Navigating the confusing industry of Car Detailing

Navigating the confusing industry of Car Detailing

Dustin Cooper

“How much for a full detail?”

The most common inquiry we receive about our service from new clients is “How much does a full detail cost?”. While we wish this was an easy question to answer, the reality is that question is extremely vague and ambiguous. In this article, we’ll discuss how to understand what you’re purchasing when you have your vehicle detailed, what to look for and what to avoid.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that as a consumer, you are purchasing a service, not a product. The company you choose to detail your vehicle may vary drastically from their competitors – just as a Ford F-150 if very different from a Chevy Silverado in terms of comfort, affordability, materials and design, technological features, performance capabilities, durability and longevity, etc. etc.etc. Much like the Ford/Chevy debate, no two detailers are alike.

To aid in your purchasing decision, first decide if price or quality is more important to you. As a general rule of thumb, I think we can all agree that the phrase “you get what you pay for” holds some water. When you’re considering a service for your second largest asset (assuming you’re a home owner), do you want to risk leaving your vehicle to an unskilled or apathetic detailer? For some, the cost benefits of a lower priced service outweigh the reward potential of a higher priced service. For others, a lack of education can lead you to the door step of a detailer that wants to take advantage of you and milk you for every dime possible, while providing the lowest quality service they believe they can get away with. On the other side of the coin, paying a little more for a quality detailer will generally result in a more thorough and complete service, better paint protection and a more personalized approach, leading to a better end product and overall experience. We fix damage inflicted by inexperienced detailers or “hacks” on a weekly basis, and it’s a lot more expensive to fix something than it is to have it done right the first time.

Once you have decided if quality or price is more important, ask yourself what a “full detail” is to you. Do you want a full and comprehensive deep cleaning, restoration and protection service, or do you want a quick inside/out service? Do you want your engine cleaned? Do you want your paint polished or simply protected with a wax or sealant?

As an example, a “Full Detail” at our shop – Placer Auto Detailing, located in Roseville, Ca consists of a full-blown Interior Deep Cleaning, steaming and removing stains, pet hair, kid messes or any other debris, and a completely clean exterior, paint decontamination, and paint sealant application. This service generally runs $300 to $500 and takes 4 – 8 hours depending on the vehicle size and condition. At the car wash down the street, you can purchase a “Full Detail” for $150 – which includes an exterior wash and wax and an interior vacuum and wipe down, which takes 1.5 to 3 hours. Many people have no idea what a quality detail service is, and continue to settle for lower-priced details, low quality, lack of complete satisfaction, and confidence that their vehicle is protected.

With the quality/price decision and having a better idea of what a detail is to YOU, lets explore how vehicle size and type affects pricing. A mini-cooper is obviously going to be priced differently than an excursion due to the exterior size. Likewise, an minivan with pet hair and cheerio remnants in the carpets will be priced higher than a minivan that isn’t used to haul pets or kids. A pickup truck that is covered in mud and sand will be far more expensive than a pickup truck that is relatively clean… you get the drift.

How has the vehicle been cared for?

If your vehicle sits outside under a sap tree and gets washed every three months with brushes or heavy chemicals, it will take exponentially more work to restore when compared with the same vehicle that has been garaged, washed weekly with PH-neutral soap and protected with a wax, sealant or Ceramic Coating from day one. The cost difference between the two can be monumental.

Finally, lets talk about market demand – having your vehicle detailed in the winter will generally be 20% to 30% cheaper than having it detailed in the middle of spring, due to seasonal business volume. Additionally, patronizing a newer detailing business will generally be slightly cheaper than patronizing a shop that’s been in business for decades, as the newer business will be in a continuous process of building a client base.

So, how do I maximize my dollar when having my vehicle detailed, you ask?

Here is a summary:

Do your research – read reviews, look at photos of past work completed, and contact past clients (this is very easy to do with Facebook.) A high quality detail will cost $300 to $500, a low quality detail will cost you $100$200. Understand that your dollar will likely go farther at a specialty shop like Placer Automotive Detailing, at the cost of a higher total price – this is known as VALUE.
Make sure you understand what you are purchasing, and make sure you point out the areas that are important to you.
Strategically schedule your service during times of cold or rainy/snowy weather and take advantage of a lack of demand in the form of lower prices. At Placer Detailing, we offer a free wash for our clients if it is raining when they pick their vehicle up, when the weather clears up. This allows them to be “summer ready” at a lower price point.

Bite the bullet and have your vehicle protected immediately upon acquiring it. From that point on, as long as you maintain it appropriately, your future service will be far more economical. Time = money.

Never assume that your detailer can read your mind – if it’s important to you, point it out. If you’re not happy at the end of your service, say something.

Finally, if you find a good detailer, stick with them – quality detailers are hard to find – cheap ones are not, and the cheap ones will cost you more in the long run.

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