What Does an Auto Detailer Do?

by Peggy Deland

An auto detailer takes the typical car wash and vacuum a step further by making a vehicle as clean and presentable as possible. Used car dealers employ auto detailers to help increase the resale of a used car. Some individuals hire a detailer occasionally to get a better result than is offered by the standard car wash.


As the name implies, an auto detailer focuses on the details. Dirt and grime from every visible surface are removed. Engines are steam-cleaned; carpets and upholstery can be removed and cleaned. The dashboard is usually cleaned and coated with a vinyl protectant, although some use baby oil as a cheap and effective alternative. Windshields and windows are meticulously washed and polished. Detailers commonly buff and wax the exterior of the car and occasionally touch up small paint chips. Tires and wheels are washed and cleaned, and tires are usually coated with a special tire coat used to make them look new.


An auto detailer can restore an otherwise new-looking, but filthy, car to near-showroom beauty. Many detailers are trained professionals and service multiple cars each day. Detailers are experts at removing stubborn upholstery stains and can improve the condition of weathered paint, sometimes eliminating the need for new paint. The difference a good auto detailer can make may more than pay for the cost of detailing when selling a used car.

Time Frame

Large auto detail shops can complete a detail job in an hour or two. Detail shops operated by an individual usually take a little longer. To save time, you should make an appointment in either case. Many detail shops offer pick-up and drop-off for the car that will be detailed. This allows the consumer to have a car detailed while the owner is at work, which can save time. Heavily-soiled cars may take longer to detail.


A car of little value probably is not worth the time and expense of a good detail before resale. Prices vary from detailer to detailer, but comparisons should also include the quality of work. Ask local car dealers where they take their cars to be detailed, and ask them to show you an example of their favorite detailers work, if possible. Auto detailing is labor intensive and can cost anywhere from $75 to $300 or more, depending on location and scope of the job.


An auto detailer is not a miracle worker. Some stains in carpet or upholstery may be improved but not completely removed. Detailers can touch up small scratches and chips in paint, but those defects can still be seen if the care is inspected closely. Oxidization and weathering of paint cannot be repaired by buffing and waxing, but can usually be improved. Severely rusted or corroded wheels are beyond the scope of an auto detailer's abilities and should be replaced or repainted. Ask the detailer for an opinion before committing to the job; they will have a good idea of what is possible with a detail job.

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