Finding the Right Car Detailer
Last updated in May 2018
Remember when you bought your car? How you vowed to keep it clean—and even for a while coerced your kids to cooperate with your efforts? (Your no-food-in-the-car rule was so adorable.) Yeah. Now nearly an inch of crumbs coat the floors, and you’re afraid to look under the seats.
Fear not: You can return to your yesteryear of vehicular luxury. For less than $250, a detailing shop can transform your ride, inside and out, leaving it looking used-car-lot new.
Our Ratings Tables show how area customers rated area detailing shops. (To collect these ratings, we regularly survey Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, plus other randomly selected individuals. Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.) While some shops received “superior” ratings for “doing service properly” from more than 90 percent of their surveyed customers, other shops received “superior” ratings from 50 percent or fewer.
Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period and the number of complaints on file with local government consumer protection offices for a recent two-year period.
You can also perform some quality checks on your own—
- Since most detailing tasks are the same for every car, you can get an idea of the quality of a shop’s work by asking to see other customers’ detailed cars. If they look unsatisfactory, ask the shop what it can do to meet your expectations. If your car is in particularly bad shape, ask the shop what problems it can and can’t solve.
- Assess the shop’s cleanliness and orderliness—a messy, unorganized facility may indicate that it does sloppy work.
- Ask whether the shop uses a three-step polishing process—polishing, buffing, and waxing—or the less effective one-step process.
- Ask how the shop cleans carpets. Most shops use hot-water-extraction equipment, which is usually the most effective method; if not, ask it to describe, or show, how it will clean your car’s carpet.
- Ask how quickly the shop can detail your car. A shop that takes only an hour or so probably isn’t providing the same service as shops that take half a day.
- Ask the shop to show you proof that it carries current liability insurance to cover the cost of repairs to your car if it’s damaged while in the shop.
- Make sure the operator of a mobile detailing service is following Environmental Protection Agency rules, which require operators to use a runoff reclamation system. These systems place a mat under the car to capture all water runoff during washing. After washing, the runoff is sucked up from the mat back into the detailer’s water tank.
Because most shops will quote prices for basic detailing jobs over the phone, it’s easy to compare prices. For the shops listed on our Ratings Tables, we’ve done some shopping for you. Our undercover shoppers asked each shop its prices for a basic detailing of two sedans, a minivan, and an SUV; the table below illustrates the range of prices we found. The price comparison scores on our Ratings Tables indicate how each shop’s prices compared to the average prices quoted for the same jobs. For instance, if one shop has a price comparison score of $120, while a second shop has a score of $100, it means the first shop’s quotes were 20 percent higher than the second shop’s.
Our Undercover Shoppers Were Quoted
|Description of job||Low price||Average price||High price|
|Detail a 2013 Volvo S60 four-door
sedan with leather seats
|Detail a 2014 Nissan Quest
minivan with cloth seats
|Detail a 2013 Acura RDX SUV
with leather seats
|Detail a 2014 Honda Accord EX
four-door sedan with cloth seats