There’s nothing quite like the feeling of driving a car that’s freshly washed and waxed. It’s even better when the interior is clean and fresh. But there’s a difference between cleaning your car’s interior yourself and taking it in for a detailing job. It’s hard to do it yourself without the right tools and skills.
So, how much to detail a car, and is it worth it? Read on to find out.
What is car detailing?
Car detailing is the process of returning your vehicle to showroom condition inside and out. That means a deeper cleaning, with more attention to detail than the typical car owner is capable of. It includes things like:
- Exterior wash, wax and sealing (possibly more than one coat)
- Removing road tar, bugs, overspray, residue
- Cleaning tires, sidewalls, mirrors, glass
- Cleaning rocker panels
- Possibly performing paint touch-ups, ceramic coating, paint protection
- Vacuuming, including under seats and into crevices
- Cleaning dashboard, door panels, surfaces
- Shampooing carpet and upholstery (possibly steam cleaning as well)
- Cleaning and removing dust from AC vents, crevices where dash and glass meet, etc.
- Thorough cleaning of interior glass surfaces
- Leather trimming and conditioning
How much to detail a car professionally?
Car detailing costs can vary depending on your location and market, labor costs, the extent of the cleaning and the vehicle’s size. But these services and prices from Austin ECO Detailing in Austin, Texas should give you an idea of what to expect:
- A basic hand wash with premium car-wash solution and a cleaning of wheels and tires: $29 to $45.
- Exterior/interior “mini detail” includes a wipe-down of all interior surfaces, vacuuming and cleaning interior glass: $49 to $65.
- “Wax detail,” which includes all the above with a coat of automotive wax, deodorizing, upholstery conditioning, treatment of all plastic surfaces and tires: $89 to $130.
- “Full detail,” which includes all the above with a cleaning of the trunk, trunk jamb, cowling, door sills, deep/steam cleaning of carpet and upholstery, cleaning and dressing of wheel wells, spot cleaning of any stains in carpet and floor mats: $149 to $180-200.
- “Ultimate detail,” which also includes cleaning the engine bay, polishing chrome and exterior trim, application of water repellent to exterior glass, fabric protection for carpet and upholstery, detail cleaning of cupholders, attention to gas and brake pedals, console, glovebox, cubbies: $300 to $360+.
Other options can include an interior-only job, or “a la carte” services that only address upholstery, headliner, etc. Some detailers also offer monthly or quarterly packages. You’ll usually get a discount for repeat business.
Professional car-detailing pros and cons
A good quality detailing job isn’t cheap, so weigh the advantages and disadvantages of professional car detailing before making an appointment.
- You should be able to count on a thorough job.
- One-stop shopping that takes care of everything in one visit.
- Pro car detailers have tools and experience to do the job faster.
- Mobile car-detailing services exist, offering increased convenience.
- You’ll be without your car for anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
- Some detailers might try to upsell you on services you may not really need.
- Cost and quality can vary from one shop to another.
How much to detail a car yourself?
The cost of detailing a car yourself depends on how far you want to take it. Will it be a wash and wax followed by vacuuming and cleaning surfaces (which you can do at the car wash), or do you want to attempt a professional-level detail job?
To do a complete job, you’ll need to consider the following costs:
- A clay bar, as well as the knowledge to use it correctly.
- A complete detailing kit, with the tools, brushes, scrapers and cleaners you need to be able to reach all the crevices and recesses a pro detailer hits.
- A polishing machine or buffer, which can be purchased for as little as $100 or rented for $10/day.
- Microfiber towels and softer drying towels.
- Automotive wax/polish, which can range anywhere from $7 to $80.
- Your time. While some people may be able to dedicate a whole afternoon to automotive detailing, many can’t.
Expect to pay around $300 for the materials needed to approximate a professional job. Those costs get spread out the more you detail your car, so they can be viewed as an investment if you plan to do it regularly.
DIY detailing pros and cons
Just as with having a pro detail your vehicle, there are pluses and minuses to the DIY approach.
- You can hit the areas you know need attention rather than paying for a whole package.
- You save a little money in the long run.
- You learn the process and can hopefully pick up some tips and tricks.
- You have the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself.
- Your work will likely not meet professional standards.
- You’ll need up-front investment in the right tools and products.
- You’ll probably spend more time on the job than a professional would.
How to choose the right car detailer
If you decide on a professional job, you’ll need to decide who to go with. That decision should involve reading reviews and getting some good word-of-mouth advice, of course, but there are other specifics to think of. When shopping for a detailer, ask the following questions:
- What tools, cleaners and techniques do they use? (Do some research on industry standards beforehand.)
- Does the shop offer a warranty?
- Do they use a hot-water extractor for interiors?
- Do they offer multiple service packages, such as monthly detailing?
- What’s the turnaround time? (Note: Faster is not always better.)
- What kind of paint protection and interior/upholstery protection does the detailer use?
Keeping your car shiny and spotless takes effort, but you should think of it as protecting your investment. When the time comes to sell your vehicle, a proper detailing is essential if you want to get maximum value for your car.