Why is a detailer more expensive than a regular car wash?

Author: becky

Dec. 06, 2023



Tags: Textiles & Leather Products

23 comments / Posted on Jul 21, 2020 by Stephen S

Why is a detailer more expensive than a regular car wash?

Let's start with the basic business models:

Car Wash: small team of workers with only the most basic training trying to do as many cars as fast as possible often for as little as £40 a day cash in hand wages. 

With the roadside car washes the only goal is maximising profit, that means harsher chemicals, more aggressive wash methods, dirty water and the end result is chemical damage, scratching and often...not a very clean car. 

It's not unusual for the same brush that's on the ground to be used on your cars paint. 

Detailer/Valeter: often only one or two passionate individuals with an eye for detail who decided to turn their hobby into their career by starting a company and becoming self employed. Will often only do one or two cars a day and regularly take jobs that require multiple days spent on one vehicle.

With your local detailer/valeter (whatever term they prefer) their business is built on reputation, not mass turnover. They know they're only as good as their last job and strive to bring your vehicle to as high a standard within the parameters of the service you've booked. They use high quality products and safe washing methods that require more processes, products and time.



As an example I'd like to run through a list of the processes carried out on a car yesterday:

  • Rinse
  • Citrus pre-wash and rinse
  • Snow foam and rinse
  • 2 bucket wash and rinse
  • Wheels cleaned and rinsed
  • Tar removed (2 applications needed with rinsing in between and after)
  • Fallout removed 

    (2 applications needed with rinsing in between and after)

  • Clay bar treatment
  • Snow foam 2 bucket wash, rinse and dry (final inspection to clean anything missed)
  • Minor paint correction using heavy cutting methods to remove around 80% of swirling
  • Paint refining to bring the paint back to a "like new" glossy look
  • Snow foam, rinse and dry to remove any polishing dust
  • Panel wipe to remove any contaminants or oils left, prepping for coating
  • Two layers of ceramic coating applied to painted areas
  • Door shuts sealed
  • Glass sealed
  • Tyres dressed
  • Interior trim dressed.

Boring and dry to read? A little yes (I won't blame you for scanning through) but important to show the amount of work involved. That took two of us eight hours to complete and a lot of expensive specialist products and tools were used.

Before and after paint correction.

Even the smaller details are attended to.

Next time you take your car to a car wash, look closely and check if it's REALLY clean.

Hopefully, this has cleared up a little of the mystery surrounding the price differences between the roadside car washes and professional detailers.

Thanks for reading.


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People often ask, is car detailing worth it? Short answer: yes, it is.

Let’s explore this. 

When considering whether detailing your car is worth it, it’s usually a question of cost. We all know that detailing your car makes it look better, smell better, it makes it more enjoyable to drive, and helps it maintain its resale value. The question is: is it worth the cost? Will you get that money back when you sell or trade in the car? 

The answer to that question is no, you won’t. Vehicles depreciate. You can polish them to a mirror finish and it will still go down in value. 

So why detail your car then? For me, it’s not entirely about the money. It’s about enjoying one of the largest purchases you’ll make in your life.

Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on something that you’re not proud of and don’t enjoy spending time in. For this reason, detailing your car is worth it.

What Detailing Is and Is Not

People generally categorize “Detailing” as one of the following:

  • Car Detailing by a Professional
  • DIY Car Wash / Cleaning at Home
  • Automatic Car Wash

Car Detailing by a Professional

Having your vehicle detailed by a professional will give you the best results. Professional shops have the proper products, equipment and expertise to do it right. 

Professional auto detailing usually consists of some combination of the following services:

  • Foam soak
  • Microfiber wash
  • Non-contact drying
  • Paint decontamination
  • Iron removal
  • Paint correction
  • Paint wax
  • Ceramic coating
  • Graphene coating
  • Vacuuming interior surfaces
  • Shampooing the carpets and upholstery
  • Deodorizing the interiors
  • Cleaning hard surfaces and vents
  • Cleaning the windows
  • Wheel cleaning
  • Tire shine
  • Headlight restoration

Some of these things can effectively be done at home with common household tools and products, but most of them cannot.

DIY Car Wash / Cleaning at Home

This normally consists of a bucket of soapy water, a sponge, a garden hose, a towel, and a vacuum. This falls more towards the car wash end of the spectrum. When done properly, you can do a lot of good.

Many DIYers end up using dish soap (way too harsh for your paint), dirty wash buckets (scratching the paint surface), and drying with a bath towel (creates swirls in your paint). So if you’re going clean your car at home, make sure to do it properly.

Investing in some basic products and tools can be worthwhile. Basic equipment includes:

  • Proper car wash soap
  • Two wash bucket (two-bucket wash method)
  • Microfiber wash mit
  • Microfiber drying towel or blower
  • Spray wax (for protection)
  • Shop vac with crevice tool

Automatic Car Wash

Automatic car washes are super convenient, but should not be considered “detailing”. Soft-touch car washes have a reputation for putting swirls and scratches in your paint. Touchless car washes just don’t wash very well. 

Using an automatic car wash can be OK in a pinch, but should be generally avoided.

Is Car Detailing Worth It? Here Are 5 Reasons It Is

1. Higher Resale Value

From the moment you buy your car and drive it home, it depreciates in value. But you can minimize depreciation by keeping it clean and protected. Most people don’t take good care of their vehicles. Your vehicle will sell faster, and for more by taking good care of it. Having a professional detail your vehicle regularly will ensure maximum resale value.

2. Protection

Another great benefit of proper detailing is that it helps protect your car from damage and deterioration. This is because paint protection such as wax or ceramic coatings form a protective layer on the paintwork which shields it against dirt, grime, UV rays, and other environmental elements.

That being said, auto detailing also helps to protect the interior of your vehicle by keeping dirt, dust, and other particles out of the air vents and away from the carpets and upholstery.

3. Improves Your Driving Experience

Driving a dirty car is gross. It’s like not washing your clothes, or your bed sheets. No one wants to spend time in a place that is dirty and smelly. Driving a car that has been deep cleaned is so much more enjoyable.

4. It Saves You Valuable Time

Many just don’t have the time and equipment to detail their vehicle properly themselves. Spend time doing what you’re good at (your profession), and let others (detailing pros) do what they’re good at.

5. Your Vehicle Is a Reflection On You

Whether you like it or not, your vehicle and the way you maintain it is part of your personal brand. First impressions are tough to change. A clean, properly detailed car can communicate attention to detail, organization, professionalism and pride in oneself. You wouldn’t wear dirty clothes out in public. Why would you drive a dirty car. Think about that.

Some industries require a clean car. For example:

  • Real estate agents
  • Limo drivers
  • Tour guides
  • Detailing shops
  • Car dealerships

Downsides to Detailing Your Car

Professional Detailing Can Be Expensive

Although detailing has a lot of benefits, it does come with some drawbacks. One such drawback is the cost required to get your car detailed. Detailing costs hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on how much work needs to be done.

DIY Detailing is Time Consuming

It’s easy to spend an entire day detailing your car. There are so many surfaces that require different treatments. Some people enjoy spending time doing this (I do), but most just don’t have the time.

Proper Detailing Requires Specific Products, Equipment, and Skills

To do detailing right, you need to acquire some things. Purchasing the proper solutions and tools is expensive. Then you need to know how to use them properly. This can be a downside for some.

Needs To Be Done Regularly

Car get dirty when you use them. Also, the protection provided by professional detailing helps shield the paintwork of your car, but it doesn’t last forever. It’ll need to be performed regularly.

Is Car Detailing Worth It?

It’s my opinion that yes, car detailing is definitely worth it. Not only will it make your car look its best, but also protects it from damage and deterioration.

Make sure to do your research and find a reliable detailing shop before committing to it.

How To Choose a Professional Detailing Shop

There are many of self-proclaimed “mobile car detailers” who claim to offer the best-detailing services at a fraction of what established shops charge. While a few of them actually get it right, many end up doing a shoddy job or worse, damaging your car.

So, to ensure you get the best and safest results, we recommend that you look for an established detailing shop near you with years of experience and good customer reviews. You might also look for shops whose worker have detailing certifications. This will help guarantee quality work and also ensure that your car is in safe hands.

We cannot, overemphasize how important it is to do your research and only work with shops that have good customer reviews. To help, look for the following:

  • Professionalism
  • Facility and equipment
  • Customer reviews
  • Quality of products used
  • Performance and results

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should I get my car detailed?

You should get your car detailed at least once every 6 months for the best results.

2. Does auto detailing protect my car’s paint?

Yes, most auto detailing packages include some level of paint protection. Options include wax, ceramic coating, or graphene coating.

3. How much does professional car detailing cost?

Most auto detailing shops will charge anywhere between $100 to $4,000, depending on the services.

4. What should I look for when choosing a detailing shop?

Look for shops that have years of experience and good customer reviews. You should also make sure they have a good facility, proper equipment, and professional staff. Additionally, you should check the quality of the products they use. Shops with detailers that are certified are always a good sign.

5. What is the difference between car detailing and car washing?

Car detailing is a more comprehensive service that goes beyond just cleaning the outside and inside of your car. It involves reconditioning, restoring, and protecting the car’s paintwork. Car washing, on the other hand, is simply cleaning your car with soap and water.

6. Can you detail a car yourself?

Yes! Learn the right skills and acquire the proper products and tools, and you can do excellent work at home yourself. 


In conclusion, having your car professionally detailed is definitely worth it. Not only will it make your car look its best, and protect it from damage and deterioration, it can also help you maximize its resale value.

But remember, when looking for a detailing shop, always do your research and only work with shops that have good customer reviews and years of experience. This will ensure quality work and help guarantee that your car is in safe hands.

Good luck!

Why is a detailer more expensive than a regular car wash?

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