How Much To Tip a Car Wash (Attendant or Detailer?)

Washing the car properly can be difficult for most people and then it is better to let someone else do it. But how much should you give in tips? Read on!

automatic car wash

We are all leading increasingly busy lives. In fact, many of us are so busy that we don’t even find the time to wash our own cars. Fortunately, a tremendous industry has emerged over the years based on other people performing this task for us. We now know it as the car washing and detailing industry.

Whereas in Europe, China and many other large markets where car washes and detailers operate, people use the services, pay the allotted price and drive on, American customers are faced with the inevitable question: how much should I tip a car wash attendant or detailer? Indeed, should you tip them at all for this service? That’s the focus of today’s blog.

First of all, we should be crystal clear on the differences between car wash attendants and car detailers. The latter of the two, in particular, would not be pleased to be labeled as the same thing.

What Does a Car Wash Attendant Do?

car wash

If your local car wash is not automated, then it may be staffed by an attendant who washes your car by hand. If it is automated, then there may be an attendant there to oversee the running of your machine. In the case of a handwashing of your car, they will likely make use of a power washer or dual-bucket system where they quickly go over the car with sponges, car shampoo and then rinse and dry with microfiber towels.

A standard car cleaning may include a basic vacuuming of your car’s interior, but for the most part a standard car wash only washes the exterior. The goal of the car wash attendant is to get all the dirt, dust and whatever else is making the surface of your car look bad. They generally don’t pay much attention to close detailing, nor do they offer things like waxing, polishing or additional paint protection as part of the standard deal.

In an automated car wash, the attendant will be there to make sure the machine is working properly, to indicate if there’s anything you need to do to prepare to enter the washer, and possibly will do some extra rinsing if the machine missed something (though that’s very rare now with modern machines).

Finally, since car wash attendants are on the front line of their business, they will nearly always have to be good at customer service, possibly answering your questions and helping solve any problems that you might have with the service overall. 

How Much Should You Tip a Car Wash Attendant?

If it is automated, and the attendant is just there to oversee the running of the machine, then there is generally no expectation of a tip. But, for those who do the wash by hand, you might offer something like $2 to $5.

In any event and at any car wash, if you feel that this attendant has provided you with an exemplary customer service experience, then you could offer a tip.

With car wash attendants, because the tips are not always expected as they are in most restaurants and with those who deliver food, the tips are generally very warmly received.

The convention might be to offer something from $2 to $5 as a tip for conventional car wash attendants. That’s a good base number from which you can work to calculate something a bit more generous if you feel the attendants have done a great job. 

Some people work on a similar principle to restaurant tipping, offering 10-20 percent of the cost of the car wash, but in most cases that will come to the same amount. The average car wash in the US costs about $15. Regular car washing services are therefore quite cheap, often because the service office is a lot simpler than a full detailing. In any event, you can use your best judgment. Any of the numbers we have mentioned above would be welcomed by the average car wash attendant.

What Does a Car Detailer Do?

car detailer

The job of a car detailer is obviously related to that of a car wash attendant, but any detailer would be quick to tell you that there’s quite a lot more to it. A detailer is different from the average car wash attendant mainly because a detailer has elected to clean cars as a more serious career move. Many detailers are freelancers who set up small companies. They’re passionate about cars, and dedicate themselves to understanding the geography of a car and how best to clean every single exterior section, as well as every interior nook and cranny.

A car detailer offers a range of services, usually sold in the form of detailing packages. These packages start fairly basic and run up to much more comprehensive (and expensive). A typical basic detailing package will set you back $50 for a pretty average-sized sedan car. If you have a larger car like a full-size SUV, then you should expect to pay around $70 for a basic package. It does vary from place to place, but it’s very normal for even a detailer’s basic package to be three or four times more expensive than the average car wash. At the high end, a detailing package can get into the hundreds of dollars.

Detailers offer a cleaning that is a lot deeper and more comprehensive than regular car wash attendants. They divide the car into individual sections and focus a lot of careful attention on each section to clean it perfectly according to the shape and build of the vehicle. Their services will also typically involve waxing and other paint protection within even their lower-end packages. On the car’s interior, detailer vacuum, remove dust, remove stains, remove odors and more. 

One of the biggest differences between the work of a detailer compared to that of a regular car wash is the “restorative” factor. A car wash gets your car clean, but a car detailing works to restore your car to how it was when you first bought it new.

How Much Should You Tip a Car Detailer?

It’s customary to tip anywhere from 10-20 % of the package value to a detailer, but you should only do it when they have done a genuinely good job.

The more specialized nature of the car detailers’ work generally warrants a more generous tip. A car wash attendant might spend less than 30 minutes getting your car cleaned up. A detailer can take anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on how much work you ask for and what package you buy.

Detailers aren’t like servers in a restaurant who maintain a good attitude and earn tips even when the food is lousy. Servers don’t cook the food, after all, and you can still tip them for good service. Car detailing is a far more skilled and premium service, though. It is fair to expect a fantastic job to be done before you give any tip.

Car Wash or Car Detailer? Wish is Best?

To conclude today’s blog, we’ll offer you some additional advice on whether it’s better to hire a detailer or use a regular car wash. Both have their obvious pros and cons. The car wash is a lot cheaper than detailing, but the level of cleaning done by detailers is clearly a lot higher. In the end, therefore, what you need to do is reflect on your needs. Below we’ll give you some examples to show you what we mean:

1. You just need the car cleaning so it doesn’t look so filthy

If this sounds like what you want, then you’re fine going to a regular car wash, perhaps once a week or once every other week depending on where you live and drive, and how dirty your car gets on a regular basis. If you have kids, however, consider getting them to wash the car over a weekend. It’s a good way to teach responsibility, and gives them something useful to do.

2. Your car hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time and you might want to sell it soon

This is the time when a detailing would be in order. When there has been a long-term lack of cleaning, dirt gets built up in places where a regular car wash just won’t get to it effectively. The keen eye and expert mind of a detailer will ensure that every angle, every corner, every dark recess of the car gets a proper clean. In addition, the restorative effect of a car detailing will help add a “wow factor” when it comes to selling the car. The aesthetic of the car has a huge impact on whether or not a buyer would be willing to pay your asking price for the car.

Think about what kind of car cleaning suits your situation best, and always remember to tip good work. It doesn’t have to be much, but at least a token to show your appreciation would go down very well. 

Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of MechanicBase. He has been working as a mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting. He has also been a motorsport (drifting) driver for over 5 years.