Almost all cars collect blemishes and defects as they age. These keep them looking perfect. Car detailing is the process of making automobiles look their best by cleaning every inch and bringing out their shine.

What is Car Detailing?

For the inexperienced consumer, car detailing sounds like a simple process of cleaning and waxing. This is a myth. Car detailing requires cleaning of the whole car, its interior and exterior and top and bottom. The purpose is to make the car look good and last longer. Detailing involves taking care of the little things and the tiniest details that if neglected, can turn into serious eyesores.

Some of the blemishes that are often overlooked in a simple car wash include grease buildup around the windows, doors, antenna, and the trims. Another significant difference you’ll see in cars that went through proper detailing is the paint. It’s smoother, glossier, and doesn’t have any signs of scratches and swirls.

The most common car exterior detailing services include:

  • Wash and Dry – The first step in exterior detailing starts with a high-power wash, followed by handwashing, and ends with drying.
  • Clay – Clay work requires the use of a clay bar that eradicates any tinge of soap residue, watermarks, and other particles.
  • Polish – Cars often lose their shine as they age. Their original paint coating can be restored through the polishing stage.
  • Seal – To render the car a glossy look, a sealant is applied to the car’s interior. Sometimes detailers also apply wax for added shine.

That’s what you see on the outside. But what about the inside? Simple car washing won’t take care of soiled carpets and bad odors. Car detailers have steam cleaners, brushes, and vacuums to perform a deep clean that car wash shops and car owners can’t do on their own.

The most common interior car detailing services include:

  • Vacuuming – This is the first step in interior car detailing. The glove compartment, the trunk, and all parts of the car receive proper vacuuming.
  • Brushing/Scrubbing/Shampooing – The mats and carpet upholstery requires a thorough brushing and scrubbing to remove deep-seated stains that regular wash can’t remove.
  • Wiping – Wiping is done using a cleaning agent that adds shine to windows, door panels, and the dashboard.
  • Deodorizing – As a finishing touch, you get to choose a scent that the detailer will spray to make sure you drive away with a car that smells good from the inside.

Car detailing can better be appreciated when looking a clean and a dirty car side by side. There are countless cars on the road these days and half of them need some good detailing.

The Importance of Regular Car Detailing

There are personal reasons for detailing a car. You feel better when you drive a perfectly clean car. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Ferrari or a Honda, a regularly detailed car will feel like magic.

In a more practical standpoint, a well-detailed car lasts longer than one that’s been neglected. It’s a fact that dirt is your car’s archenemy. The engine, transmission, and all other interior and exterior parts can be ruined by dirt. The only way to protect your car is by removing the dirt right away, which is what car detailing is all about.

A thoroughly clean car also protects you. Germs and allergens can thrive in your car. In fact, it can be a breeding ground for Staphylococcus, Bacillus cereus, and E Coli, according to microbiologists at the Nottingham University. They circulate in your vehicle and cause nausea, skin disorders, and other infections. Through vacuuming and sterile wipes, these bacteria can be eradicated.

Cars are not cheap. They’re an investment that you need to take care of, so they last for years. While some cars may be worth more after years of use, any car can become more valuable if it’s properly maintained. Your car is an investment and you need to minimize your losses once you need to sell it. The time and money spent on car detailing pays off because your car will have a higher resale value and therefore you lose less money. Your car will also sell faster if it’s squeaky clean and in good condition. Resale value is, therefore, another benefit of car detailing.

Why Car Detailing is Getting More Popular

Car detailing used to be a car care service done for auto dealers. It’s necessary to get used cars ready for resale. It used to be a sneaky operation with little to no professionalism in terms of the facility, people, and technology used. Its sole purpose what to sell cars and the auto dealer preferred the cheapest price and fastest turnaround.

When the rise in car prices and financing terms began in the late 1970s, Americans were paying more for their cars and keeping them longer. They realized that their vehicles are substantial investments, coming in second to their houses.
Soon, the number of women in the workforce soared and families had more disposable income but were strapped for time. They began seeking others to cut their lawns, clean their homes, and waxing their cars.

Car detailing used to be unknown. Car owners knew they wanted someone to polish their cars, but they didn’t know what the service is called. They went to auto dealers and gas stations but were rebuked because even those businesses were looking for such services as well. When the requests became more persistent, entrepreneurs saw a potential. Thus, began the car detailing business.

The car detailing industry has seen remarkable growth in the past few years and it’s projected to grow even more in the future. There are many reasons for its increasing popularity. The most significant are:
Demand for Vehicles

Americans held on to their old vehicles since the 2008 economic recession. Upon the improvement of consumer confidence in the economy, new vehicle sales rose to a staggering rate. This is mainly due to the many years of suppressed demand for vehicles. Light vehicle registration amounted to 17 million in 2016, which is 183,000 more than the previous year.

As of January 2017, the number of vehicles on the streets of America was 278.6 million, 2.4% more than the previous year. The number of car units should reach 284 million by 2020. CNBC suggests that this increasing demand for cars will continue at least until 2035. This trend in the demand for cars in America bodes well for the auto detailing industry.

Environmental Awareness

Home car washing has become a ritual for some households. Increasing environmental awareness regarding pollution and high water consumption involved in this practice, however, drove consumers to opt for professional car washing and detailing.

Eco-friendly detailing is one of the most significant innovation the car detailing industry in the past ten years. This includes waterless washing products which became popular in the 1990s. While it’s still being used today, most operators still prefer the use of water. They, however, follow environmental regulations that are focused on water conservation.

Other environmental benefits of professional car detailing include the use of allergy-free chemicals and natural cleaning products. Using vapor steamers, bacteria and hard stains are eliminated.

Increase in Income

U.S. car sales in September were highest in 12 years

Cars are a necessity in a world of unlimited opportunity. Mobility is an emblem of prosperity and well-being. It has become not only a means but also a goal. Americans spend a great part of their income in buying and maintaining their car. It is, in fact, their most expensive investment, next to their house. In fact, personal vehicles account for 92% of total transportation expenditures, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In fact, U.S. car sales in September were highest in 12 years at 18.57 million units, Reuters reports.

The average American household spends 93.6% of its transportation budget to purchasing, operating, and maintaining private vehicles. Transportation expenditures, however, vary according to household characteristics. Rural households spend more on transportation than urban households.

A change in disposable income affects the demand for cars. Households tend to adjust their budgets for other leisure products before they decide to reduce spending on transportation. It, however, only comes fourth in the Personal Consumption Expenditures next to healthcare, housing, and food.

The increase in disposable income also increases the proclivity for people to purchase premium items and expensive goods in greater quantities. Hence, Americans tend to avail of more expensive car maintenance services, including car detailing.

Disposable personal income in the United States has increased by 0.4%

Disposable personal income in the United States has increased by 0.4% in September 2017, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Preference for Used Car

Americans made up 48% of the global used car market last year. This is projected to continue through 2021. This increasing demand will lead to a hike in the price of such vehicles, making used car dealership a lucrative and attractive business opportunity.

Used car dealers will naturally want to boost the value of their car and that’s where car detailing comes in. Similarly, those who purchase pre-owned cars will want a good detailing job done just to be safe.

Drop in Oil Prices

Light vehicle sales between 2014 and 2021 are expected to increase by 33%

The automotive industry reaps considerable benefits from plunging oil prices. Light vehicle sales between 2014 and 2021 are expected to increase by 33% higher than the previous eight-year period, according to IHS Automotive. Lower oil prices augment this potential for growth.

Additionally, low oil prices entice car owners to drive more miles and use their vehicles more often. This increases the possibility of wear and tear, thus increasing demand for car detailing.

Low oil prices also mean more disposable income for automobile owners which they can use for other purchases. Owners may either decide to use the extra money they saved to buy a new vehicle or to try to stretch out the lifetime of their existing vehicle through car detailing. Either way, it’s a clear win for the car detailing industry.

Development of Luxury Cars

the rich-poor gap also ballooned

While disposable income soared, the rich-poor gap also ballooned by up to $189,600 in 2015 from $29,200 in 2010, according to Bloomberg. The billionaire’s club has expanded, and sales of their favorite toys have also skyrocketed.

The US accounted for 30% of the total 28, 500 units sold

Luxury cars are an unavoidable status symbol for the mega-rich, especially the Americans. The US accounted for 30% of the total 28, 500 units sold worldwide, according to Statista. These people find it necessary to have their cars fully detailed to preserve their beauty and lengthen their lifespan. Some car detailers even serve as advisors to luxury car owners as these complex cars require professional skills for proper maintenance.

Car detailing companies may experience dry spells, especially during the rainy season when demand decreases. The more affluent customers who drive luxury cars, however, are willing to pay a generous price for a professional car detailing job. One customer’s business can cost more than a thousand dollars, assuring the company’s survival for another month.

Current Industry Performance

The American economy has created millions of jobs since the Great Recession ended. Unemployment fell below 5% from 10% in 2009. Businesses, including those in the car detailing industry, reaped the benefits. They have seen substantial growth over the past five years.

The car detailing industry is expected to show strong gains over the next five years to 2022 due to the rising disposable income, drop in oil prices, the rise in used car sales, and popularity of luxury cars. By offering more innovative, specialized, and premium services, car detailing companies took advantage of car owners’ need to take care of their vehicles.

In addition, rising car ownership in the United States led to an overall higher demand for after-sales products and services. Consequently, annual revenue for the car detailing industry is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.1% to $10.2 billion over the next five years.

This demand for car detailing services is expected to continue over the five years to 2022.

As the demand for cars and car care products and services rose, entrepreneurs responded by increasing supply. Faced with stricter competition, car detailing companies created ways to build a stronger customer base. They recalibrated their services and implemented new ones including rim shining, waxing, and interior cleaning in their existing packages. Customer service also improved. Companies dressed up their waiting rooms to offer valuable services such as coffee lounges and free Wi-Fi.

Average annual car detail volume is 1,300 cars and the benchmark for annual sales revenue is $148,000. Mobile car detailers generate annual sales revenue of $120,000 from an average of 1,500 units. Fleet operators and body shops represent 4% of all customers. About 20% are car dealers and the biggest slice goes to retail work at 76%.

US Car Detailing Industry Size

Car detailing businesses are traditionally small and independently owned. Majority of car detailers are non-employers, meaning they run the business alone. Even among those with employees, most have less than five workers. But because anyone can start a car detailing business due to its low initial investment.

Small operators within the industry are experiencing competition from mobile detailers. These detailers can go where the demand is. This means that no matter where you set up your car detailing business, you are likely to cross paths with competitors. By being the most professional detailer, however, industry operators can set themselves apart from the competition.

Car washers have also evolved and are now offering express maintenance detailing services to their clients. No large national companies have a monopoly over this market segment. There are carwash operators, however, that expanded their services to include car detailing. They also extended their services to other states.

There are currently 65, 144 car detailing businesses in the US, employing 207, 991 people. There are no data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding the future of car detailing operators. It is predicted, however, that employment for automotive service technicians and mechanics is going to increase by 17% from 2010 to 2020. Men make up most of the workforce in the car detailing industry, taking home an average annual salary of $18, 854 to $39, 608. Salary is affected by location, experience, and employer discretion.

Key players in the car detailing industry include Mister Car Wash, Autobell Car Wash, Wash Depot, Goo Goo Express Wash Inc., and Boomerang Carwash.

Car Detailing Services Pricelist

The prices for car detailing services vary by location, type of service, and size of the vehicle. Prices range between $65 to $200. Detailing work should take approximately two to five hours, depending on the type of work done.

Prices are higher in the West Coast where an entire cleaning and detail job can cost up to $800. Prices are more reasonable on the East Coast at about $300 for the same service. The range of prices for various detailing services is as follows:

Type of Service : Price Range

  • Complete Interior/Exterior Detail : $275-$325
  • Engine Steam Clean : $275-$300
  • Scotchguard : $160-$185
  • Polymer Wax with Clay : $110-$150
  • Leather Clean/Treatment : $96-$125
  • Ding/Dent Removal : $75-$150
  • Ozonation/Odor Removal : $55-$75
  • Express Wax : $55-$75
  • Deluxe Wash/Wheel/Tires : $45-$65
  • Base Interior Vacuum/Wash : $35-$50
  • Mini Detail : $35-$40
  • Custom Hand Wash : $30-$50

Types of Auto Detailers

Body Shops

Car detailing services are also offered by auto body and paint shops. The downside, however, is that a complete detailing job can last all day. The price ranges from $200 to $600. Car dealership companies may also offer car detailing at a lower price of $200 to $400.

Professional Detailers

Quality interior detailing is offered by professional detailers at $400 to $800. They can do jobs like buffing, clay waxing, and paint chip repairs. Professional detailers have formal education at trade schools and carry certificates from recognized auto detailing associations. They are the best choice for luxury cars in need of a detailing.

Car Wash Chains

Car wash chains have outlets in almost every big city and town. They often provide the cheapest service at around $100. They also offer return customer discounts.

Risks and Opportunities

Increasing profit is possible through business development. For example, the average time to accomplish a basic detail service is four to five hours. It’s a constraint that keeps operators from generating more sales. To increase volume, operators need to hire more employees and get a larger shop.

Attitude is another hindrance. Many car detailers prefer working alone which keeps them from offering express detailing services. Production rate may be maximized if detailers work in teams of at least two people and use a waterless process. This innovative practice requires lower operating expenses, takes half the duration that wet washing calls for, and is a two-fold product – it cleans the car and works like a wax that leaves a glossy appearance.

Express detailing and the waterless process can set a company apart from the competition. The waterless service attracts environmentally conscious car owners while the waterless service has greater profit margins than typical detailing. Moreover, the car detailing industry is at the mercy of environmental restriction in terms of water waste and usage. Meeting regulatory requirements and promoting social responsibility is crucial to business success.

For mobile car detailers, adding more units to the operation is the most obvious way to generate more sales. Additionally, professional detailers and shops can benefit from launching a mobile unit to widen customer base.

Being in high traffic areas is essential to a car detailing operation. Traffic count is a key success factor in the industry. Hence, intersections are ideal locations for car detailing businesses.

Having an online presence is also essential. In fact, the major car detailing companies mentioned here are leveraging the Internet to stay competitive and ensure growth. The reality is that the car detailing market is rapidly evolving. Operators need to adapt and keep pace. That means incorporating an online customer experience in the supply chain as customer journey these days start with online research.

Rising disposable income, drop in oil prices, the rise in used car sales, and popularity of luxury cars are but a few drivers of growth for the car detailing industry. The challenge now for operators is to keep abreast of the new developments in the industry and changing customer behavior. Successful car detailers are those that cripple the forces that block their road to success.

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