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Price Your Mobile Auto Detailing Services for Profit 

By Detail Supply Plaza 12/2/16 


Even for a seasoned professional, pricing auto detailing services can be a difficult objective. Many mobile detailers underprice their services and end up having to shut down their businesses. Every service you offer, from maintenance washes to interior details has an associated value or price point. You will come to discover that customers are willing to pay a premium if your services and professional skills match the prices that you are charging. So if you want to be at or near the top of the scale, your services and quality need to match the price you have set.


One simple tool that many detailers miss that can help achieve a higher price point is a set price structure. Verbally quoting a price gives the customer the impression that prices are negotiable and that it is permissible to “bargain,” something you may not wish to do. Physically showing or handing your client a price sheet that is well-organized and easy to understand can help you obtain the price point you are seeking. 

Before quoting your prices, take into consideration the condition of the car. Never give a quote over the phone without seeing the vehicle in person, as clients will almost always underestimate the condition. In addition, always under-promise and over-deliver. Be sure that your client has clear and reasonable expectations about what can be done (and what cannot be done) as well as what they will be getting (and what they will not be getting) for the price they are paying. 

Auto detailing is time consuming and requires patience and precision and it is critical to accurately distinguish the time needed to complete various tasks. For example, one vehicle interior with milk and other protein stains may require a couple of hours involving hot water extraction while another may take only thirty minutes to an hour. In addition, larger vehicles including SUVs will take more time since there is more area to cover, so your price should be higher. A sedan trunk may only need a quick vacuum while an SUV trunk may be used for pet space or kid space, requiring a more thorough cleaning. Most SUV owners understand that bigger size, both interior and exterior takes more time and translates into increased costs. Charging a “large vehicle fee” in these situations can work well because most clients perceive it as a fair and reasonable up-charge. 

There are three main areas to consider when pricing your business for profit. The first is the cost of supplies and equipment needed to get the job done. The second is the labor and time it takes to complete the job. Third is your personal skill, care and experience involved in producing superior results. 

Calculating the cost of supplies and equipment is a relatively easy task. One regular-sized sedan usually carries an average of $8-$10 in supply costs. For larger, more detailed jobs, extra supply costs should be taken into account. Another important factor that is often overlooked is equipment costs. Every time you fire up that pressure washer, generator, hot water extractor, rotary buffer or DA polisher, you need to factor in future costs for maintaining and updating that piece of equipment. It may seem insignificant, but planning for updating your equipment and inventory maintenance will help keep your business running smoothly. 

Next is estimating your labor. This is a little trickier. Over time, you will learn how long it will take to complete a particular job. Decide how much each hour of your time is worth, then multiply it by the amount of time you think it will take to properly do the job. For example, if you want to make $25 per hour and you estimate that an interior detail job will take you two hours, charge in the $50 range. At 40 hours per week, this hourly rate will net approximately $50,000 per year. In the early stages of your business, jobs will take longer than you expect, and you may not be able to charge your desired hourly rate, so be prepared to build up gradually to that level. Be sure to factor in any special tasks such as hot water extraction and stain/odor removal and charge accordingly. Many detailers operate at a high volume in the warm summer months and slow down or shut down in the winter. In areas where the climates are milder, detailers can operate year-round. The average annual income is approximately $30,000 - $60,000 per year, but the highest level detailers make well over six figures per year. Depending on your geographical location, if you are earning $15 per hour or less, you are probably undervaluing your services and your effort, leaving potential earnings out in the field. Developing a proper price point can allow for a comfortable annual income. 

The final factor in setting your rates should be determined by two aspects: the skill that you have acquired through experience and training and your professional image. Experience, skill and ongoing training are all essential for the achievement of financial growth. The lack of knowledge, skill and training, for example in buffing and polishing results in missing out on potential earnings. Customers often tell of negative experiences with detailers without the necessary experience who have damaged and even destroyed car exteriors. One customer, for example, hired a detailer who used a high speed buffer and created extreme swirl marks on almost every panel of his car. As a result, he was hesitant to hire another person to fix the problem using a dual action polisher. The ability to explain to the customer the difference between a high speed rotary buffer and a dual action machine led to his willingness to allow a trained and experienced professional to remove the swirl marks and to produce outstanding results. The customer was more than satisfied and the detailer was able to charge a fair price for the top-notch service he provided. Proper training and the ability to clearly communicate those to the client will most often result in the customer’s comfort level and consequent agreement to pay a higher price. 

Professional image and personal appearance can be the best tool or the biggest hindrance to a detailer’s effort to be paid top dollar. It is crucial to look professional and to project an image of confidence, trustworthiness and capability. A clean and classic uniform is a great way to boost your business as well as your personal self-esteem. A clean and well-organized vehicle, printed business cards and price sheets and a professional website with photos of your work are all excellent ways to promote an elevated level of professionalism, attracting the best clients and allowing you to charge a price that many detailers only dare to dream about.  

When deciding how much to charge for your mobile auto detailing services, keep in mind the condition of the vehicle, the cost of your supplies and equipment, the skills that you bring to the job and most important, the value of your time. You’ll be well on your way to a lucrative career in automotive detailing!