Marlene searches for the best way to have a clean, shiny, maintained car. Her first auto detailing article has been read 100,000+ times.
What Is the Difference Between a Car Wash and Auto Detailing?
The difference is more than cost. During a typical car wash:
- Your car is run through a machine and washed with brushes. Then air driers remove most of the water. Generally, the drying is finished by hand. Car wash costs range from $10 to $40, depending upon where you live. Prices tend to be lower in the eastern U.S. and higher for an SUV or minivan.
- Car detailing goes beyond a car wash to include hand washing of the entire vehicle, waxing, tire cleaning, interior polish, and even small dent removal. They also can take between four and six hours.
A Breakdown of Detailing Services and Costs
Car detailing can include a range of services from basic hand wash and wax to full interior and exterior police. See the table below for details about what is included and prices.
Price Ranges for Car Wash and Detailing Services
|Detail Service||What Should be Done||Price Range of Separate Care|
Wash exterior, clean wheels, blow out cracks with compressed air, dry with a chamois, vacuum, and dust.
$12.00 - $45.00
Deep clean carpets and mats.
$45.00 - $60.00
Deep clean upholstery fabric.
$45.00 - $50.00
Clean leather seats and conditioning with UV protectant.
$45.00 - $60.00
Clean dash, console and door panels, and then apply a protectant to keep from sun damage.
$45.00 - $50.00
Trunk and Cargo Area
Vacuum and Shampoo.
$9.00 - $15.00
Polish or Wax
Apply a polish or wax to seal and protect the surface.
$50.00 - $95.00
Paintless Dent Removal
Remove door dings and small dents.
$$85.00 - $150.00
Undercarriage and Chassis
Clean directly under the car, inside the wheel wells, and around the major suspension components which include the anti-roll bars; attention should be given to the splash guards, inner fender liners, and wheels and tires.
$2.00 - $5.00 to $85.00 (high)
Headlights, Taillights, and Exterior Trim
Apply a polishing compound to headlights and taillights, and then seal; clean chrome trim and plastic trim, and then apply a protectant.
$65.00 - $70.00
$2.00 (low) to $25.00 - $55.00
Clean with water, and then apply a degreaser. Rinse. After drying, apply a protectant to all silicone, plastic, and rubber components to protect them from cracking.
$30.00 - $145.00
Basic Detailing Vs. Complete Detailing Packages
There are different levels of auto detail services.
Generally, a basic detailing package includes a hand wash, wax, tire cleaning, interior vacuuming, and wipe-down or polish of all interior surfaces, including the dashboard, windows, mirrors, and trim. Special chemicals are used to clean your car, preparing it for what is called the rejuvenation process, which includes using air compressors, compounds, and detailing clay. Detailing clay removes contamination from the paint that is not removed during normal washing. The result of the clay process prepares the car for buffing or polishing. Depending on the particular needs of your car, the auto detailer may then use wax, paint sealant, dressings, leather conditioners, or water protector for cloth fabric.
A fuller service detailing includes superior wax, interior detailing with steam or hot water extraction, leather upholstery cleaning, dent removal, white wall tire cleaning, an underbody wash, ozonation (odor removal), and engine cleaning.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you get rid of mold in a conversion van?
Answer: In most cases, if the mold is in the upholstery, the answer is no.
Moreover, mold is an issue that goes beyond detailing a car. If you have mold in your vehicle, I would suggest contacting a company that specializes in removing mold, because removing mold is a specialized process and depending on where the mold is located, only a specialist can tell you whether or not they have the means to remove the mold.
Paintxpert on September 16, 2018:
Search: "Auto Polishing" Auto "paint correction" Since 1969!
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on June 23, 2016:
Hello Mario, I just read through my hub and didn't see where I said, "detailing didnt require a professional so prices vary."
Anyway, thank you for your comment. I believe pricing is a matter of looking at the clientele and the competition and then pricing accordingly.
Mario Lynch on June 22, 2016:
I almost found it offensive when I read that, "detailing didnt require a professional so prices vary." Ive been detailing for over 20 years and ive seen them all come and go and have heard some Ikf the worst stories ever. Ive experienced the $50.00 craigslist detailer and almost sent into a state of shock when he was done . ( not recommended at all ). I have an extremely difficult time pricing and have an even harder time not perfoming extra services that should be charged an extra fee, even if the customer doesnt request it. I treat every vehicle as though it was my own and just dont feel that the vehicle is detailed properly if I can notice anything grimy ( Im my own worst critic ) and almost embarassed to hand over their keys if its not fully detailed. This really hurts my business and puts a real strain on me physically not to mention financially. 90% of my customers are repeat or dedicated customers and I guess are spoiled and I almost see pain in their eyes when I try to bring my prices up. I offer full details to new clients for $150.00 but regular clientele get away with $100.00. I do everything, the full package for them and spend many hours on these vehicles sometimes with a helper and Im only making pennies on the dollar , if that, when Im finished. I always say that Im gonna make new shirts that say , " workers welcome tips . " Hardly ever works. Detailing is a passion of mine and , Im good , no, great at it and wish knew how to adjust my prices without offending anyone or losing any clients. Heck sometimes I just break even. Some of the new people try to offer me 150.00 to detail their 32' boats that are on lifts above the water. I feel as though their should be an extra 150.00 added to the price when we have to work on those things and swinging a high speed buffer above the water. Like that isnt my favorite thing to do either. Anyways money isnt easily made around here in the East Bay Area Ca so I end up taking on their jobs for not much more than their proposed offers and ..... heck what Im trying to get at is...how do I establish decent pricing without losing people or pushing potentially new customers away.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on July 22, 2015:
Hello Kevin Guez. Some time ago, I had the great pleasure of speaking with an executive of Washos. I think the Washos concept is absolutely amazing and right on trend with this kind of auto service.
You ask some very good questions and I am happy to share my opinions. To be honest, I can't answer to how a mobile car washing service would price their service. I do believe there should be a small premium for coming to someone's home or office to detail their vehicle. But, I think there should be some thought to how the service is offered before sitting down to price the service. What I mean is... I believe there is a difference between being an "on-site" mobile car detailing service versus a "personal service" mobile car detailing service. On-site means that you are there anyway, so you probably should not charge much of a premium. Personal-service means that you schedule a time to meet the car owner and you make a special trip to come to their home or office. There should be a premium charged for that. I can't say what the market is for the L.A. area, so it would be a matter of determining who your clients are and how much you could get away with charging them without losing business.
With regards to your question about charging extra for vehicles that are extra soiled, my opinion is that you SHOULD charge extra for vehicles that are extra soiled. Normal prices are for normal dirt and grime. If someone chooses to park their vehicle under a tree that produces sap or run their vehicle through the mud and expect to pay normal prices for cleanup, then they are expecting too much. My opinion is that you should charge a little extra for extra cleaning and detailing because it is going to take extra TIME to clean and detail a car that is soiled beyond what is considered normal. Time is money!
Your experience with how long it takes to detail a vehicle with normal dirt and grime will help you determine how long it takes you to clean and detail a vehicle with extra dirt and grime. I would say, charge accordingly.
The more you can standardize prices, the better. It makes quoting prices easier. Charge a flat fee for extra cleaning. Be consistent so customers can know what to expect.
Well, Kevin, this is all just my opinion. I hope it helps.
Washos on July 22, 2015:
Extremely interesting article. I'm working for a company that ambition to create a network of mobile car detailers in California (Washos) and one of our biggest difficulty was to come up with a consistent offer in terms of pricing that would be accepted by all our detailers but also our consumers. This article gave me some really good insights on this topic.
MareneB, I have a question tough: we witness the thrive of mobile car detailing companies especially in Los Angeles. You seem not to talk about such services. Do you know more on this topic? Are the prices supposed to be the same? Can we simply apply a 10/20% premium for having somebody at your home or office...? I'd like to have your opinion on that.
Another big question that I have is: what happens when some vehicle have an excessive quantity of dirt / Pet hair / Tree Sap... or even mold in their interior. Would the prices be the same no matter the condition of the vehicle? If not, how would you determine the right price?
Thanks for your response and for your article!!
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on April 26, 2015:
Hello Michael of Salem NH! Congratulations on the start of your new business. Thank you. I am grateful to be inspirational and able to provide some information to help you in the start of your car detailing venture.
Michael of Salem NH on April 26, 2015:
Here it is that after 18 years in one of my own business I am looking for another one to start. 1st of all I love taking care of my cars like my 1985 Corvette and 2004 Honda CRV. This posting gave me the tools and guide to help make get started in the Auto detailing business. Thank You1
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on February 06, 2015:
Hi colorfulone. I'm one of those people who loves having my car detailed. It makes driving it more fun.
Susie Lehto from Minnesota on February 02, 2015:
I use to help with restoring old cars, and detailing was an important part of that when putting them up for re-sale. Great info here, Marlene.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on December 10, 2014:
Hello Snakesmum. Thank you for your comment. Yes. The prices might be a little bit different where you are. I am only familiar with U.S. prices. I hope it is not too much to get your vehicle detailed. Sure, we could do it ourselves, but it always ends up looking better when we have a professional detail our car. Professionals seem to have a better grade of products and tools than the average person.
Snakesmum on December 10, 2014:
This is interesting, although I guess the costs would be different here in Australia. Will have to go and look into it now, as it's something I've been thinking about.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on November 08, 2013:
Hello DDE. Yes, I like that red car, as well. It's so shiny. I want my car to look like that!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 08, 2013:
Auto Detailing Prices - How Much Does It Cost to Get a Car Detailed? gorgeous red I like ht photo, you explained to the point and now I know the process of car dealing, useful, interesting and informative.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on March 04, 2013:
Hello dmvjane. Yes, I think it is a good business. Some people here have mobile detailing companies where they go to a person's home or office and detail the vehicle on site. They put up a temporary tent and bring their equipment with them. It is something to think about.
Jane Katigbak from Philippines on March 03, 2013:
Hello Marlene B, Thank you for giving us information about car detailing. In my country, I am not sure if such services exists. That is to say that it is a good business to start with. :)
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on March 01, 2013:
Thank you eroller. I actually had to refer to my own price list recently to see if I was getting a good price on a detail job I was contemplating.
Liheng from Shanghai on February 28, 2013:
So clear, interesting price list
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on February 21, 2013:
Hi wilderness. Like you, I do wash my car myself or mostly my husband washes the car. But, when it needs detailing, we take it in for the pros to do.
Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on February 21, 2013:
I generally wash my car with a hose and sponge (except in winter) but fully realize that detailing is something I can't do. I've been thinking about having ours done, though, and your hub provides some great guidelines to go by when finding a detailer. Thanks so much.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on February 09, 2013:
Hi JanMaklak. And, now that we know what goes into auto detailing, it makes a lot of sense to let the professionals have that job. Doesn't it?! Thank you for reading and for your feedback.
JanMaklak from Canada on February 09, 2013:
I didn't know any of this as I've never had a car detailed. I knew in general terms what was done but this explains it for me. Voted Up!
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on February 05, 2013:
Thank you, Express10! I really am glad to receive your candid feedback. Like you, I wash my car myself, but when it comes to detailing, the professionals have that job.
H C Palting from East Coast on February 05, 2013:
I typically wash and vacum myself but as for the professional level of auto detailing, I leave that to the real pro's. Everything you say is spot on and this hub is very useful.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on December 10, 2012:
Hello rajan jolly! After doing the research, I discovered how valuable auto detailing is as part of maintaining my car. It is far more affordable than I originally thought and is certainly worth the cost.
Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on December 06, 2012:
Great info. I had no idea what car detailing was. Thanks for sharing this useful info. Voted up and interesting.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on December 05, 2012:
Hi alocsin, I'm glad you like the chart. As I was doing the research for this hub, like you, I realized that having my car detailed once a year is really quite manageable. I know people who do it more often, but with my limited budget, I can do once a year and then maintain the "clean" the rest of the year.
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on December 04, 2012:
I really like the table because it demystifies the process for me. I see now that it really doesn't cost all that much, if you just do it once in a blue moon. Voting this Up and Useful.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on May 21, 2012:
Howard S. Thank you for visiting and thank you very much for your suggestions. I absolutely will take another look at the chart and update it according to your input. I think that will make it a more comprehensive chart. Much appreciation for you!
Howard S. from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on May 21, 2012:
I appreciate your review of the spectrum of services and prices falling under the rubric of detailing. I fear going anywhere near those places--when my wife threatens to do so, I know it's time for me to get out the bucket and at least wash her car.
I do wish you could have divided your chart into price range according to the two levels you outlined. I also suspect that minor flaws are negotiated add-ons that lift some prices out of the #2 category.
1) basic or "mini"
2) "more expensive" (e.g., deep leather cleaning and engine degreasing)
3) dings, rock chips, cigarette burns and other minor flaws
Of course, as you mentioned with the Dodge Viper example, detailing "trailer queens" for concours auto shows is a completely unrelated level.
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on May 20, 2012:
Thanks, mjkearn, for your comment. I know what you mean about the Dodge Viper. That's a lot of money! But, it got me to thinking that the owner must have either had a LOT wrong with the car, or was very meticulous. Either way, it is a lot more than the average person would pay for car detailing.
mjkearn on May 20, 2012:
Hi Marlene B,
great advice and information on auto detailing. Thanks for sharing. The dodge viper could have nearly been repainted for the cost of the detailing, thanks again,
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on May 17, 2012:
Hi alissaroberts, thank you for such wonderful feedback. I feel the same way. After doing the research I thought about how nice it would be to have my car detailed vs. simply washed. Ha! Suddenly, just washing my car doesn't seem to be enough.
Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on May 17, 2012:
Just reading this hub makes me want to get my car detailed. It would be so exciting to actually have all the mashed up food and snacks completely gone from the backseat without breaking my back doing it myself. Really great and useful information you have provided - voted up and over!
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on May 17, 2012:
Hi Simone, thank you for your feedback. As I started the research for this project, I was as astounded as you to discover all that it takes to detail a car. I'd actually like to have it done sometime.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on May 17, 2012:
I quite enjoyed this! I had always wondered what auto detailing actually entailed. It is quite the involved process! I am somewhat astounded by how much work goes into really, properly taking care of cars!
Marlene Bertrand (author) from USA on May 16, 2012:
Arlene, don't feel bad. One time, when my husband was on a week long trip, I went to visit my daughter. My Expedition was sooooo dirty that my daughter's friend went, first, into the garage to get the stuff to wash it. It wasn't done to spite me, but in love. I guess the thing just looked so pitiful.
I live out in the country and I don't think anybody washes their automobile out here. We don't care. Just as soon as our car is washed, it gets dirty again. Well, just two weeks ago we were hauling hay in our truck. What's the point in washing it if it's just going to stay dirty. Right?
Arlene V. Poma on May 16, 2012:
VOTED UP, USEFUL, INTERESTING AND AWESOME!!! Jeez, Marlene. Thank you for all of this useful information. I have been on the fence when it comes to detailing my hubby's car, so all I need to do now is shop around in time for our wedding anniversary in June. My truck only gets washed when it rains. Or if the dealership gives me free certificates to the car wash down the street. Yeah, I'm pretty bad.