Car Detailing Costs: Is It Cheaper To DIY?

Updated: Feb. 02, 2024

Wishing your car had that like-new look? Detailing can give you what you're looking for, but you'll have to decide if you want to DIY or hire a pro.

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Car detailing in general is beneficial when done regularly so your car doesn’t fall into a state of disrepair. Detailing keeps your resale value up, and can even keep you safer. For example, dirty windows and headlights decrease visibility.

If you’re debating whether or not to do it yourself or call on professionals, consider the following pros and cons, which point out that DIY car detailing can cost less, but…

What is Car Detailing?

Car detailing is the process of restoring a car to like-new or better-than-new condition. More than just surface cleaning, the exterior and interior are treated for scratches, chips, cracks, aging and wear as well as washing away dirt, dust and grime.

Car detailing is always done by hand (versus an automated car wash) and the end result is a pristine car that looks like it just rolled off the factory line. Check out these before and after car detailing photos.

Exterior detailing

Car Detailing naruecha jenthaisong/Getty images

Exterior detailing primarily addresses perfecting and protecting the paint — removing scratches, correcting swirls and chips and repairing rust and oxidation. After washing the entire exterior and rinsing with water, the exterior detailing process includes:

  • Paint claying: A clay bar is used on the paint to remove residue leftover from washing.
  • Polishing: Layers of clear coat are removed to get out scratches and swirls.
  • Waxing: Applying a wax coating adds a final shine and layer of protection. You can also upgrade to ceramic coating or PPF (paint protection film) for added armor against elements like UV rays, acid rain, rocks, bugs and bird droppings.

You can also have paint correction done to tackle major imperfections like oxidation and stains. True paint correction utilizes machines or sandpaper and can take extra time on top of the two to four hours it typically takes to detail a car’s exterior.

Other exterior detailing steps are:

Interior detailing

Car detailing studio worker cleaning car interior and car leather seats with a brush.djedzura/Getty Images

Interior detailing typically includes:

How Much Does Professional Car Detailing Cost?

Car detailing costs around $160 on average, according to a 2020 study by Mobile Tech RX. The price varies based on the size and condition of the car. SUVs and vans may cost about $50 more. Professional car detailing companies typically offer different service packages that can range from $20 to $200 or more.

What Are the Benefits of Professional Car Detailing?

  • Professionals save you time. A typical professional car detailing on a well-maintained car takes about two to four hours. That same detailing project could take you at least twice that long if you do it yourself. If you don’t want to leave your car at the detailing shop, some companies will come and detail your car at your home!
  • Professionals save you money on the advanced services that need special detailing tools like paint correction and engine detailing.

How Much Does DIY Car Detailing Cost?

DIY car detailing can cost as little or as much as you’re willing to spend, because there are endless options for the cleaning compounds and tools, like car buffers and upholstery steamers.

For example, a car buffer comes in a wide range of prices from the lower side to the more expensive. An upholstery steamer starts at about $100 (this Bissell best seller is $120). For the interior compounds, cleaners and cloths, a car detailing kit is a convenient way to start, like this kit from Meguiar’s.

Because you can get many uses from the tools and cleaning products, they save money. But it’s up to you to determine how much your time is worth.

What Are the Benefits of DIY Car Detailing?

  • DIY car detailing can save you money if you’re willing to spend the money up front on the supplies.
  • DIY car detailing lets you prioritize the dirtiest parts of your car so you can choose to do a complete or partial detailing. And you can clean up stains and scratches as they happen.