How To Become a Car Detailer in 5 Steps (With FAQs)

Updated September 22, 2022

The automotive field offers many entry-level positions that don't require advanced degrees or training. These positions typically involve vehicle care and maintenance, such as automobile detailing. Understanding the steps to become a car detailer can help you pursue this entry-level automotive career path and develop the skills needed to succeed. In this article, we explain how to become a car detailer, discuss the duties, salary and outlook of the job and provide answers to some frequently asked questions.

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What is car detailing?

Car detailing, or automobile detailing, is the care and maintenance of a vehicle's interior and exterior paint, upholstery, windows and other aesthetic pieces. Detailers use special chemicals and techniques to clean and polish exterior paint and interior surfaces for a clean look. Detailers often work at car washes, car dealerships or detailing shops.

Read more: 15 Careers in the Automotive Industry To Explore

What does an automobile detailer do?

An automobile detailer has many duties, including:

  • Washing car exteriors: One of the primary duties of an automobile detailer is to wash dirt, grime, insects and other debris off automobile exteriors. This requires specific automobile detergents and attention to detail.

  • Waxing exterior paint: After the exterior is free of debris, some automobile owners ask for a wax. Applying wax to a vehicle's exterior paint helps protect it from ultraviolet rays from the sun and debris that could damage the paint.

  • Polishing automobile accessories: Automobile detailers also polish vehicle accessories, such as tire rims, grills, bumpers or spoilers. Some accessories require specific care, such as special detergents or wax.

  • Cleaning upholstery: Interior vehicle upholstery can require specific detergents, vacuuming and special maintenance. Detailers use these chemicals and other tools to maintain and clean vehicle upholstery.

  • Cleaning internal surfaces: Other internal surfaces, such as dashboards, steering wheels and consoles, might also require cleaning and polishing. Detailers take special care to clean between joints and in between car seats and other areas.

  • Cleaning and polishing windows: Detailers also clean automobile windows and take special care to use vehicle-safe window cleaner. Commercial cleaners typically contain ammonia, which can harm vehicle interiors.

  • Removing interior odors: Detailers might also address vehicle odors by cleaning upholstery and surfaces and deploying scent-trapping tools or vehicle air fresheners. This helps add to the vehicle's clean interior with a pleasant smell.

  • Choosing correct cleaning chemicals: One of the detailer's most important duties is to choose the right chemicals for upholstery, windows and specific metals. For example, chrome vehicle rims might require a different polish than steel rims.

Related: How To Become an Automotive Service Writer: Skills, Salary and Career Steps

How to become a car detailer

Becoming an automobile detailer requires specific steps, including:

1. Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent

Most detailers have at least a high school diploma or a GED. This helps provide foundational knowledge and skills in critical reasoning and responsibility, which are relevant to the position. While car detailer positions don't typically require formal education, a high school diploma or GED is usually a requirement for employers. If you don't have a high school diploma, you can research local GED programs in your area to gain the high school equivalent education and obtain the credentials you need to start working.

2. Get your driver's license

A state driver's license is typically a requirement for becoming an automobile detailer because you might need to drive cars across the parking lot and park them. Obtaining a driver's license in each state requires specific steps that usually include a minimum age requirement and passing a state licensing test. All states require drivers to carry insurance, so you might also need to obtain insurance after you get your driver's license to ensure coverage in case of an accident. Most automobile detail shops, car washes or car dealerships require all employees to be licensed drivers.

3. Learn about car detailing

After you get a driver's license, you can start learning about car detailing through research, volunteer work or detailing other people's vehicles in your family. Research different techniques, chemicals and types of vehicles to get a better understanding of how to detail correctly. Learn which chemicals are appropriate for certain surfaces and which are not, and study how to apply wax and tire polish correctly. With this foundational knowledge in car detailing, you can volunteer to detail family members' vehicles or at a local car wash to test your skills and earn valuable experience.

Related: How To Start a Career Designing Cars

4. Apply to detailing positions

Apply to your local car washes, car dealerships or automobile detailing shops. Include a professional resume with each application that highlights your skills or experience in car detailing. In your resume, list your most relevant experience and skills like attention to detail, problem-solving and cleaning chemical knowledge.

5. Gain detailing experience

Gaining detailing experience can present opportunities to detail more types of vehicles. For example, you could begin detailing at your local car wash and advance to a detailing shop where you can detail expensive, luxury automobiles. This can help you earn a higher salary and gain professional experience with different vehicles, which can help make you more desirable to potential employers.

Salary and job outlook for car detailers

Car detailers typically earn an average salary of around $33,446 per year. Detailers often work full-time shifts and have opportunities for overtime pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive service technicians and mechanics accounted for 756,600 jobs in 2019, and the BLS expects the number of jobs to decline by 4% by 2029.

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Automobile detailer FAQs

Here are some FAQs about being a car detailer:

Do detailers get to drive the cars they service?

Some detailers may drive cars across the parking lot, park them or move them, but generally, a technician doesn't drive the vehicle they service. However, if a customer specifically allows the detailer to drive the vehicle, the opportunity may present itself. It's important to be respectful of a customer's vehicle and return it in the same condition to maintain professionalism.

Can I detail only exotic cars?

Some detailers earn a living detailing only exotic and expensive automobiles, but typically, a detailer works on regular vehicles like sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs. Working at a high-end car dealership may be the best choice if you like luxury vehicles. This can also help you learn advanced car care techniques for vehicles that require special chemicals or processes.

Related: How To Become an Automotive Service Advisor

Is car detailing a good career?

Car detailing offers the opportunity to earn a decent salary without education requirements. This can be an excellent entry-level vehicle maintenance position that can potentially present opportunities for advancement in the automotive industry. If this is your goal, you can focus on building professional connections in the automotive industry and exploring the various career paths available to car detailers through training and education programs.

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