Depending on the condition of your car and the procedure it needs, detailing can cost anywhere from $50 to an arm and a leg. As you’ll soon see, the biggest contributor to how much your car’s detail will cost is whether or not you decide to do it yourself or take the car to the professionals. Regardless of who is doing the work, you should know what you’re paying and what it’s getting you. The following examples will help to give you a better idea of how much it costs to keep your car looking good.
The Cost of Detailing
Self: ~$10 (<60 mins)
Waxing your car yourself makes a whole lot of sense. First, you can buy a high quality wax that will give you 5+ applications for about the same price a professional detailer will charge you for one session.
Second, it's not that time consuming. Essentially all you have to do is apply a layer of wax, go make a sandwich or flip on the TV, then come back an hour later and remove the cured wax.
Lastly, if you really want to blow this thing out of the water, consider using an instant-bonding paint sealant—polymer based sealants last almost twice as long as carnauba waxes, and instant-bonding means no cure time and no waiting. Save yourself time and money by protecting your car yourself.
Self: ~$40 (<60 mins)
In terms of cost, polishing also makes more sense at home. The biggest variable here, however, is whether or not you know what you're doing. A lot of people will hand their car off to the pros simply because they dont feel comfortable with a machine, but, the fact is, you don't always need one.
High-speed machines are designed to cut paint... the idea is that you're "fixing" a neglected surface. Sure, they're needed in certain situations, but if you practice proactive car care (ie. protecting early and often), a hand polishing procedure once or twice a year will keep your finish looking great. Best of all, you don't have to shell out a Benji to pay a shop to take a machine to your paintwork.
Interior Cleaning & Conditioning
Self: ~$60 (<90 mins)
Most people dont have hot water extractors just laying around, so I'll leave shampooing out of this. For the most part, the biggest expense for professional detailers when completing interior details is time. For the at-home detailer it's the products, mainly dependent on how many different surfaces you have in your car.
If you need to clean carpets, leather, and plastic trim... you're looking at purchasing a number of products. Fortunately, however, this means you'll have them handy for next time. Unlike a professional detail, the car care products you buy end up keeping your car clean for months because you can use them again at no additional cost.
Hand Car Wash
Self: ~$5 (<30 mins)
While the initial cost of supplies may be slightly higher if it's your first time, washing your car at home is far more cost effective than paying someone else to do it. Additionally, and this matters more in my opinion, it's much safer to wash your car by hand. Automatic washes, though über cheap, are a bad decision because they cause harm to your clear coat.
"But what about touchless washes?" As I've stated before, touchless (and touch-less) washes use very strong chemicals to clean your car; these solvents strip waxes, sealants, and polish. Grab a bucket (or two) and wash your car yourself… you wont be disappointed.
The cost of detailing really depends on what route you take. You can save money by cleaning your car at home, but this does take up time that could be spent elsewhere. In my opinion, detailing at home makes sense for a number of reasons: it costs less in the long run, you can get professional results right in your garage, and half the fun of a clean car is being able to say “I did that.” At the end of the day, the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck is to be proactive and protect your car’s surfaces so you don’t have to spend hundreds restoring them down the road.
What’s your favorite part about detailing your car yourself? Share in the comments!