Monday, 2 August 2010

Becoming a Professional Detailer

Article Revisions / Updates

The advent of new materials like detailing clay, micro fibre, polymer coating, nano-particle technologies and new micro abrasives are examples of why it’s so important to monitor the industries new products, chemical technologies and ideas that are constantly being introduced, as are the techniques for applying them, hence all of the in-depth articles will be up-dated and revised on a regular basis

Although there is no such thing as perfection; if we work towards perfection hopefully we can achieve excellence - Anon

Before the late ‘60s most major car dealerships had a staff of trained professional detailers. The economic downturn has forced many dealerships to eliminate their detailing staff and hire junior staff to wash and polish vehicles or contract the service out to the lowest bidder.

Becoming a Professional Detailer

Takes knowledge of the materials used; experience to both see defects and using methods that succeed in removing them, plus talent and skill in using the correct tools; and most importantly an "attention to detail"


Is an essential part in the maintaining the appearance of a vehicle. The objective when detailing a vehicle is to make a vehicle look as good as it can. In many cases make it look better than it was when new. Detailing can take a lot of time, but the results are always worth the effort.

[Attending to the area’s most people will not see] Auto Concierge Proper detailing will also protect a vehicle from environmental hazards that can rob life away from your vehicle. In order to attain and maintain an optically perfect shine, you must protect it from natural deterioration and dullness that occurs over time.

Many people seem to think that being a professional detailer must be the coolest job ever, and in some ways it is. Working on both everyday driver vehicles and amazing exotic cars day in day out and doing something you love to do for a living is pretty awesome, but there is also a harsh reality to being a detailer that you should be clear about from the very beginning. If you think that detailing is just a job think again, because it isn’t. It’s more like a lifestyle choice, and the spirit of what it involves will need to run deep in your veins if you are to succeed and thrive as a detailer. If you know deep inside that you will work as hard as it takes no matter what, and that paying attention to minute details appeals to you even though it will be extremely challenging then this type of commitment will help you to succeed

A detailer combines chemicals, equipment as well as knowledge of the materials used in automotive manufacturing (vehicle surfaces). ‘Chemicals’, refers to the cleaning and protection products used, ‘equipment,’ refers to the tools used, for example, random orbital polishers, high-speed rotary polishers, extractors and power washers, to name but a few. Vehicle surfaces require a basic understanding of chemistry and how to rejuvenate and protect each of the many and varied material surfaces, regardless of its specific surface composition making objective observations based upon experience, the results obtained, and adjusting the techniques and products used as necessary.

It requires -

• Knowledge of paint technology and the differences between single stage and multiple stage paint

• Knowledge of clear coats and their reactions to different types of compounds and polishes

• Ability to appropriately choose proper equipment, pads, and match chemicals to different materials

• Knowledge of various types of fabrics, carbon fibre, leathers and other very difficult surfaces

Will a full professional detail increase the resale value?

Go to Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds and check out the difference in the trade-in and resale values of an Excellent condition versus Good or Fair condition; it’s usually several hundred, if not thousands of dollars.

Choosing and trusting a professional auto detailer can be a tough decision; when you look for a detailer you want a person you can trust with your vehicle, one with experience, knowledge and specialized training, one who provides the best possible workmanship and products for a fair price.

It is said that the highest art is simplicity; usually experts in their field make what they do look simple, this is due to their technique and extensive experience

For many, the thought of spending over $300 for cleaning and applying protection to - $450 - 1000 plus for pint surface correction / renovation seems faintly ludicrous, especially when an automatic car-wash charges less than $30, and there are many products available from high street retailers that claim to shine your car to perfection. The reality is that to detail a vehicle correctly takes time (typically 6-8 hours) and the better detailing products are not usually available at a local auto superstore. Professionalism and the overall customer experience are also very important...

There no standard of what a detail consists of in this industry; detailers from different locations charge a wide spectrum of fees depending on their experience, geographical location, scope of work (i.e. their interpretation of what a detail should consist of) and the type of products used and cars they're working on.

It is in your best interests to ask question about what actual work is involved. The most significant costs involved are labour; products are not a huge component of a details cost, although using premium car care products will make some difference to a details quality. Things like detailer's experience, marketing the company, insurance; taxes, overheads, etc. will be the larger factors in a price of a detail. Even if you're not that astute about detailing, if you ask questions on the process common sense will enable you to make an informed decision

Paint Renovation

I would also add that paint renovation (the removal of serious paint surface scratches is normally charged on an hourly rate, an experienced paint renovation detailer will have a good idea of how long this should take, so do ask for an estimated time and cost before giving the go-ahead as this could cost between $450 - 1000.

Selecting a Professional Detailer

If you are considering having someone detail your car, I would urge you to use the same judgement you would in any other area of your car's maintenance, and treat with suspicion anybody offering a really low price. It may well be in your best interest to talk to a detailer who has proven track record of satisfied customers as well as the relevant insurances, and someone offering a lower quote might not.

Request a reputable detailer’s name (s) on one of the detailing forums. Once you’ve selected a detailer be specific about what services you require (i.e. full vehicle detail, exterior paint renovation, interior detailing, etc) It requires an exchange of information between the consumer and the shop so that the extent of each detail and the estimated cost, a vehicle drop-off and collection time are clearly established before work commences.

A successful outcome will rely on good communication between you and the chosen professional. You want someone that makes you feel at ease with the process, someone that you can easily trust. They should be able to answer your questions in simple easy to understand terms, not techno speak, so that you understand what needs to be done, and the benefits. Listen to their suggestions. The more that things can be explained and agreed upon, the more at ease that they can make you feel, and the more confident that you can be in their ability to meet or exceed your expectations.

An accurate estimate can only be given when the professional is able to see the vehicle and ascertain your expectations, a phone-quote can only be a ball-park figure. Many professionals will need 10+ hours of work to transform your vehicle back to like-new condition

Some things you may want to consider

• Professional Detailer should have been in (full-time) business for at least one year

• Should have business licensed and be state registered

• Ensure they have adequate insurance cover (including Public Liability) and that they are a registered business

• Obtain (telephone number) references from three recent clients and check them

• How long they have been in business

• Check with the local Better Business Bureau

• Ask them where they received their training and what products they use.

• Ask the prospective detailer for photographs of vehicles they have done recently (most detailers have a portfolio)

• Ask them their detailing ‘steps’ this will indicate exactly what you are paying for

• Ask them what detailing products they use (known brand names are preferable)

• Do they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee?

• Do they take major credit cards and / or Pay Pal?

• Discuss a price and if satisfied set-up an appointment

• If they quote a very low price it could reflect the quality of service offered.

After Care

Ask them for tips on avoiding scratches by proper washing and drying techniques and any other tips they can give to maintain the finish on your vehicle. Client education in the aesthetic care of their vehicle should be equally as important as the detailing. The most common cause of surface scratches is washing the car improperly, or using unsuitable washing media, so I would suggest they explain or demonstrate the correct vehicle paint washing technique.

Setting a Price

Setting a price should be fairly simple, materials used plus, a percentage % of (b) items 1 -6, plus Labour costs, plus profit margin

Costs (any cost that is incurred by carrying out business)

a) Materials used (car care products) + expendables (i.e. micro fibre towels, latex gloves, etc) + depreciation on tools (machine polisher, pads, vacuum, power washer, etc)

b) Overhead Costs

1. Tools

2. Water

3. Electricity

4. Rent or Lease

5. Insurance, business licence, etc

6. Marketing

c) Labour

Estimated time x hourly rate

d) Profit Margin

Percentage profit that you expect to make

Detailing Pricing Guide

As with most other things, the price of automotive detailing varies by quite a wide margin. Many more people are concerned with perceived value (a cheap price) as opposed to quality; the secret is to sell quality over price, while keeping in mind client needs. The cost of having a professional perform a detailing job on your vehicle will vary by geographical region, the experience and reputation of the detailer, and the condition of your vehicle, and your expectations of the finished detail, among other factors. Most detailers will offer a specified package of services that are included in their standard prices, and generally will provide additional services on request for an additional fee.

Check to see what your direct competition is charging. This is far more relevant than what others are charging hundreds of miles away in an entirely different demographic. What people will pay you in your market depends on the demographics in your area, i.e. amount of disposal income, types of automobiles, area house pricing, if local people consider their time valuable and are prepared to pay for a professional detail as opposed to DIY, as well as your reputation.

It takes us about 8-10 hours to do a 1-2 step paint detail ($45-60 per hour) so depending on location / skill level / /reputation, to transform your vehicle back to ‘like-new condition’. A Professional using high quality products may spend over $40 in product use alone; so expect to pay a fair price for the amount of work involved.

Charging by the hour will scare away clients in most cases as they want to know what it’s going to cost before they will allow you to start, so a fairly accurate estimate will ease their mind, even if it’s a ‘between X and Y type estimate. With enough experience you’ll find your estimates become more accurate.

Exterior (8 hours)

• Wash and dry exterior paint – 1.5

• Detailer’s clay – 1.0

• Tyres and Wheel surfaces – 0.5

• Clean exterior glass – 0.5

• Clean and lightly polish paint – 1.5

• Wax or seal paint -1.0

• Clean and protect rubber seals – 0.5

• Exhaust, tyres and trim etc 1.5 hour

Interior (4.5 hours)

• Brush and Vacuum carpets – 0.5

• Shampoo mats – 0.5

• Shampoo / extract carpet – 1.0

• Clean upholstery – 1.0

• Apply protection to vinyl and leather – 0.5

• Clean interior glass -0.5

• Deodorize interior - 10 min

• Protect carpet and upholstery – 0.5

This level of detail on an average sized and condition vehicle would take approx 13 hours, a larger vehicle will obviously take more time, most professional detailers will charge between $400 and $550 to do this level of work. Depending on location / skill level / /reputation, to transform a vehicle back to ‘like-new condition’. A Professional using high quality products may spend over $20 - 30 in product use alone; so expect to pay a fair price for the amount of work involved.

Surface preparation for polish / compounding

• Wash 1 – 1.5 hours

• Paint surface decontamination 2 -2.5 hours

• Detailer’s clay 1.5 hours

• Rinse and dry surface 2 -2.5

Paint correction details- as a basic guide for each stage

• Test panel – 2-3 hours

• Wet-sanding 3 – 4 hours per panel

• Compound 8 – 10 hours

• Polishing 10 – 12 hours per stage

• Wipe down process 2 -3 hours

• Finishing 8 – 10 hours

Multiply hours by hourly rate, plus materials, plus overhead

Typical detailing and additional services charge as follows:

• Interior vacuum and hand wash $30 - $50

• Full detail, $450 - $650 (excluding major paint correction)

• Engine detail, $50- $75

• Pant decontamination $ 200

• Windshield polishing $50-$75

• Paint touch-up, $50 minor - $200 major

• Headlight restoration $45- $85

• Paint overspray or cement splatter removal, $250

• Black trim restoration, $50 - $150

• AC system cleaning and cabin air filter replacement, $100-$125

• Carpet dyeing, $100 - $250

• Windshield repair, $50 - $100

• Paintless dent repair (PDR) $55 - $125 per dent

• Wheel surface (cosmetic damage) repair / repaint- $125 per wheel

These added-value services will enhance your reputation if you’re able to fix these types of aesthetic problems and become the source for high quality work.

The above (US $) figures are only estimated costs and should be used for guidance only as they will vary by location and size and condition of vehicle

Price Reduction

Reducing price obviously means a reduction in profit, although reducing introductory prices is a different strategy, which hopefully will bring future profit.

When business is slow, especially when an economy is in recession, there is great temptation to reduce your price. Price reduction as a way to deal with a credit crunch and / or a slow economy is a myth, albeit a dangerous one.

Your clients will receive the message that you are desperate for work and it also set a precedent and devalues your perceived service. Once customers start shopping for price as opposed to service, and once you’ve offered a price reduction it’s very difficult to recover from and raise prices when the economy improves Focus on value and the service offered and never apologise for your price.

Other resources –

Pricing — Overcoming Objections, by Jordache Perozzo -

Chris Cardell - -newsletters

RV Detailing

Providing service for RVs is a way to increase your profits without a large investment in new equipment and chemicals. There is a large population of private RV owners who are willing to purchase the services to keep their coaches looking great. With some marketing to different RV service providers and your current customer base, along with the right pricing structure and a commitment to quality service, you can take advantage of this profitable business. Pricing formula –RV length / 2 x hourly rate; adjusted for age and condition of the coach

Becoming a High-end Professional Detailer

Advanced detailing; comes about when someone becomes so in tune with their craft it becomes art.Customers in this type of niche market will have their vehicles detailed on a fairly regular basis, especially during the concourse show season. Building long lasting customer relationships should be your main goal, ideally you want to establish a customer base that uses you not only for the major concourse details, but also for maintaining their vehicles on a weekly to monthly basis.

What is the best demographic to cater to as a detailer? If you live in an area where there are people with prestige cars and high disposable incomes, the sky is the limit.

I would strongly recommend that you learn the most you can from Internet detailing forums you’ll find a wealth of knowledge from people who have experience of most if not all of the problems you’re likely to encounter as well as the existing high end detailers who contribute and are making a lucrative living with this type of detailing.

As an experienced concourse detailer you need to know how to tackle any detailing problem, including paint and interior renovation / restoration that comes along, although it is impossible to prepare for every situation possible, the more knowledgeable you are, the more valuable you become, and hence the more you can charge for your services.

With a well thought out business and a solid marketing plan, a good work ethics, quality tools, products and workmanship, along with outstanding customer service, knowledge and experience of products and the tools of your trade you'll be on your way to achieving success. (See also “What detailers should know and the skills required”)

Show Car Photography

• Take photographs when the sun is setting

• Use digital a photograph in an editing software picture editing program (i.e. Paint Shop Professional X1) you can also adjust contrast, and white balance from the camera

• Open the digital photos in a picture editing software program (i.e. Paint Shop Pro XI) and use the tools to "sharpen" the image.

End result is a better, more finely tuned picture.

Does the camera ever lie? - Photographs can now be digitally altered to tell an entirely different story. In the age of the airbrush, can we ever really believe our eyes? Software like Photoshop CS5 Content Aware is a simple and easy program that allows users to fill in parts of the photo that are not desirable and allows easy manipulation of images, but just be careful what claims you make for a product with ‘enhanced’ photographs (i.e.’ Truth in Advertising’ as a professional detailer you will be expected to replicate this in your work)

Very subtle differences in shadowing are often a give-away. Identifying exactly where the shadows fall on an image reveals where the light source must have been to have created that shade. Re-touching: sharpening blurred or under lit detail, but proportions of basic colours in sequences of pixels are often not balanced after a re-touch.

Lighting: By analysing all shadows in an image, scientists can tell whether a shot had a single light source.RAW pictures; uploading jpeg images to a computer allows its hard drive, which is much bigger than the camera’s, so that you can manipulate the picture on a computer, which is not possible on a camera that simply records .jpeg images.

Is this then cheating? Liken it to the ‘air-brushed’ photographs of fashion models or celebrities, it has very little to do with reality, you are creating an illusion that people ‘want’ to believe.

Information resource

1. Automotive Detailing Inside & Out; a Knowledge Base for the Perfectionist, by Jon Miller

2. TOGWT™ Series of Detailing Articles, by Jon Miller

Detailing Articles

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