Does one tip one's car detailer?
March 12, 2009 9:37 PM   Subscribe

Does one tip one's car detailer?

When I went to regular car washes, I tipped the employees directly, either to the guy that handed me the keys, or into the tip jar that the whole crew shared.

I wash my own car now, but I'm taking it in for a detailing job tomorrow. This is a pretty high end place, they'll be working on it all day and the cost is ~$300. There's the owner, and a couple of guys. I'm pretty sure I'll only be interacting with the owner. Do I tip in this situation? My gut is telling me 'no', that at this level a tip is not expected--I wouldn't tip my mechanic and their hourly rates are not dissimilar...
posted by danny the boy to Work & Money (13 answers total)
I do, because it's a service where the amount of effort makes a difference. Your mechanic is working on the mechanics, and when he's finished it's a binary "does it work properly or does it not work properly?" A detail shop (and a waiter at a restaurant and a barista in a coffee shop and...) has latitude to give you an extra special effort to give a good appearance or an extra bit of shine if they know they'll be well compensated.
posted by SpecialK at 9:45 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My personal opinion would be no, you aren't obligated to tip in that situation if you're paying that much. (Though for people of a generous nature, tipping usually doesn't hurt as far as getting you extra attention in the future.)

I would add that my understanding is that in some parts of the U.S. detailers make a lot less money. A detailer / auto upholstery friend of mine here in the New England area charges about the same amount you mention but he says that down in Florida where he vacations they only charge a fraction of that price for the same level of service.
posted by XMLicious at 9:47 PM on March 12, 2009

My general car-related tipping rules: tip valets, tip workers who wash/detail, don't tip mechanics (refer them business if it's good and a local shop, try to avoid them if they are the dealer), don't tip the owner of detail/service/wash places (and if you discover that the valet or the wash/detail guy doing the work is the owner, don't tip him). For me, this is partially objective (getting better treatment/services on repeat visits) and partially just my preference. After a few years of living mostly on tips from those kind of jobs I think that just have respect for guys who do work like this and will give them some extra money, but I also think that you will get better service for car cleaning if you give the workers some extra money.

In a normal detail or wash situation, you are going to, at some point, interact with the guys doing the work. You get the car from them, or you inspect it with them or you give it to them or something like that. You probably don't have to tip there, and most probably don't, but you could, and that would be the time to do it (or *maybe* on a credit card slip). If you are really totally isolated from the workers, that's weird, I think, but you don't need to go out of your way to tip, and I probably would not (even as a generous tipper). In your case, I think that the price point suggests that no tipping at all would be expected or common, BUT, if you are getting lots of cars detailed there, then you will probably eventually get a little extra waxing or whatever.

That's a lot for a detail - in Chicago a good detail at a good place is $200. The kind of detail where a show car gets prepared for a car show is $400. Any detail is pretty rare unless you are throwing money around, so then for you, it basically boils down to how you personally view tipping. Do you want to tip when you can or only when it is "required". It's not required here, but you probably can, because you'll probably interact with the workers at some point.

I have always wanted to look at some comparative studies of tipping practice/culture/custom; it just fascinates me as a subject. Probably too much.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 10:16 PM on March 12, 2009

Tipping is always appreciated, who doesn't enjoy getting money? It's not that you should feel obligated to tip them but if you wanted to I'm sure they would appreciate it. The only time tipping shouldn't happen is if there's a chance to offend that person and unless you're tipping the owner I don't see how that would happen.
posted by BrnP84 at 10:38 PM on March 12, 2009

BTW this question reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry asks if you tip the wood guy.
posted by BrnP84 at 10:40 PM on March 12, 2009


When will the tipping end?
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:40 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

SpecialK - I would suggest that your mechanic's work is not so binary as you might think. Not that I'm suggesting you tip him/her, just challenging that comparison. I do however agree with your general tipping criteria:

>>a service where the amount of effort makes a difference.

I would qualify it with an added criterion: where you expect to be a repeat customer. Maybe you plan to detail your car a lot but it sounds like a very rare thing to me.

Obviously you won't withhold a tip on your first visit to a restaurant. But what are you getting out of a $50 tip on $300 detailing services?
posted by scarabic at 12:24 AM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: Great input so far. Tipping is a pretty personal thing, so I wanted to get some opinions. I know people feel strongly about it, and at times I do too.

$300 is definitely high end for here in SF as well, though there are crazy services that go even higher. A middle of the road place is about $200, but I think they spend less time on it, and they use methods that maybe aren't ideal (damp carpets). You can spend $100 for an "express detail" that isn't much better than a regular hand wash.

I'm kind of fascinated by the topic in general, as well. See with the mechanic example, I think many would be offended, or perhaps make for an awkward moment. But why is that? I think maybe because tipping is generally expected where we all agree that the job the person is doing is undervalued, literally? But its not just a matter of how much you make, clearly. So I think this is more complicated than "everyone likes money".
posted by danny the boy at 12:33 AM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: a service where the amount of effort makes a difference.

That implies that beyond a certain limit, effort is optional. I can see that being valid in a number of situations, like in a restaurant where you want to reward a server for making great suggestions and being knowledgeable, etc.

But I am buying the specific service of "detailing". I'm not sure I see any room for optional effort here?

So the undervalued issue doesn't come into play; there isn't an "above and beyond" condition to reward (big maybe here), and doing a $300 detailing isn't likely going to be a frequent thing for me... perhaps this is why my gut is saying 'tip is not needed'.
posted by danny the boy at 12:44 AM on March 13, 2009

I worked at a car wash for 2 years in high school. We charged $200 to detail. The person who detailed your car made, max, $9/hr. Tips were very common, in the $10-$20 range, and very much appreciated.
posted by doowod at 5:35 PM on March 13, 2009

Also, there is a pretty big difference* between a decent detail job and a great detail job. Expect the former if you go to the same place again after not tipping.

*How careful are they with the buffer and wax? How tenaciously will they attempt to clean something before telling you it won't come clean? Do they just run an armor-all soaked rag down the molding in your doors or do they take a q-tip to them?

I can think of a bunch of other examples, but what a detail job really comes down to is the following:

Of the million and a half nooks and crannies in a car, how many will they actually clean, and how many will they clean to the best of their ability?
posted by doowod at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2009

Response by poster: Well the situation solved itself. I picked up my car with several $20s folded in my pocket, to give out to the guys. Then I inspect my car. I feel... somewhere between disappointed and ripped off.

One of the guys asks me several times "looks good, huh?" and directed me to feel how smooth the paint was. Yes, but my car already looked pretty good going in, and since I wax my car, I'm already familiar with "smooth". For $300 I was looking for exceptionally good. What I got were water spots on the mirrors, greasy swirls on the interior plastic, and a big dripping of wax on my rear quarter panel. They did not bother polishing the chrome on the exhaust or making sure the wheels were free of dirt.

The owner, btw, never showed up. I guess he takes Fridays off?
posted by danny the boy at 11:33 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, definitely no tip or return visit in that situation. Dirt on the wheels? Water spots? That's some pretty basic stuff they missed, we'd redo a plain $10 wash if you pointed that out.

In that situation the best thing to do is point the stuff out to the manager / owner ASAP. Even now, if you can hunt down the owner / manager, point out the stuff they missed. If they're a respectable business they should redo the detail at no charge.
posted by doowod at 10:03 PM on March 14, 2009

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