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Professional detailing can be expensive and cost hundreds of dollars, depending on what kind of service you wish for. Therefore, many people consider detailing their cars themselves to save money. But is DIY detailing actually more affordable than professional detailing?
The average cost for one DIY detail ranges between $5.75 and $33.65 and is much cheaper than the cost for one professional detail, which can range from $50 up to $2,500 or more. High-end detailing that involves paint correction and a ceramic coating should be done by professionals in order to prevent damages to the car.
So, why is DIY detailing so much cheaper than professional detailing? I’ll be covering the main reasons in the following paragraphs.
Costs for professional car detailing
In another post, I explained how much a professional car detailer should charge for their work. This is broken down into three different types of detailing jobs according to the size of the vehicle. Check out this post to learn more. The linked article should provide an extensive overview and might even make you want to start your own detailing business!
The general breakdown is as follows:
These are the prices you can expect to pay if you have your car detailed professionally. As you can see, the range is fairly extensive, ranging from $50 for a basic wash for a regular sized car up to $2,500 for a Deluxe Wash, which includes paint correction and a ceramic coating for a truck or an SUV.
In order to compare professional and DIY detailing, we will need to analyze the cost of DIY detailing for each of the three types of washes. This way you can decide if a professional detail is right for you or if you want to detail your car yourself.
Assumptions and DIY detailing costs
The cost for DIY detailing mostly comes from the materials that are needed. In order to break the cost down to a single wash, I had to make some assumptions about how long the materials will last. You might disagree with my estimations, but let’s assume that they are accurate for now.
In essence, the less shampoo is needed for a single car wash, the longer it lasts and the lower the cost per wash is. The same goes for every other piece of equipment, like wash mitts, buckets, snow foam, etc.
For some products, like car wax, the prices can differ drastically. Some car waxes cost $20 while some others cost up to $250. I chose to focus on the most popular car waxes and take the price range of these for the analysis.
I also chose to focus on products of decent quality. Some prices might seem high, but I do not recommend using cheap materials, so the supplies listed below are those that will do their job well.
Check this table to fully understand the cost breakdown. The first products are definite must-haves, The ones after are nice to have but not essential, while the last products are just for professional use and are not necessary for DIY detailing.
General costs that come with DIY detailing
The above table gives a comprehensive breakdown of material costs for a one-time use, but these are not all the costs associated with DIY detailing.
Another important factor is the cost of the time invested. DIY detailing takes up a lot of your time, as it involves driving to the wash box, cleaning the car yourself, and driving home, not to mention the time required to learn how to properly detail the car in the first place.
It is hard to calculate the cost for time, especially since everyone values their time differently. But no matter how much you think your time is worth in dollars, it is always something to take into consideration when thinking about the cost for DIY detailing.
Additionally, there are also some running costs associated with DIY car detailing. For example, you need to pay for the gas to drive to the wash box and you need money to use the pressure washers and other equipment once there. Given that these costs vary greatly, I decided to neglect them in this breakdown.
Moreover, the more professional you want your detail to be, the more factors that influence the cost will come into play. If you just want to wash your car with a basic car wash, your time and the running costs at the wash box are the main factors.
If you want to perform a deluxe car wash that includes paint correction and ceramic coating, you might have to rent a spot in order to do so. Moreover you will not be able to move your car for a few days, meaning you might have to rent a car or borrow it from somewhere.
Last, but not least, it is important to consider the risk of damaging the car when performing a DIY car detail. A professional detailer is insured against any damages on a client’s car, so if anything happens, there will be no extra cost to you.
If you damage your car while detailing it yourself, however, any repair costs will come out of your own pocket. This can involve anything from polishing paint, to touching up minor chips, to repainting body panels.
To summarize, there are a lot of factors that determine the final cost of DIY car detailing. As there is such a wide variety, and it is impossible to generalize, I decided to only look at the product costs for the three different types of DIY washes. This makes it possible to compare the costs to those of a professional detailing service.
How much a DIY basic car wash costs
As already described in this post here, where I break down how much a professional car detailer should charge, a basic car wash involves a pre-wash, contact wash, drying stage, and protective paint application with a spray sealant. Moreover, a complete interior vacuuming should be performed.
The following products are needed for a DIY basic car wash:
The cost for a DIY basic car wash ranges from $3.28 to $8.22 with an average cost of $5.75.
As said above, this does not include running costs like the money spent to use the pressure washer or the vacuum at a wash box in your area.
Compared to a professional basic car wash, which costs from $50 to $150 depending on size and location, a DIY basic car wash is much cheaper.
A basic car wash also involves next to no risks, if the correct washing technique is used. The worst case scenario is that slight swirl marks could occur in the clear coat, and even this is unlikely to happen if the correct washing technique is used. These swirl marks can even be easily polished away without high costs.
As a summary, a DIY basic car wash is much cheaper than a professional car wash and involves close to no risk of damaging the car. It is highly advisable to wash your car yourself in order to safe a lot of money.
How much a DIY premium car wash costs
A premium car wash involves all the steps taken during a basic car wash, plus some extra steps in order to make the car look even better.
On top of the basic car wash, you want to use a special wheel cleaner in order to get rid of brake dust effectively. Moreover, decontamination with an iron remover and a clay treatment should be involved in this type of detail.
Instead of a spray sealant, a long-lasting and high-quality car wax should be applied in order to protect the paint from scratches, dirt, and UV rays.
If you have leather seats, you want to use a leather cleaner and conditioner for a DIY premium car wash. Combined with regular vacuuming, it will make the interior of the car look brand new again!
The cost for a DIY premium car wash ranges from $9.03 to $17.85, with an average of $13.44.
Compared to a professional premium car wash, which costs anywhere from $150 to $300, the DIY premium car wash is much cheaper.
Just as with the basic car wash, a DIY premium car wash involves a minimal risk of damaging the car. The biggest risk lies in using a cheap clay bar the wrong way. This can lead to serious scratches in the clear coat, resulting in high costs for polishing the car.
Nevertheless, this risk can easily be mitigated by using a high-quality, brand-name clay bar and enough clay lubrication. When claying, there is no such thing as too much lubrication. Just remember this and you are good to go!
As a summary, a DIY premium car wash is much cheaper than a professional detail involving the same exact steps. It is also pretty much risk free, so it is advisable to perform a premium car wash yourself.
How much a DIY deluxe car wash costs
Now, a deluxe car wash is what makes a car spotless and perfect for a photo shoot or exhibition, maybe you just have a very valuable car that you want to keep in the best state possible.
A deluxe car wash or detail consists of all the steps of a premium car detail, plus some more. Paint correction and a ceramic coating are included in the deluxe car wash.
This means that a car wax is no longer necessary, as a much more durable and long-lasting ceramic coating is applied to the paint.
The following products are needed for a deluxe car wash or detail:
A DIY deluxe car detail costs between $26.58 and $40.72 with an average cost of $33.65.
Compared to a profession detail, which ranges from $600 to $2,500, a DIY deluxe detail is far cheaper.
So, clearly you should never get your car detailed by a detailer, as it is much cheaper to detail it yourself… right?
Not exactly. With any type of detail that does not involve polishing, a DIY detail is cheaper and you can perform it yourself easily. As soon as polishing and applying a ceramic coating comes into play, it is a bit different.
These two things require a lot of experience. Otherwise, you might badly damage the car, which can result in expensive repairs. Using the wrong compound, wrong pressure, the wrong pad, or the wrong polishing technique can lead to serious damages to the paint that might require a repaint in the worst case.
The second thing is that ceramic coatings take a long time to harden completely. Ceramic coatings take 24 hours or more before they are fully cured after the application. During this time, the car needs to be parked in a safe and dry environment. This means that you cannot move your car during that time and that you need to have it parked in a garage. This is not easy if you perform this type of detail yourself.
After the initial curing, you need to be careful with your car for another 2-3 weeks before the ceramic coating is cured to its full strength.
If you are confident that you can polish your car without damaging it, go ahead and perform a polish and the application of a ceramic coat yourself. But for most people, I recommend to have this level of detail performed by a professional. It comes with a hefty price tag, but there is no risk of further costs down the road for you.