One thing that I have found is that unless you can REALLY "WOW" the owner when done, show a VERY noticeable difference from before and after, you really can't charge much. Also, that will basically be only a good cleaning, not really a detail
I learned that last year. I tried doing a few cars up last year with the products I used on my car, but the wow factor just wasn't there. This year though, I have spent alot of time researching on www.autopia.org
forums. I have learned a ton of stuff and have purchased a buffer, pads, top quality polishes. I have learned technique, how to use the products properly, what to look for in the results, etc... Now, with every car that I do people are more and more impressed with my work and I am actually proud to see a car rolling around with my work all over it. I can now take a car from looking terrible with little reflection and basically make it look better then new except deep scratches
As far as what to charge? You really shouldn't go by me for a few reasons...
Although I am just starting out, like yourself, I am keeping my main job and have no plans yet of trying to make it on just my detailing jobs. Because of this, I am not really
making much money at the moment detailing... all said and done, minus materials, I am at about $8 an hour. That is fine for me as right now I am mainly going for the experience and not looking to make it a business.... yet. My first car I did was our '03 SSEi and it took me about six hours. Since then, I have gotten more experience and it is actually taking LONGER now then it did before because I am more picky and can get even more correction.
Another reason not to go by what I charge is different areas that we live in. Where I live, most people are just scraping by right now and really don't have enough money to properly care for their cars. Sure, there are alot of people that DO have enough money, but I have to get my work out there first before I can get to them, which brings us to my first reason above
Right now, I am ONLY concentrating on the outside of the vehicles and not even touching the inside. So, for only the outside, tires, rims, wheel wells, it takes me about 8 - 10 hours to do the way I want. Everyone knows that I am only doing the outside, and they are also told first thing why I am so cheap right now and that the prices will go up next year. I plan on picking up a carpet extractor and a small steam cleaner next year to do interiors with, so by then I will have the outside portion down and will be working on learning technique inside the cars, so at that time, I will be doing FULL detail work.
Save some money
Spend alot of time on www.autogeek.net
to learn as much as you can
Buy some high quality polishes, towels, pads, wheel cleaners, a sealer or wax, and an orbital buffer. Don't skimp here, spend around $300 - $400.... trust me, you won't be sorry if you plan on making money.
Do your own car first, then a few cars of immediate family for free just to get technique and learn the products you bought.
For interiors, you will have to spend alot of time on them without the "good stuff", but you might be able to get by with a shop vac and some good cleaners and elbow grease.
Call your work what it is. You don't want people running around with a car you only cleaned up and having them say you detailed it. Sure, it might get by with some people, but when people realize that your "detail" is only a deep cleaning and a coat of wax, repeat business will be hard to find, and your reputation will go down the crapper.
DON"T quit your job. You are going to have a hard time making alot of money at first anyways, plus, then how are you going to finance your supplies. Not to mention that when winter comes along you have to find another job...
HAVE FUN!!!!! and learn as you go
Also, don't overcharge you work. If you are doing a $50 job, don't try to charge $55. If your work is good enough to charge $300, you will know it
Do some cars, then charge by the quality of your work.