around and a feather duster is even worse—it can leave scratches. Microfiber cloths are made to trap dust. My friend likes to be slightly damp when he uses them. Evidently, polyester (a scratch hazard) is a component of microfiber, and using a damp cloth greatly diminishes the chance of scratching.
Armor all is a product used to clean the interior of a car. It can be used on leather and plastic. My friend uses it, but not on the steering wheel. He says it makes the steering wheel slippery and difficult to hold on to—especially when making turns. (There’s no sense in increasing the chance of an accident.)
Can you imagine…there are people who object to you washing a car in your driveway? Some HOAs have enforceable rules against it. If you think you’re going to earn extra money detailing cars, you need to have a place you can do it (legally). Weather is also a consideration. Heat, cold, rain, snow, or wind doesn’t make your customers sympathetic: They just want their cars cleaned. My friend is fortunate. He has a barn at the back of his property with running water and a drain in the floor—but he didn’t always live where he does now. When he first started detailing (It wasn’t even called “detailing” back then.), he worked at the curb in front of his house. He doesn’t think there were any covenants against it, but occasionally a neighbor would say something. He says “making nice” rather than being confrontational went a long way to keeping on their good side.
He says that “making nice” is important now, too. He has to compete with larger businesses that present an “image,” have more sophisticated equipment, and faster turn around times. Being friendly and flexible are key to keeping and gaining customers.
Know what your customer wants
Having a reputation for being friendly and flexible may very helpful, but it means that my friend is often asked “Oh, and could you do fill in the blank?”
Of course he has standard levels of service, but since he’s frequently asked to customize or tailor a job, he relies on a checklist with space for notes. He used his computer to make it look professional and prints them out at home. (So that both he and his client have a copy, he uses carbonless carbon paper that he buys at an office supply store.)
A checklist does make you look more professional and gives customers a sense you care about what you’re doing, and you don’t have to keep all the information constantly running through your mind.
Also, if you and the customer together go through the checklist, there is a good chance a slight bond will form between you and that’s not a bad thing at all. (Ok—I have to admit, this last thought is mine. My friend didn’t say this, but it is true.)
The notes section on the checklist is just as important as the list of standard services. It’s where you can make a record of any special instructions your client gives you—like what to do with the stuff (trash?) in the trunk or that he’d like you to stop at a parts store and pick up and install a new set of windshield wipers. Since you each have a copy of the checklist there will be no question as to what work is to be done.
Know how much you will charge
When it’s time to give your customer a price for your services, no one wants to hear, ‘it will cost about” or “in the neighborhood of.” Customers want to know exactly how much your service is going to cost and there should be no surprises. You give them a price and that is what you should expect to be paid. There should be a place for this figure on the checklist.
You should be very familiar with your price break downs since the charges for any extra services will have to be added in. Also, a customer might ask you if they could get a break in price if they really didn’t want some facet of your standard service. If your answer is affirmative you’ll want to note that also.
I haven’t given you a step by step plan for getting into this business. My friend and I didn’t go that far in our conversation. I just wanted to present some aspects of a side hustle someone has turned into a lucrative endeavor: My friend says it’s work, but very doable to earn extra money detailing cars.