What is it and why do I want it?

Posted by bhans on October 2, 2020

What is detailing?

If you ask 100 people what car detailing is, you would probably get about 100 different answers or variations. Everybody has a different understanding and expectation when it comes to auto detailing. You might not even know what it is. Some may think that a car wash is the same as a car detail. And others, much much more.

Here is what the International Detailing Association link has to say about it: “Detailing involves a thorough cleaning and reconditioning of both the interior and exterior of your vehicle, generally consisting of a more in-depth service than a standard wash and vacuum. It is a meticulous step-by-step process to restore your vehicle’s beauty and protect your investment. Detailing services can extend beyond automobiles and could include trucks, buses, SUVs, RVs, boats, motorcycles, or even airplanes.” “The single and most important aspect of auto detailing is your vehicle’s need for protection from the elements.”

Auto detailing is well beyond a wash and vacuum. Or making it look shiny.

The simple: Detailing is a thorough cleaning of every aspect of the car you want, and protecting it from the elements.

Car detailing

But WHAT does an auto detail include?

Again, ask 100 detailing companies and you will get 100 different answers, variations and pricing.

WHY???? This is one of the most frustrating things for you, the person wanting the service.

Each company will have a different approach; to services offered, how they perform services, products used, pricing, and so on. Car detailing is one of the hardest services to compare shop. There unfortunately are no standards or uniform guidelines for the detailing industry. The companies approach to how they perform their services, their training and experience, the products and equipment they use all contribute to pricing and service time variations.

One of the most common questions detailers get is “how much is a full detail?” What is a full detail? Let’s compare 3 companies ‘Full Detail’s’.

Company A

Exterior
Pre-Cleaning
Wheels & Tires
Washing
Drying
Surface Cleaning & Prep
Polishing & Buffing
Chrome
Glass
Waxing
Buffing
Wheels & Tires Finishing
Interior
Pre-Clean & Vacuum
Leather & Vinyl
Shampoo
Dash Dressing

$250

Company A

Exterior
Exterior wash & dry
Exterior wax
Orbital polish
Clay bar treatment
Wheel & tire polish
Wheel well wash
Interior
Vacuum carpets
Clean windows inside & outside
Shampoo seats, carpets, & floor mats
Condition leather
Clean & protect plastics
Clean dash, console, headliner, trunk & engine

$250

Company C

Exterior
Pre-Cleaning
Wheels & Tires
Washing
Drying
Surface Cleaning & Prep
Polishing & Buffing
Chrome
Glass
Waxing
Buffing
Wheels & Tires Finishing
Interior
Pre-Clean & Vacuum
Leather & Vinyl
Shampoo
Dash Dressing

$150

Firstly, you will notice that Company A and B have different services included in their Full Detail packages. Same named package, different services, but same price? Which is best for your car?

Secondly, Company A and C have the same services yet very different prices. Why? Good question. Let’s discuss the Leather & Vinyl service included in both packages. Company A uses separate cleaning and protection professional products and dedicates about 40 minutes to this service. Company C uses an all-in-one cleaning/protection product from the local auto supply store and spends about 15 minutes on this service. This is one example of why the pricing difference for the same named package.

These are a few reasons as to why when you call around or check companies websites you get very different prices, services, and packages. How do you know which is right for you? The cheapest isn’t necessarily the best deal, it may be inferior service, less services included, less experience and training, and so on. The most expensive may not be the best either, maybe the services included aren’t appropriate for you car, maybe they’re just over-priced, or maybe they have the most experience, provide more services, use better products, etc.

So what do you do? Figure out what you want out of a car detail. Are you looking for a very clean car, inside and outside, inside only? Do you want your car to be as good, if not better, than the day you bought it? Are there scratches in the paint that you want improved? Then, ask the detailing companies questions to find out about their services that will fit your needs. Ask questions about how they perform their services, the products they use, their experience, how much time goes into their detail package. A ‘Full Detail’ like those in the examples above should be several hours, ours would be in the range of about 5:30 to 6:30 hours for comparison.

Why do I want my car detailed?

There are many reasons to get a car professionally detailed. Maybe you want your car to look great again, or you just bought a used car, getting ready to sell your car, or even if you just bought a brand new car. A professional detailer can take your car from ordinary to extraordinary. A detailer can restore the beauty of your ride, remove stains, improve scratches and swirls in the paint, and protect your car from the elements.

Dress to impress

That’s what they say, right? You dress up yourself to impress on an interview or a date, right? So you dress to impress in your bespoke suit. Your car is an extension of you. Do you want to take your date out in a car that looks like it’s been to the rodeo? Whether we are talking about impressing you or others, detailing will put your car in it’s best suit. Detailing can make your car cleaner than it ever was. Smell like new.

Shine like it is made of glass. Sparkle like the stars. OK, enough with the metaphors. Your car is an extension of you and the image you wish to portray. Put your best image forward.

Extend the life of your car

A professional detail can actually help extend the life of your car. Proper exterior cleaning will minimize scratches and deterioration in the clear coat and paint, not damage wheels, remove contaminants that will damage and cause rust. Exterior protections like ceramic coatings, sealants and waxes will protect your car from the environmental contaminants, bird droppings, water etching, bug residue, and reduce the possibility of clear coat failure. Interior cleaning will remove the residues, contaminants, and other things that will damage and decrease the longevity of your interior surfaces like leathers and fabrics. Protecting the interior will help decrease the damage that UV light can do to your vinyl and leathers, the cracking and peeling of leather from daily use, the staining from drinks/foods/pens/etc. Basically, detailing can help to keep your car in great shape for longer.

Improve the value of you car

You may want to sell your car, or just keep as much value or appreciate value in your car. Firstly, cleaning, protecting and maintaining your car will help to keep your cars value. If your car has some problem areas like scratches in the paint, worn and torn leathers, oxidized (hazy) or yellowed headlights, detailing can help to increase your cars value. Professional detailing shops can remove or minimize scratches, swirls, and oxidation in your paints surface through paint correction. Leather or vinyl seats and panels that have tears (to and extent) and scratches, color worn off, rub marks can be fixed and re-dyed to look almost brand new and if properly done wear like new leather.

Save you money

By fixing and revitalizing some the aforementioned problems like paint scratches, leather problems, and oxidized headlights rather than replacing them, it costs much less. Replacing headlights can cost you from $200 and way up depending on brand and model, even with aftermarket. An example BMW e39 1996-2003: aftermarket headlights start at $380 set, OEM start at $750 each. Headlight restoration is usually around $80 to $100 a set. That’s a pretty big savings! Having one leather panel replaced on a seat can be around $500, fixing and re-dyeing around $100-$200. Let’s not even talk about having to repaint and entire car for $2500 and up vs paint correction from $200 to $800 depending. You really can save a lot refreshing and revitalizing what you can compared to replacing.


A professional auto detailing shop can make a huge difference. It will be well beyond a wash and vacuum. Your car will be in much better condition, cleaner, protected. You will present a better image when you roll up in your sweet ride, be it a 20 year old Honda or a brand new Ferrari. It’s your car. YOUR car.