Car Detailing Prices: Is Car Detailing Really Worth It?

detailing a corvette

Are you the kind of car owner who sweats the small stuff? Does your vehicle's appearance and upkeep matter to you? If so, you may have considered car detailing as a way to keep your sweet ride lookin' good.

But how much is too much when it comes to car detail prices? We're here to show you why investing in car detailing can make all the difference - not only for looks but for resale value and more! Check out our guide to learn all about why paying for a car detailing service just might be worth it. (Hint: It's not just because cars that look like they just came off the assembly line are awesome!)

The Skinny on Car Detailing: More than Just a Car Wash

At its core, car detailing involves a vehicle owner or a professional detailer performing a meticulous cleaning, restoration, and finishing of a vehicle. The final product in this process is a stunning, show-quality appearance that'll leave you drooling.

But it's more than just a car wash. Interior and exterior detailing is a comprehensive process that addresses every nook and cranny of your vehicle, from the outer paint to the engine bay.

There are various car detailing services available, each catering to the specific needs of your car and your individual preferences as the vehicle owner. Some of the most common detailing services include:

1. Paint Correction

paint correction as a part of detailing

This process removes defects in a vehicle's paintwork (imagine junk like swirl marks, light scratches, and rust) with the help of polishing compounds and cutting pads. Exterior paint correction protects the vehicle's exterior, upgrades the car's entire appearance, and preserves the vehicle's resale value.

Exterior paint correction protects the vehicle's exterior, upgrades the car's entire appearance, and preserves the vehicle's resale value. It also brings out a vibrant shine and helps the car look like new again.

Here's what one of our Professional Detailers, Jed from BAuhaus says about the process:

Finished up on this wicked ZR1 today. This is a daily driver as well as on the track often Paint Correction then took a bath in Marine Pro +++ Wow! It shines customer was in awe. Thank you Undrog for the amazing products!!

Jed Baus from BAuhaus

ZR1 detailed and coated
ZR1 detailed and coated

Because any deep scratches or chips need to be addressed first to avoid affecting the paint restoration process, and because the paints used by car manufacturers can vary greatly in terms of hardness and durability, paint correction is often best left to experienced professionals.

After identifying the areas on your car that need to be repaired, a detailer starts by applying a mild compound to soften up any rust or contaminants (i.e., junk) on the surface of your car's paint job.

After this liquid magic has done its work, a detailing professional will use increasingly finer-grade abrasives and polishes to remove any surface defects and leave your car with a nice, glossy finish. Depending on how beat-up your ride is, this step could take anywhere from a few hours to several days.

2. Fabric and Leather Cleaning

fabric and leather cleaning - car detailing

The interior of a car can easily become dirty and stained, and this is where professional car detailing businesses come in clutch. Among other things, car detailers specialize in the deep cleaning of the interior of all kinds of vehicles, using a variety of techniques to restore carpets, upholstery, and leather surfaces to their former glory.

Whether your vehicle's interior upholstery is made of fabric or leather (Corinthian or otherwise), professional detailing can help maintain its primo condition. This process includes vacuuming the seats, using professional-grade cleaning agents to remove stains, and applying protective coatings to guard against future damage.

To properly clean fabric, professional detailers often use hot-water extraction or steam-cleaning systems that are designed to remove dirt, oils, and other debris without discoloring or damaging the fabric. In addition to deep cleaning, the best car detailers also offer fabric protection treatments that help protect against stains caused by spills or accidental messes.

Leather upholstery requires a different approach than fabric. Professional car detailers typically apply a special cleaner that will safely penetrate the leather fibers without causing any staining or damage. After allowing it time to work its magic, the cleaner is then thoroughly rinsed off with clean water.

Detailers may also choose to condition the leather after cleaning as an extra measure of protection against cracking, fading, and drying out over time due to exposure to sunlight and other elements.

Finally, professional car detailing businesses may offer additional services such as odor removal treatments that can help eliminate odors caused by smoking or pets. All of these services play an important role in restoring your vehicle’s interior to its original condition.

3. Engine Cleaning

engine detailing

Car detailing businesses also offer professional engine cleaning services to keep your vehicle running smoothly and looking great. Professional detailers specialize in deep cleaning engines by removing dirt, grease, grime, and other contaminants that can affect your vehicle's performance.

In fact, a thorough engine cleaning can help improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and reduce the risk of vehicle breakdowns. This is because a clean engine not only looks better under the hood but can also help prevent costly repairs in the long run. Mechanics can more easily spot and fix possible problems when your car's engine is free of dirt, grime, and gunk.

A thorough engine cleaning typically involves degreasing the engine bay, removing built-up dirt, and (you guessed it) applying a protective coating to prevent future buildup.

Detailers use specialized equipment to get into all the hard-to-reach areas of an engine and remove built-up residue. They use a variety of tools such as brushes, air hoses, pressure washers, and steam cleaners to make sure every nook and cranny is cleaned properly. The process also includes wiping down exterior surfaces to keep them looking shiny and new.

Leaving this part of the detailing process in the hands of experts can prevent costly repairs and parts replacements that could be caused by a DIYer using the wrong technique or too much pressure on your engine's more sensitive components.

Since regular engine cleaning involves different levels of cleaning pressure applied to various complex components of your vehicle, from fuel pumps to spark plugs, it's best done by experienced detailing professionals.

4. Glass and Chrome Treatment

glass and chrome detailing - old ford mustang

Never to be overlooked, glass and chrome detailing treatments are designed to provide a high-quality glass cleaner and a long-lasting protective layer for both glass windows and mirrors, as well as metal components on your car such as grills or bumpers.

The coatings are usually applied with an aerosol sprayer or roller applicator, ensuring even coverage over all areas. Once dry, this protective coating helps resist dirt build-up by repelling water droplets so that they roll off instead of sticking around on the surface (the fancy word for that is "hydrophobic").

Apart from preventing dirt and water build-up, these protective coatings make it much easier for you to maintain the shine in your car’s glass and chrome components by reducing the need for frequent cleaning sessions.

5. Paint Protection

paint protection with a protective coating

One of the most valuable services that a professional car detailer can offer is paint protection. This all-important process involves applying special coatings that help protect your vehicle's paint job from damage caused by UV rays (i.e., that inescapable sunlight), dirt, dust, salt water, and more.

Auto detailing businesses have access to a variety of pro-grade products designed specifically for protecting automotive paint finishes. These can include waxes and sealants that form an invisible barrier on the surface of the paintwork.

Depending on the quality level of the coating that you or your detailer uses, it could last anywhere from several months up to five years before needing reapplication. With these protective coatings in place and applied by a skilled hand, your car can maintain its beautiful finish for years to come!

Why Bother with Car Detailing in the First Place?

Although many car owners are tempted to skip detailing in favor of simpler, cheaper services like the local car wash, there are plenty of convincing reasons to invest in regular car detailing.

Appearance and Safety

Muddy windshield with obscured visibility

For starters, detailing work protects and maintains your ride's appearance. By going beyond the superficial clean you get from a car wash, car detailing involves not just exterior issues but also cleaning and caring for the interior of your vehicle.

Upholstery and carpets are cleaned and treated, while the engine bay and undercarriage are carefully inspected and cleaned as necessary. This results in a car that looks immaculate and functions at its best.

On that note, car detailing can also lend you a hand in improving safety. In other words, a clean car isn't just for vanity – it's also a road safety concern.

Clean headlights keep things bright at night, making sure you have enough visibility to stay safe on the road during the night or while driving in foggy conditions. Having crystal-clear windows and windshields will also give you a clear view when you're hitting the highway.

Next, a complete exterior detail helps preserve your paint condition. One of the biggest issues affecting a car's resale value is its paintwork. Thanks to sunlight exposure, airborne dirt, and debris that builds up over time, your car's paint job is also one of the toughest things to keep looking good on your vehicle.

Professional car detailing, especially paint protection in the form of a protective coating, helps to create a strong barrier between your car's paint and the elements. This helps keep it safe against potential damage, from ugly scratches to faded paint.

Resale Value and Health

classic cars in a showroom

Besides restoring the paint, having a professionally detailed car will also boost your vehicle's resale value by making it more attractive to potential buyers. When it comes time to sell or trade in your vehicle, car detailing can help you command a higher price.

Finally (and this last one may surprise you), getting your car detailed may actually help your health! Having your car receive a complete interior detail on the reg can reduce allergens and bacteria that build up in your car's air vents, upholstery, and carpets like so many unwelcome dust bunnies.

By keeping your car sanitized and spick and span, you're creating a healthier environment for yourself and your passengers alike.

Why Do They Charge So Much to Wipe Down My Ride?


Now, you may be thinking, "That's cool and all, but how much does it cost to clean out my car, and why is that price tag too big for my liking?" Before you dismiss car detailing entirely, you should remember a couple of factors.

Car detailing services and materials don't cost the same everywhere, and knowing a bit about why detailers and suppliers charge what they do could give you a leg-up in making the right call for your vehicle.

Let's break down some of the critical factors that decide how much it costs to detail your vehicle.

1. How Big Is Your Barge?

large suv detailing

One of the most important factors affecting how much car detailing is going to run you is the size of your vehicle. Larger vehicles like SUVs, trucks, and minivans usually require more time and elbow grease to detail compared to compact sedans and hatchbacks. In other words, your old beater of a Grand Am is gonna cost less to detail than your lifted Silverado.

2. How Trashed Is Your Ride?

detailing price very dirty enterior

Your wallet could end up taking a bigger hit depending on the status of your car when you bring it in. After all, a full-bore paint correction, engine cleaning, and an extensive protective coating are all going to cost more than a simple clean, buff, and polish.

3. What's Your 20?

The car detailing cost for your vehicle can also vary based on your geographic location (more on that in a sec). Labor costs and overhead expenses tend to be higher in urban areas, which may lead to higher costs for auto detailing.

On top of that, different states and cities often have varying taxes or fees that add to the overall price of car detailing services.

4. Who Do You Trust With Your Car?

reliable car detailing service

It's only to be expected that a more skilled and experienced detailer is going to charge more for his services. In that case, you're paying for his expertise, years of experience, and (hopefully) his charming customer service attitude. In the end, you're probably going to pay a top-rated detailer more so that you can receive higher-quality work.

Of course, any car guy will tell you that a detailer who really knows his stuff is worth his weight in gold. Getting your car treated right by a truly skilled detailer can give you longer-lasting results and better protection for your vehicle.

What If I Just Do It Myself?

If you trust yourself enough to go the DIY route, then go for it! Just remember that, in that case, your detailing costs are gonna be wrapped up in purchasing the initial materials, investing your own time and sweat into the detailing work, and buying new supplies as needed.

Whether or not that investment is worth the tradeoff is up to you, but we'll be the last ones to say you should never try cleaning and detailing your ride by yourself.

Dude, It's All About Location, Location, Location

As we said before, the costs associated with professional car detailing services tend to vary by region. There are a few solid reasons for this difference, including the cost of living, competition among detailing businesses, and local consumer demand for protective exterior coatings.

1. Cost of Living

detailing prices expensive location

There's a reason that the average Big Mac in Los Angeles costs a buck and some change more than the same sandwich in Jackson, Mississippi: different costs of living. The same principle also affects prices in the car detailing business.

In areas with a higher cost of living, such as major cities like New York City or San Francisco, car detailing businesses may need to charge more for their services just to stay operational and cover their higher operating costs.

2. Competition Among Detailing Businesses

Having a bunch of car detailing businesses crunched together in a single area can also make a big difference when it comes to prices. In regions with a high concentration of detailing businesses, competition to attract customers can lead to more competitive pricing on services like protective coatings.

On the other hand, businesses in areas with fewer auto detailers can be a bit choosier when it comes to charging higher prices for their services.

3. Local Consumer Demand for Protective Coatings

Regional differences in pricing are also affected by how many drivers are clamoring for the pro-grade stuff. In areas where owners place a higher value on how slick their ride looks or where the climate calls for more frequent vehicle maintenance (we're looking at you, Minnesota winters!), increased demand often allows businesses to charge higher fees for their exterior coating services.

superior protective coatings - undrdog

Regional differences in pricing are also affected by how many drivers are clamoring for the pro-grade stuff. In areas where owners place a higher value on how slick their ride looks or where the climate calls for more frequent vehicle maintenance (we're looking at you, Minnesota winters!), increased demand often allows businesses to charge higher fees for their exterior coating services.

To show you just what we're talking about, let's take a look at three different examples across the United States:

New York City, NY

detailign prices in new york city

In New York City, where the cost of living is notoriously high, car detailing services can be out-of-control expensive. (After all, this is the town with a restaurant that sells a grilled cheese sandwich for over $200.)

There is a large and dense population of car owners in the city, resulting in intense competition among local auto detailers. This competition, combined with high overhead costs, means that car detailing services are priced to reflect the local market. A typical car detailing package in New York City can cost anywhere from $50 to $300, with the average job falling at around $150.

Houston, TX

detailing prices in houston

Despite being a major city, Houston, Texas, has a lower cost of living compared to New York City. This generally results in more affordable car detailing services. Of course, the region's climate, which is filled with hot and humid summers, may lead to an increased demand for protective coating services to protect vehicles from the harsh sun.

A typical car detailing package in Houston can range from $108.40 to $227.60, with the average job costing about $160.60. That average cost happens to be just a couple of quarters more than the nationwide average for the cost of a car detailing job.

Seattle, WA

detailing prices in seattle

Seattle, Washington is known for its rainy and wet climate, which can make car owners extra vigilant about protecting their rides from the elements. A typical car detailing job in Seattle is generally more moderate than in New York City, but still higher than in Houston on the low end.

Specifically, a normal car detailing package in Washington can cost between $131.50 to $209. However, the average job goes for about $166.50. 

Weighing in With an Expert Opinion: Is Car Detailing Worth the Cost?

is detailing worth the cost

Before we sign off, let's hit some of the fast facts we covered in our guide:

• Aesthetically, car detailing ensures your vehicle looks immaculate and well-maintained

• From a protection standpoint, services such as paint correction and the application of protective exterior coatings, safeguard your car's paint from damage caused by environmental factors

• When it comes to resale value, a well-detailed vehicle can command a higher price.

Although auto detailing services might seem expensive at first glance, it’s up to you to weigh these costs against their long-term benefits. Regular detailing by either yourself or a professional can extend your vehicle's lifespan, save you money on maintenance, and protect the investment that your car represents.

In our expert opinion, car detailing is worth the expense for the average vehicle owner. When you're using affordable, professional-grade cleaning and coating materials, the long-term benefits simply outweigh the initial costs. People spend a lot of money on their vehicles. In fact, on average, an Americanspends around 16% of their total budget on transportation.

Remember, a clean and well-maintained car is more than just vanity—it's an investment in your vehicle's health, safety, and future value.

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