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Transporting cars is an easy thing to do as long as your customer has their own license plate on the vehicle.

Unfortunately, doing business with individual customers is much different from wholesale or commercial work. When you start doing commercial detailing services for auto dealerships, car auctions, and even corporate fleet detailing, your needs change quickly in one major area of business – transporting vehicles.

Adding detailer transporter plates to your business sounds like a great idea until you start working on it. It’s expensive, complicated, expensive, and did I already say expensive? Yes, it’s going to cost you.

Commercial detailing work is a great profit center for any shop or mobile detailer. Provided you are able to ramp up your ability to do higher volume work and maintain consistent quality at the same time.

So let’s discuss the first step in the long process of getting started doing commercial or wholesale detailing work – obtaining detailer transporter plates for your business.

And don’t worry if you don’t understand a part of this. I explain everything in detail and start with the basics.

What are Detailer Transporter Plates?

Every vehicle on the road needs to be registered and insured. Each state has a DMV or Department of Motor Vehicles that regulates this process and issues a license plate to identify each vehicle. The DMV’s also have temporary commercial license plates for businesses that need to transport vehicles without the hassle of obtaining new license plates each time a car is moved. These license plates have names like Dealership, Repair/Towing, Transporter, and Detailer/Transporter.

Differences Between Transporter Plates and Standard License Plates

There is an insurance term called Care, Custody, and Control or the 3-C’s. In a standard vehicle license plate, the registration and insurance are tied to that vehicle owner and identified by that license plate. With a Transporter plate, the 3-C’s move with that plate, and subsequently the registration and insurance also go with that license plate. So it does not matter the vehicle, as long as that license plate is properly maintained and current, while also being used by an employee of the business that owns the plate, then that car is legally allowed to be driven.

Car Salespeople Use Dealership Plates Every Day

If you’ve ever visited a car dealership and took a vehicle on a test drive, then you’ve seen these commercial temporary license plates in action. Auto dealerships don’t have license plates for each of their cars. It would be a nightmare to keep track of everything.

So you pick out a car you like and the salesman grabs a dealer or dealership plate and puts it in the back window. Then you take the car for a spin around the block. Car salespeople use dealership plates every day.

The dealer plate is convenient because it allows car salespeople to use multiple vehicles without needing individual license plates and insurance on each.

The Insurance Goes with the License Plate

Since the insurance goes with the license plate aka dealer plate, it’s easily transferable between vehicles. Move the license plate and you move the insurance to another vehicle.

That’s the point of these types of license plates. That dealer plate insures that vehicle while the salesman is driving it.

So how does this help you? It doesn’t. You can’t secure dealer plates because you don’t own an auto dealership. I’m using it as an example for you to understand how the plates are utilized.

No, You Can’t Borrow Dealer Plates

I know you are thinking that. Right? I asked myself when I first went down this road. Why can’t I just borrow one of their plates? I’m moving cars for the dealership after all. But no, you can’t borrow dealer plates. It doesn’t matter that you are working with them, it only covers dealership employees.

None of the benefits of the dealer plates cover you as a contractor doing services for the dealership.

So what are your options? As a professional detailing business, you can choose to bring your equipment to the dealership in the form of a mobile detailing rig or van.

Or you can transport the vehicles to your detail shop to complete the work. To do so you need to insure the vehicles you are transporting.

Care, Custody, and Control

This is why most dealerships want you to have either “Repair/Towing” license plates, or “Detailer Transporter Plates”.

Both license plates serve to temporarily transfer your garage keepers liability insurance to the vehicle you are driving while you are in care, custody, and control of the vehicle. Remember the 3C’s from the above section and when I mentioned it on our business liability insurance page?

Insurance is tough when transporting cars. It depends on the state you reside in.

Detailers and Repair/Towing Plates

I’m not kidding when I say that DMV’s don’t like auto detailers. They don’t want you transporting vehicles.

For example, in Pennsylvania, you can’t get a Repair/Towing plate if you have the word “detail” in your name.

The government has its reasons for this. I’m simply relaying information.

Specialized Transporter License Plate

Although repair/towing plates are preferred, there is an option for detailing and reconditioning businesses. Most states have a specialized transporter license plate or a detailing transporter plate.

So why, if you own an auto detailing shop, would you want a repair/towing plate? Especially if states already make a special plate for detailers?

Let’s first start with this comment. If you only do car detailing, then you should get a detailer transporter plate.

If you also do other vehicle services, like reconditioning, paint repair, interior repair, dent pulls, bumper repairs, etc., then you should be able to utilize a repair/towing plate.

Ultimately, the repair/towing plate is better and more flexible for your needs.

Talk to Your State DMV Office

Either way, talk to your state DMV office that handles these types of license plates. They will tell you exactly which plates you are eligible to obtain.

Here are a few reasons the Repair/Towing plate is preferred if you can get it:

  • You can use them 24 hours a day versus transporter plates being limited to use only during your business hours. A big problem if you happen to be driving a car beyond your regular hours of operation;
  • They are easier to get since the DMV is much more stringent on detailing applications than they are for mechanics shops and towing companies who use these plates most of the time;
  • Many states are phasing out the transporter plates and just telling detailers not to move vehicles. Amazing how bureaucrats can think their solutions are so easy to live with, isn’t it?

Detailer Transporter Plates

The concept of auto detailer transporter plates was specifically designed for transporting cars between auctions and dealerships.

Auto Detailers picked them up when the state DMV’s didn’t think they were actually considered repair shops. So they rejected the detail business applications for repair/towing plates.

Unfortunately, this means that many detail shops with these detailer transporter plates use these plates beyond their intended purpose when they transport cars between dealerships and their own shops.

Transporting Cars

Unfortunately, the only way you can get auto detailer transporter plates is to convince a dealership to do a contract with you that says you will be transporting cars for them.

The application specifically says that you can’t be driving their cars between your shop and the dealership. So essentially, the DMV doesn’t want the auto detailers moving cars.

Denying car detailing shops the use of these plates is their way of making it more difficult for detail shops to do their work.

Auto Mechanics shops have repair/towing plates.

Auto Dealers have dealer or dealership plates.

Automotive auctions have transporter plates that they use to transport vehicles between dealers and the auction warehouses.

Commercial Profits Come with a Price

Unfortunately, those profits come with a price in the form of new insurance, equipment, and a host of additional headaches if you don’t know what you are doing.

From scaling the volume of cars you can complete per day to increasing the number of employees to be able to handle that volume. It takes an organized approach to expand your business in this way. And the first step is to start the process to obtain detailer transporter plates.

It’s absolutely not easy to get these types of commercial license plates. But I’m going to give you some background, teach you about the different types of license plates, cover insurance requirements, and the step-by-step process for getting your own detailing transporter plates.

The Key to Profitability with Car Dealers

Commercial detailing can be rewarding if you are careful to focus on providing solutions for the pain points of your potential customers.

For example, with car dealerships, a major issue with them is where you plan on detailing their vehicles. Space is a premium and they won’t just hand over a repair bay. Those make too much money for the dealership.

Once you see the problem, you realize the solution. The key to profitability with car dealers is the ability to transport their cars.

This creates the need for your shop to obtain specialized license plates. And that just opened another Pandora’s box of issues for your business.

We Qualified as a Body Shop

So auto detailers are in a weird limbo area between these other types of automotive businesses.

My company didn’t have as many problems because we did so many types of reconditioning services that we qualified as a body shop.

We also got around a lot of these issues by simply building up our mobile detailing crews and sending them to the dealer locations to do the work at their facility.

If you do get transporter plates you need to make sure you are insured with garage keepers and vehicle transport insurance on EACH and every plate you own. That will run you about $1,400 to $1,800 per plate.

Plus the state makes you get the insurance BEFORE they even look at your application. That makes it fun since it takes them over a month to process it.

You Can’t Be In Business Without Being Properly Insured

The auto detailing business is like any other. You can’t be in business without being properly insured. The reason you have insurance is to make sure you are covered in the event something bad happens.

So by cutting corners like many detail shop owners do, eventually you will get burned in some scenario that you might have thought sounded good but in reality just doesn’t work.

When securing auto detailer transporter plates for your shop, you need to make sure the insurance part is set up and maintained correctly.

When Naming Your Business, Don’t Use The Word Detail

***TIP*** When naming your business, don’t use the word detail anywhere in your legal name.

Call your business something along the lines of Joe’s Vehicle Reconditioning or Auto Recon Experts. Or many other variations that don’t include detailing in the name.

This way when you apply for a Repair/Towing plate and they ask you what you do you can honestly tell them that you recondition vehicles, which is entirely true.

Set it Up Right From The Start

Too many detail shops start out just detailing, but by the time they get big enough to need something like detailer transporter plates, only a small portion of their business is actually performing actual car detailing.

So keep this in mind early on when you are naming your business or when you eventually incorporate, consider slightly changing the name.

I hope you have success in securing your transport plates. They are hard to get but definitely advantageous. Most of your competition won’t have the knowledge or the financial resources to get these plates. So they offer you a definite competitive advantage in your local area.

I hope this overview of detailer transporter plates is helpful and informative. As I said, it’s a long and expensive process, but it’s so worth it if you can manage it.