It is not surprising that people seeking to detail services often become confused by the huge variance in pricing. The problem stems from the wide range of definitions of “detailing” much like the title of “doctor” can mean many different things.
Detailing can generally be divided up into 4 segments: Concours d’élégance (think Pebble Beach), high-end (Ferraris, Lamborghinis, etc.), retail (generally any vehicle an owner takes pride in) and production (new & used car lots, car washes, auctions, etc.)
When asking about prices for detailing many potential customers have an expectation of a price that is consistent with the segment below what they are actually seeking. For example, many people with newer vehicles may be very familiar with the detailing from the dealership where they purchased the car or they may have seen the prices at the local car wash. When they later seek the services of a retail detailer they are often shocked that the price is higher. Those with high-end sports cars they drive on the weekends often expect the price to be the same as when they have their daily driver detailed. People with high-end cars sometimes have Concours level expectations without realizing what goes into it.
It also doesn’t help that many so-called detailers oversell their abilities and attempt to charge prices that are not consistent with the results they are delivering. These are the people who create a bad image for the industry.
People with high-end cars sometimes think they are being gouged on price simply because they spent more money on their cars. The costs and risks of detailing such cars can be much greater. Replacing a damaged piece of trim on Ferrari or Lamborghini might cost thousands of dollars while similar damage to a Honda or Ford might be $100 For this reason, just the cost of insurance for working on such cars can be significantly more expensive and anyone detailing cars in this segment for production prices is probably not insured and likely not even a registered business. It should be a red flag. (This should be considered when searching for a detailer in any segment.)
Additionally, there are many keywords or phrases that are used to hook uneducated customers. “Hand wax”, “machine polishing”, “high-speed buffing”, and “full detail” are just a few examples that cause confusion. Without additional information those terms mean absolutely nothing. What constitutes a full detail varies widely, not only from segment to segment but also from the detailer to detailer. Some detailers may also offer services in more than one segment. For this reason, it is best to not simply ask “How much do you charge for a full detail?” A production detailer might spend 2 hours on a car and call it a full detail while a high-end detailer might spend 10-20+ hours for what they consider a full detail. Concours level details can exceed 100 hours. It is often necessary to have a conversation with a potential detailer to ensure both you and the detailer have similar expectations.
Written By Chris Chandler owner of Nth Degree Auto Detailing