The neighborhood hand wash has long been a common sight across the United States. Having a nice, clean vehicle to drive feels good; it’s a source of pride. It brings other benefits, too, including maintaining a higher resale value for your car when the time comes.
Over the years, however, the standard we expect for this cleaning has changed dramatically. From the simpler times of sponge washes, rinses and a quick polish every now and then, we have evolved to desire the more complex process of auto detailing.
Auto Detailing: What’s the Difference?
For anyone not in the know, “detailing” is a much deeper and more comprehensive cleaning process for your vehicle. Detailers will use their knowledge of a vehicle’s individual sections and components together with effective (yet simple) tools and cleaning products to not just clean the car, but to attempt to restore it to its former splendor.
Herein lies the most significant difference of car detailing. Where a regular hand wash cleaning will make it look nice again, its restorative power is somewhat limited. Detailers offer you a finished product that will astound you in its cleanliness. If you didn’t know it was your own car, you might assume you’re driving a brand-new one.
Another Key Difference? Price
One more area where the neighborhood detailer differs from the car wash is in price. A premium-level service means a premium on the price tag. As it happens, however, there is quite some difference in the average price of detailing depending on your location within the United States. Besides geography, the size of your car also directly impacts the cost of the detailing package you purchase. You may be able to guess from the outset that the more car you have, the more of a premium you can expect to pay.
How Much Should You Expect to Pay? Average Car Detailing Prices.
The national average price for car detailing in the US, according to an article from MobileTechRX.com, is $160.16 (true as of July 2020). On the low end, it comes to around $114.59, and on the high end it comes to $213.67. The price range, therefore, has some significant variation.
According to the same article linked above, residents in the state of Oregon are paying way over the odds, paying $258 as their combined average. Hawaii is getting the best deal, it seems, with an average of just $90.50.
How Vehicle Size Will Impact Detailing Price
Where exactly you fall on that wide payment scale depends on several different things. Vehicle size is a factor, and you can expect to pay more for larger vehicles. Service provider will likely divide vehicles into categories such as:
- Coupes and Sedans
- SUV (possibly compact and large separately)
- Pickup Trucks
- Commercial/Cargo Vans
- …and more
Take a site like National Detail Pros. Let’s say you’re in Los Angeles, California and you want to use this service to detail your Nissan Elantra. You can expect to pay $164 or so for a standard detailing inside and out. If you switch out that vehicle for an SUV such as the Toyota Rav4, however, the same service will cost you around $209.
Not all services will give specifics on vehicle size in their pricing, instead opting to give a kind of starting price pending an exact quote later on. One example is Wings Mobile Detailing based in Richmond, Virginia. Their offer a base price pending confirmation upon knowing the exact specification of the vehicle in question.
The main rule of thumb is always to remember that the bigger your car is, the more in the end you should expect to pay. What these examples show is that it may not be as dramatic as you first thought. Detailers are typically masters of their craft, and can apply it across different-sized surfaces easily, no matter the size difference. A premium you can expect, but how much will depend on that exact service and the current level of their detailers.
Other Factors that Determine Price:
1. Optional Extras
Most services will put their product into packages. This means that the final price will depend not only your vehicle size, but how many things you want done. Take Premier Island Auto Detail based in Honolulu, Hawaii. They are one of the top-rated services in the city, and divide their services up into “Full Detail” and individual items. Other services like Rainbow Shine in College Station, Texas use a more simplified package service in which they add extra detailing steps like shampooing, mat washing and leather conditioning to their other more basic services.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, your geographical location and average cost of living will have a huge impact on what you pay for detailing. We mentioned the national averages earlier in the article, but even these don’t reveal the glaring differences within regions. Hawaii may have the lowest average detailing cost, for example, but the service we mention in the paragraph above charges far above that for a full package. This is undoubtedly influenced by the expense of doing business in the Honolulu metro area.
3. In-house or At-home
Finally, another factor influencing prices across the country is the nature of how the service is delivered. You might think that a mobile service done at your home would cost more, but in fact this is rarely the case. When detailing is done in-house at a bricks-and-mortar location, you can expect to pay more than if a provider visits you at home. It sounds counterintuitive, but makes sense when you consider the expenses.
A physical location has overheads, and is generally a more inefficient and costly operation than a mobile one. Mobile services like aforementioned Wings Mobile Detailing focus their work with employees who travel around in commercial vans delivering their services. This is a cheaper model to run, and those savings are passed on to the customers. Naturally, this single factor has to be compounded with others to get a final word on price, but this is still the general picture nationwide.
4. Frequency of Detailing / Level of Dirtiness Affect Detailing Price
It's best to make sure you don't go too long between cleans to ensure you don't get slapped with an additional 'dirtiness' fee to restore and especially rough vehicle. If it's already somewhat clean, that will allow the detailers to focus on other elements of the vehicle that don't normally get seen during a typical rinse cycle. If you do find yourself with a highly dirty ride and are thinking about getting it detailed, you might want to consider first taking it to a self serve cleaner where you can knock down most of the rough spots. This will likely save you a few bucks at the detailer.
The Lesson? Shop Around
The car washing and detailing market is enormous. In North America, it has been estimated that around 2 billion cars are washed each year. The same statistics reveal some 62,000 car wash enterprise locations across the country. All this is before we get to the mobile suppliers. What it really tells us that while you can always expect to pay a premium on detailing for a larger car, that number could vary widely still depending on the factors discussed above and more.
Always shop around for the best deal in your local area. You could also try to work with a small-but-talented group of detailers, who may be willing to offer a discount to guarantee business and get further exposure. Many of these young entrepreneurs are vying to be top-dog detailers in their area, and you can support them in that. Remember though, the more “restorative” service you want, the more you should expect to pay.
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