For those who are relatively new to the world of car detailing, the question of cost can be quite confusing and even unsettling at first. Many people who inquire about car detailing have used regular car wash services before. They therefore have in their minds a rough idea of what they think it should cost to get the car detailed.
The disparity between a regular budget car wash and a regular detailing job is large, and can seem unreasonable at first glance. This is why it’s important to understand the reasons for car detailing costing what it costs compared to a regular car wash. This was the subject of our recent Wings Mobile Detailing podcast, explaining how much you should expect to pay for car detailing, and adding the necessary context to explain that.
Broadly speaking, we can break it down into the following three factors:
1. Location within the US
Getting your car detailed in the Midwest where living costs are generally lower will mean a lower final cost, though it may still be relatively high when compared to your income. You pay much more to have the work done in coastal areas and major metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles, again because of the many additional costs that come with that.
2. Level of Service
Car wash services are typically a lot simpler compared to detailing. There are many more specific tasks that detailers can undertake, and services are usually broken down into those tasks and then sold as packages. It is therefore much less meaningful to say to car detailing provider, “Give my car a full detailing.” From your perspective, you likely mean clean the car thoroughly. From a detailer’s perspective, however, it seems as though you want the big “full works” package with all the bells and whistles. The level of service package or number of individual services you select for detailing will be a big determining factor on price
3. Need for Restoration or Additional Protection
Finally, the cost of your detailing service will also change in a big way if you need the more “extreme” elements of the detailer’s craft. These elements typically include restorative measures like paint correction, as well as powerful protections like ceramic coating or specialist paint protection products. The conducting of such work requires very specialist skills and years of experience to do properly, and thus will result in a premium being added to the price.
So, How Much Does Car Detailing Cost?
First, let’s look at some raw, broad numbers to get an idea of the range you can expect to work within.
$80-100 – The most basic detailing package which is essentially a significant upgrade on what you might get at a car wash.
The level and depth of the clean is much greater than you could get at any self-service or even professional quick wash location. For example, instead of just vacuuming the interior in broad strokes to pick up large dirt and dust clumps, the detailer gets into every hidden corner, the vents, the cup holders, every nook and cranny you can find in the car.
$100-150 – This service level would
Typically include a hand wash with an additional application of simple spray-on wax. It would p
provide a nice glossy finish, but lack the more protective elements of the higher-cost packages
$200-280 – This level might include carpet and upholstery shampooing and conditioning, as well as a higher-quality wax like a carnauba wax or more protective sealant.
The wax is also applied more meticulously to get the perfect finish.
$500 – This is likely how a detailer would define a “full detailing” in which they include all of their steps, adding in things like machine polishing, professional sealant, thorough hand washing, interior deep cleans and much more.
$1,000 – If you’re paying this much, the work you’re getting likely includes restoration like fixing paint chipping, orange peel, scratches etc. This work is labor and time intensive and thus comes at a premium cost. The typical car wash would not offer this service, unless it was also an auto shop that could handle body work.
$2,000+ – This is the realm we enter when we delve into the world of ceramic coatings. These hydrophobic super-protective coatings can last for years, with some even promising a lifetime warranty. This is high-level stuff, and requires significant investment.
Important Things to Remember
When looking at these prices, you might wonder why anyone details their car. The thing that’s most important to stress here is the gaping gulf of difference that exists between a typical car wash result and that of a professional and experienced detailer. They are of two separate leagues.
First, think about all the detailer can do.
When you go to a car wash, what happens? You either travel through a machine, which may include a pouring of hot wax on the car for an additional fee, or you get a hand wash from one or multiple car washers who get the job done quickly. That’s their focus, wash and dry as fast as possible for an immediate visual impact that is also sold for a very low price. The effects of it can be wiped out in a single afternoon of driving.
Detailers, on the other hand, are meticulous --- the clue is in the name “detailing” --- and they work on a whole other level. Every step of the process is done by hand and with absolute care and attention. There are no “broad strokes” when it comes to detailing. You are paying for a lasting, genuine and deep clean, and that’s what you get.
Detailers don’t just clean, they treat.
Rather than as a “premium cleaning,” you should think of detailing like a restorative treatment for your car. A detailer sees a beautiful car lurking beneath a dirty husk. For a detailer, it’s not just a question of achieving cleanliness, but treating and protecting the various surfaces in such a way that the effect will last, and that will make passers-by stop and double take, “Is that a new car?”
Using waterborne cleaners and specialist tools, they spread their refreshing effect around every corner of the vehicle inside and out. Car washes are all about the surface. Detailing is about getting down to the very core.
Detailers are also better choices for high-level services.
Let’s take polishing as an example. If you let a typical car wash employee buff or polish your car, they are doing it every time with speed as their priority. They need to get through a number of cars per day to justify their costs. A detailer, on the other hand, knows that polishing too hastily leaves marring and swirls on the paint’s surface.
Detailers train to use polishers. They know, for example, to always use clean polishing pads; they know what pressure to apply; they know what speed at which to move the machine. Polishing will always cost in the realm of $200-250 because that’s what it’s worth to have someone skilled and experienced enough to do the job properly. You should always be suspicious of those who are offering this service for a very low price. It means they are prioritizing speed over quality. This brings us neatly to the final advice point.
Finally, you get what you pay for. When all you want to do is remove the surface dirt from your car to make it more presentable, a regular car wash is all you need. When you want the premium levels of service and results that come with detailing, you have to be ready to pay more. Furthermore, if you want to maintain a glossy, pristine paint finish on your car, then you can’t afford budget options. You can’t afford for an ill-qualified polisher to run his machine over your car’s surface even once, because those negative impacts will appear immediately.
The same is true of the more extreme protective measures like ceramic coating.
If you see any service promising full ceramic coating with years of protection for your car’s paint for just $300, you should run a mile.
The chances are that it won’t be applied properly, and you’ll be left with patchy and poorly applied ceramic coating, which is a nightmare to remove, and will cost you even more to sand down, prime and repaint from scratch. If you don’t want to go through all of that, then always recognize the quality of a premium detailing and ceramic coating service.
We’ll cover ceramic coatings more in future podcasts. If you’re in need of detailing services or have questions about detailing, tune in to the Wings Mobile Detailing Podcast and get in touch with us today.
CONTACT OUR TEAM > Cel: (804) 500-7696