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Why Cheap Products Can Cost You More

When buying new detailing products many of us have to shop price-consciously, but sometimes cheap products can cost you more in the long run.


Many products are dilutable, meaning it’s sold in concentrated liquid form and you mix it with water. This can stretch your budget further and give you more for less in some cases, so it’s important to calculate cost with the total usable amount.

Example: Some soaps have just a dilution of 1:100, while others have a dilution of 1:2000, which means you get 20 times more ready to use solution out of the same amount of raw product.

The other part of this is actual cleaning power, as being able to dilute to the same amount does not mean same cleaning power at that dilution. If one has significantly more cleaning power (considering the same material safety, see point 2) and or can be diluted higher for the same cleaning ability it can also save you loads of money while being more expensive in initial purchase costs.

Example: APC A and APC B can both be diluted down to 1:5. APC A in 1:5 has the same cleaning power and material safety as APC B at 1:20. This makes APC B a much more reasonable buy unless APC A is dirt cheap

Material Safety

Having a product clean well can have trade-offs with safety and how difficult it is to handle. A good, high quality product will take material safety first and ultimate cleaning power second. Nothing is worse than sitting there and seeing your cheap product destroy parts of the car! Plastic and rubber trim is especially susceptible to strong acids found in cheap cleaners.

Products can look and clean the same and even share some of the same ingredients, but they’ll perform differently through things that may not be in the chemical Safety Data Sheet.

Research and development – especially for material safety – costs a lot of money and time. That is part of what you are paying for with a more premium product. Check brand history and be aware that material safety is rarely a focus in reviews, so it may not always be featured.

Better Workflow

Better products can absolute save you time by working quicker and safer. A soap that is safe to dry on will provide a much calmer and less stressful wash vs. one that immediately ruins your clear when it dries on. They can be nicer to use and require less work. All of this will save you time (as a professional) or headaches (as a hobbyist)

Perspective from a Business Owner

RS Detailing in Kentucky, USA

Ryan of RS Detailing in Kentucky, USA is a business owner who knows how premium products can give a business a strategic advantage and how a product that’s more expensive-up front can make both you and the customer happier long-term.

He shared the following perspective with us:

It is quite tempting to purchase inexpensive detailing products, especially when you are operating a business. You can easily find these products: discount department stores, parts stores, and even grocery stores. You can achieve good results with good technique. Keeping costs down is a primary objective for many businesses, and these products per ounce are quite inexpensive. It’s understandable why these products can be considered an excellent value and the surface. However, I contend that these products aren’t often a good value. Let’s examine the considerations that support this argument.

Absolute Costs

Per measuring unit (ounces/milliters), these products often aren’t going to be beat as far as pricing goes. These products tempt you as far as your absolute costs are concerned. All businesses operate with the goal of earning profit. However, this is a very superficial approach to determining your product costs. Often, these inexpensive products are RTU (Ready to Use); you can’t dilute RTU products in comparison to more expensive, professionally-oriented products. Even if these inexpensive products are dilutable, their concentrations can’t be diluted at the level of these premium products. Evaluating a product by its unit price ignores the fact that these dilutable products need to be evaluated after dilution and that initial costs affect you in the long run. Refer to the following example between these two wheel and tire cleaners:

Example 1:

RTU off the shelf Wheel & Tire Cleaner

$11.99 per 23 oz
$0.52 per oz

Prosumer Wheel & Tire Cleaner
$19.99 per 33.8 oz (1 L)
$0.59 per oz
Can be diluted 1:3, therefore after dilution, there is 101.4 oz (3 L) of product:
$0.20 per oz

It’s clear that the cheaper product fails to be a truly less expensive product long-term. In the outlined scenario, you cost yourself or your business three times more.

Time is an Investment

Again looking at a business context, your biggest expense is labour by far. This has the greatest effect on your profit and loss. You have to pay yourself and your employees. No one works for free, and this makes it more difficult to offer your employees more competitive wages, benefits, and other things that retain your employees.

In the context of labour, these “cheaper” products are not a good value. Often cheaper products are using outdated formulations that may require more time and physical effort to achieve the result that you seek compared to a modern premium product. You are spending more on labour and more time on detailing.

  • Increased physical effort that degrades tools more quickly and introduces frequent tool replacement.
  • More frequent tool replacement introduces the risk of falling into a cycle of buying lower quality tools and products to cut costs, but long term this increases your costs and consumes more of your time.
  • Less time and more physical effort introduces stress, fatigue, and the risk of injury that have the potential to damage your business, you, and your employees.

Time is not money; time is the thing that you invest to create money.

Updated on 13 July 2023

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