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Should I Let The Dealership Detail or Wash My Car?


To start things off brief and frank, the answer is NO.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some reasons as to why you should either tackle this yourself, or hire a professional detailer to take care of the maintenance for you (see: How to Choose a Professional Detailer ).

The first reason is cost.  Dealerships often charge a lot more to do a “detail” on a car than most reputable professional detailers would charge for the same service–simply because they can get away with it. Many aren’t aware of the exact type of service they are getting.  I have personally see a dealership charge $500 for a wash, glaze, wax and interior vacuum. On the other end of the spectrum is the “free” wash the dealer offers…those are even worse!

The next reason is damage.  I worked as a dealership porter for about 4 months while I was in high school.  The buckets we would use were full of mud in the bottom, only rinsed once a month, and had enough dirt accumulation to make the water mostly brown, all of the time.  Now, your miles may vary, but it is safe to say that most, if not all dealerships do not know how to wash a car properly.  With the 2×4 bucket method ( The Grit Guard 2×4 Wash method ) you are safely keeping the contaminants at the bottom of the buckets, and away from the paint…something dealerships do not do.  So with all the dirt and mud, and rocks (yes, ROCKS) at the bottom of the buckets, you can only imagine the kind of damage brought on by dragging the dirt across the paint such as severe swirling and scratching.

Finally, lets touch on cost a little bit more.  There are two basic ways to get around going to a dealership for a car wash (or just as worse, those “Hand wash” centers on the corner of the streets where 5 people tackle one car).  As I had outlined in the beginning, you could either do it yourself, or hire a professional, reputable detailer to take care of the maintenance for you.  There are several options offered for tackling the car yourself offered by Detailed Image.  I’m personally partial to their Advanced Washing and Drying Kit as it’s under $100, and gives you the most options for a safe easy wash. Not only does this kit last you more than one time, as opposed to having a dealership do it, but it allows you to gain the satisfaction of doing it yourself, within a reasonable budget.

The other option is having a professional, reputable detailer do the maintenance and any other detailing related work for you.  The pros to this option is you don’t have to buy any products yourself, or store them.  You don’t need any knowledge of how to care for a car, and you let them do it at your convenience, and in your garage (in some cases).  This will cost more in the long run than doing the job yourself, but will pay dividends to the life, and look of the paint for many years to come.

Thanks for reading, and I encourage you to express any comments or concerns about where to take your car for safe and effective maintenance details.  Please submit your reply in the comment box below.

16 comments on Should I Let The Dealership Detail or Wash My Car?

  1. Mo says:

    I couldnt agree more! I actually have my account at the dealer noted so they do not wash my car and everytime I go in for a service, I still make sure I tell the rep. And as much as i would love to let the kids on the corner wash my car, there is no chance I would do it. I can only imagine the amount of swirls my car will have when they are done after the improper wash/dry process.

  2. Joe says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Mo above! My SA at the dealer knows not to wash my cars, but I always politely (that’s key) remind her and also leave a polite note in the car for the Techs incase the note in their system is overlooked.

  3. Greg Nichols says:

    I totally agree! I have spoken with shops that I don’t want the “free” wash. THAT IS NOT ENOUGH you need to paste a huge note inside the car. If they wash it after that I have my clients bill them for the corrective work. Without a note posted in the car, your claim will not hold up legally. I have made 8.5×11 laminated notes I put in there cars when I’m not doing a full correction, they love them and use them.


  4. Though tempting, I’d also suggest that people avoid the “bikini/fund raising” car washes too! 😉

  5. Marc Harris says:

    Very true as well Chad!!

    Great article Aaron and that reminds me – I want to have laminated signs that say “Do Not Wash” in 3 or 4 languages 🙂

  6. Chris says:

    I would definetely say “No” if you care about your car. I also detailed for a new car dealer for 6 months…I had no clue what I was doing and it was just a part time job while I was still in high school. I was reasonably careful, but look back and shake my head in disgust at the foolish things I did to get the job done.

  7. Eric says:

    I have a detail at a dealership up in LA because the owner is taking delivery of a brand new car. I cant wait to see the look on the faces of the detail guys over there when I roll up to detail the car instead of them!

  8. pa350z says:

    Agree on all points. Concerning Bikini car washes, unfortunately, had to run one of those type of fundraisers for my daughters High School Age volleyball team. Made lots of money!! However, what I did was attempt to minimize the scratching. Actually bought upper end sponges, used decent OTC car wash (Megiuars I believe), bought a bunch of absorbers for drying and kept a hawk eye on the water condition, throwing away of the sponges if they feel to the ground and same with the absorbers. While doing this, I taught a bunch of teenagers the do’s and don’ts about washing cars properly (albeit the best we could in this setting).

    Would I have had my cars washed at this fundraiser? Absolutely not. But… others are willing and we did the best we could with the resources and time available to minimize the scratching vehicles.

  9. I never realized that this could be such a big issue. Until recently I didn’t even know that detailing a car was a thing. I guess it can be really important though. I never thought that it would legitimately be a bad idea to get it done at a dealership. I guess it does make sense to try to find better deals though. I hope I can balance that with also finding good service.

  10. cheryl smith says:

    should I pay the high priced wax job offered by my Lincoln dealer on the 2013 Lincoln I just bought?

    • Reece @ DI says:

      Thank you for contacting us about the protection plan you are considering purchasing for your new vehicle. I don’t have experience with the specific service and products they offer but here are my thoughts on those services in general. The products they are using are just typical detailing products, but what you are really purchasing is a warranty. These warranties often have so much “fine print” that they are rarely liable for any major issues that may arise Some of them may require regular treatments and other special conditions that can easily void the warranty. I would suggest carefully reading the entire contract before investing in this type of system, especially for the price they normally ask.

      I’m also concerned that if their products were truly capable of providing such durable protection, why are more professional detailers not using them? Expert detailers are willing to pay virtually any price for the best products and I don’t know any pro using these types of systems or products. I certainly would want to pick them up and sell them through our store as well. Most new vehicles should not rust or have major issues within the first few years anyways. Therefore I’m not sure how much added value these warranties provide for such a new vehicle.

      I’ve also spoken to some people working at dealerships who apply these protection plans and they often state it’s a highly profitable service that uses mediocre detailing products. I was somewhat shocked how openly they admitted their service was not a good value. Again this was just one dealership but I fear many places would offer a similar service. I don’t mean to be too harsh with these types of systems, I’m just skeptical and I don’t want anyone to be taken advantage of.

      If you are looking for similar types of car care products you can pick up some high quality products to achieve a similar effect for roughly $40-$65. You would not get the warranty if you do it yourself, so this is why you should read all that “fine print” carefully and ensure it is worth it. If interested here are the three types of products you would need: sealant (or wax) (i.e. Blackfire Wet Diamond All Finish Paint Protection), UV protection for vinyl, plastic, rubber, leather, etc. (i.e. 303 Aerospace Protectant) and a fabric protectant (i.e. 303 High Tech Fabric Guard). If you need any help using these products we have our Detailing Guide and I’d be happy to help.

      I hope this information has been helpful and if you have any other questions please let me know!

  11. D says:

    I am a particular type of detailer in that I like to do the best job I can with the best products that I can get my hands on. I am also a collector and restorer of old autos. A 68′ Ford F100 Long Bed and an 89 Corvette are in my garage. The family and I are picking up a 70′ Buick GS this summer and an 89′ Camaro this spring as fun projects since the last two are nearly done. I also present the cars at classic car shows.
    That said, after finishing making a good living playing music. I decided to get a “regular job” so I could be home with my children. I was contacted by a dealership to wash their cars. Pay was $11/Hour tag work. The tools were a broom/mop, steamer, and some spray bottles with a vacuum. No one liked being there. The cars weren’t “clean” or even close with water spots. They even used the pressure washer in the door jams and considered the extra water getting in to “help” with later cleaning. Windows were cleaned mostly streak free, but they were more concerned with moving the cars through than actually doing a good job. I left after 5 days or so. Just couldn’t handle seeing that level of abuse.
    That and the pay wasn’t worth the environment.

  12. Car Tailing says:

    Hi, I agreed with everything you have put in your article, it was very helpful. I did was attempt to minimize the scratching. Actually bought upper-end sponges, used decent OTC car wash, and bunch of absorbers for drying and kept a hawk-eye on the water condition were bought. Would it better to have cars washed at this fundraiser? Thanks a lot!

  13. I’m totally agreed with the facts you explained in your post, a very adviceful and informative post that will help a lot of people to decide between a dealership detail, professional detailing company or washing by yourself. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post and I wish you the best for more amazing work in the future. Keep it up.

  14. sillasims says:

    Thank you so much for this valuable post. I’m totally agreed with the facts you explained in your post, its very informative. keep it up

  15. Adam Joes says:

    Thanks for the great article

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