Nicholas Pazo owns a mobile detailing business in Massachusetts.
How I Know About Car Detailing
My purpose in this article is to briefly explain what a car detail is, then how frequently a consumer should detail their car and what detailing is worth. But first I should tell you how I know.
I started detailing cars and boats fresh out of high school in Orlando, FL. My then-girlfriend’s father owned a mobile repair business for just about everything. He serviced the slides at Universal, serviced boats in the Orlando area, owned a mechanic shop for bigger repairs, and fabricated the boats in front of the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. He hired me and let me start taking care of the detailing aspect for our clients. We set them up on monthly maintenance washes and waxed the boats every three months.
Fast-forward to a 24-year old me. A long time friend of mine had been working under a mentor detailer for quite some time, and when his mentor let him run and own the company, he brought me on to help with the clients that they had built previously. I started back at the bottom of the totem pole making minimum wage but grew into a Regional Director of the company taking care of client accounts in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. Now, I own my own detailing company that services all of Eastern Massachusetts with a fast-growing following and clientele list. Which brings me full circle to me not being a regular Joe. Let’s dive into some content already!
Beware of the Car Wash
The first step in understanding detailing is to understand that a car detail is not a car wash.
At an ordinary "come and go" drive-through exterior car wash, you drive up to where they use that big spinning hairy-looking thing—which is super abrasive and is causing scratching and marring beyond belief, and you are paying for it to damage your car. That big brush is slapping your car's paint like it just said something about its mother.
Afterwards, if you pay extra, the people making $12 an hour (it’s an honest job, but you get what you pay for) reuse the same wash mitt and brush that was used on the car before you without proper decontamination. So now that the big spinning hairy looking thing has slapped your car repeatedly with sandpaper, the employees at the car wash are basically using more sandpaper on your vehicle with their contaminated mitts, dirty buckets, and brushes.
Now, it’s time for some extra-greasy tire shine that is going to sling up the side of that “freshly washed” ride of yours. Your wheel barrels still have the same dirt from 2016 after leaving the car wash. All for the amazing price of $50. But for the special of the day they sprayed on a one-month paint sealant for $15 extra that won’t even stick to your still heavily contaminated ride because proper paint prep was not practiced. Your $65 can go further.
The icing on the cake is that you still have to pay and break your back to vacuum your own car too because you only paid to have your exterior beaten ... I mean washed.
OK, I know I can’t completely bash car washes, because some car washes do offer professional services that are top-notch in quality. Not only are their services top tier but the talented employees that work there are awesome. I am solely speaking about your typical “come and go” car wash.
Contactless Car Washes? You Are Better Off DIY
You understand now that you should only use a car wash with extreme caution. The only time that I suggest (but don’t recommend) that a client use a car wash is if the car wash is “contactless." Contactless car washes aren't as bad as the typical come-and-go. They use a variety of high-pressure pressure washers to remove dirt. Then foamy soap is applied as a dirt-carrying surfactant and is then rinsed off by the high pressured pressure washers. These are safer than traditional car washes but still have their dangers. If you have any chips in your paint, you may fall victim to a stream of high-pressure water hitting that paint chip so perfectly that it tears off a nice chunk of paint.
Besides the risks associated with this type of car wash, the cleaning it provides is not sufficient. Bugs are left on the surface, sap is left eating away at the clear coat finish, the rims still are dirty, the interior is still dirty, and you are paying for this. These washes are more expensive than a traditional “big spinning hairy brush” car wash, and you get a little more for your money, but you still don't get what you want.
If you really don't want to spend the money it takes to get the car detailed, you could just wash the car yourself! If you wash the car yourself the right way you don't have to worry about whether you are damaging your paint. If you know the basics of washing a car you will do a more efficient job than any quick-service car wash. The problem for most people is that they do not have the time themselves, they are getting older, or they just don’t want to do it.
Car Wash Vs. Car Detailer ... Why Get a Detail?
The main and obvious difference between a car wash and a “professional” car detailer is that detailers do not skip steps to achieve quicker results that lack in quality. Sometimes we might give ourselves more work to achieve a higher quality of results. We expand on the car wash strategy to take care of the people that care about their vehicles.
Our main goal as detailers is to get our client's vehicles to a certain level of appealing excellence, and once that excellence is achieved you pay us to maintain that pinnacle of visual excellence. A quick-service car wash is here to get you in and out, and no matter the outcome you are paying; meanwhile, detailers are here to protect your investment in the vehicle being detailed and your investment in us. Detailers have the knowledge and tools to take care of your car’s exterior and interior beyond a car wash. We are usually hired to fix a problem that a car wash or car neglect has caused. A huge difference between a car was and a detailer is that detailers prepare and wash your vehicle through a process that allows a paint correction to be performed, or protective coating like a wax or ceramic to bond with or stick to the painted surface. Preparation is 90% of the game and makes the difference.
Here are some reasons why you should get your car detailed. Your car takes a beating every day. Even if you keep your car in a garage, or cover it after every use, it collects dirt, dust, and spider webs. It gets chips from the road, chips from rocks flying out of the freight truck in front of you. It gets micro-abrasions from the car covers or the misuse of a product on your end. With extra passengers, like kids and pets, your mode of transportation is really just a hot mess on wheels if it is not taken care of. With messes happening in the interior and dirt coating your car exterior every second, it is impossible to keep a car clean unless you clean it on a regular basis or have someone else clean your mess. These messes that go unattended and neglected become built-up, caked-on disasters that you don’t want to clean yourself because they are too gross to look at or too embedded into the carpet to even give it a try.
The main reason to get your car detailed by a professional is that you can put your trust in a professional to clean your car properly with the right chemicals, tools, and knowledge. Professional detailers go the extra mile so that they can make their job easier the second time around.
In my opinion, a good professional detail will feature services by default, such as clay bar decontamination for services that involve any paint sealants, cleaning the wheel wells, opening the gas tank door and cleaning inside that, APC spray down of the entire vehicle prior to preliminary rinse, vent cleaning, and the use of brushes to clean in between the cracks and crevices of the interior. These are some of the services that a basic full detail should come with it.
So why should you hire a detailer? If you have never had your car detailed, if you have paint imperfections, if you have no protection on your paint, if you only use car washes, if you want a professional to work on your car, kids, pets, spills, stains, and most important, if you want to get what you pay for.
How Often Should I Get a Detail?
It is a rule of thumb that car drivers should detail the exterior and interior of their car every 3 months. I believe that this rule of thumb originated because traditional carnauba waxes last about three months with proper wash maintenance. Newer paint coatings (wax form, liquid form, ceramic-based, quartz-based, graphene-based) may have different lifespans, but it's a misconception that long-lasting coatings mean you can go three months, six months, or even a lifetime without washing or maintaining the coating. You should continue to care for the protectant protecting your vehicle's paint or any other protected surface more frequently than once every three months. Your vehicle should be washed at least once a month. Some car enthusiasts want washes bi-weekly, weekly, or after each use, you name it but for the average car owner a wash once a month is sufficient for vehicle maintenance.
A Proper Maintenance Wash
These maintenance washes have fewer steps than a traditional detail but they should be done right. First, whenever we wash an exterior, we ALWAYS start by washing the wheel wells, tires, and wheels. Because washing the wheels and tires can sling dirt onto the paint, it makes sense to wash that sling off during the exterior wash. The exterior wash we do resembles the contactless method. We rinse the vehicle off to remove loose surface dirt, then use a foam cannon to apply a thick layer of lubricating soap that further lifts dirt off of the surface. We pressure-wash the soap off. Then the detailer will use clean high-quality wash mitts and brushes that are either new or have been decontaminated prior to use. We use a three-bucket wash system; one bucket for wheels and tires only, one wash bucket with lubricating soap, and one rinse bucket with clean water to rinse the contaminants off of the brush or mitt that just contacted the vehicle. After the wash, some people like to using drying aids that help lubricate the surface during the drying process. This drying aid is to deter micro-abrasions and marring from the drying towel. If the car is ceramic coated, either a leaf blower (for DIYers at home) or a designated auto blower is the best way to dry your vehicle. because it is contactless. The least amount of contact to your car the better.
If you or your detailer use these washing methods then having a full detail every 3-6 months, depending on your vehicle use and type of paint protection, is sufficient. Maintenance is the most important step after your car is fully detailed. Maintenance will allow you to delay a full detail for a longer period of time. It's cost-effective in the long term and your vehicle stays clean consistently.
How Much Should Detailing Cost?
If I have talked you out of going to the car wash, you are now left to wonder how much will all this cost? It all depends on the condition of your vehicle and what you need done.
In this example, we will assume the vehicle was owned for two years and never been detailed. It's the family vehicle and the owners have two kids and a pet. There is sand, pet hair, chicken nuggets, fries, and dirt inside the car, caked grime on the steering wheel, dry coffee stains on the cup holder, random debris, and stains on the seats from spills on the interior. The exterior has bugs. Someone has written wash me on your window. The wheels have brake dust covering everything. There are hard little dots all over your paint, and the gas tank compartment is so dirty that the once-white letters on the gas cap are now illegible. This is usually the average condition of a car that I have never detailed before.
In this situtation, for an exterior and interior detail without any paint correction, you should expect to pay between $200-$400, depending on the size of the vehicle and the detailer. Some mobile businesses can charge extra for the added convenience of having a professional on-site no matter the location with all the tools necessary to complete the job.
This service traditionally comes with a paint sealant that is chosen by the detailer of choice. In my research and practice, for basic full details, detailers will apply a spray sealant that lasts up to three months. Most people will choose the package that is not the basic option and not the most expensive option, so the next step up pricing tier is around $300-$500. It will include a stronger paint protection that will boost protection up to six months to one year with proper maintenance and some added interior features like steam cleaning or a more extensive upholstery extraction or protection.
You will always be able to find someone who will do it cheaper. Just remember, you get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you should go with the most expensive person or company; you should go with the one who can give you educated answers to your questions.
Look up top-rated detailers in your area and also look at the newer small businesses. Some of these new detail businesses have great detailers running them. They just don’t have the reviews yet to prove that they are legit, YET.
Of course you can use the big-name places that are charging a pretty penny because they have the experience and manpower to do so. But give a new small business a chance by calling them to see what products they are using, their methods, and their background. With COVID shutdowns happening again, it is a great time to give these small businesses a chance when they are desperate for clients.
Detailing in a Nutshell
- Is it important to have your car detailed? Yes.
- Should you detail your car yourself? If you know how to, YES.
- How often should my car be detailed? A full detail should be done every 3-6 months depending on the type of paint sealant being used.
- Do I have to wash my car in between details? Double yes. The best protection for your car is a clean car.
- How much should I expect to pay for a basic full-service detail? Depending on the mess, and the detailer's skill, prices range from $200-$500 for a quality detail. You will always find it for a cheaper price but remember, “You get what you pay for.”
- Many, if not all detailers, offer a maintenance plan to keep up with the work that they have just finished. If you paid for a full detail service, chances are you care about your car and want to keep it clean with a maintenance option.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Nicolas Pazo