What is car detailing?

Depending on where you are located in the world and who you ask, car detailing can have many different meanings.

For some people car detailing is a simple wash, for others it’s a lot more. Keep reading to find out the true definition of car detailing and the processes involved in cleaning, maintaining and protecting your car.

The Meaning of Car Detailing

The true meaning of car detailing is to clean, polish and protect a car from top to bottom, inside and out, resulting in a showroom standard finish or even better.

When detailing, there are many different specialist tools and products that get used. There are also numerous stages and procedures in a “full car detail” which means it’s much longer than a traditional car wash.

Car detailing should not be confused for bodywork though some professional detailers are qualified to perform paint touch-ups and other bodywork repairs such as Paintless Dent Removal.

Coincidentally, car detailing is what led me to study bodywork. I chose to study bodywork because there’s only so much you can do with detailing.

For example, If you’re working on a car with damaged paint, you may be able to make it look better but you won’t be able to restore it to the factory condition.

Car detailing vs car wash

Because many people often refer to washing their car as detailing, I’m going to briefly compare the two.

Washing your car is a quick process, you will snow foam the vehicle, rinse it, shampoo it and then rinse it again. You may even clean the interior but after this, you’re done.

Detailing is much more in-depth but it costs a lot more.

Washing your car is the very basic, entry-level to detailing. It becomes detailing once you add-in polish and protection stages.

Benefits of Car Detailing

Easier to maintain

When you detail your car correctly and apply protection (sealants, wax or ceramic coating), the hydrophobic qualities make for much easier washes because there’s less dirt and it washes off easily.

Not only that, it will always be easier to clean a car that’s taken care of and regularly washed. This is why detailers and car enthusiasts perform regular “maintenance washes”.

When I see my car covered in heavy pollution, the last thing I want to do is go and wash it, it just seems like too much effort.

Improved mental health

It’s proven that unclean surroundings will make you feel a little down, even depressed.

Stepping into a dirty car feels horrible for yourself and your passengers. Stepping into a car that has the “new car smell” on the other hand, there’s nothing better.

I also enjoy seeing people in awe of my paintwork as I drive by, it’s great for the ego and I love it because I’m a vain bastard.

Protects your paintwork

No matter what detailing package or service you pay for, it’s certain that they’ll apply some type of wax or sealant at the very least.

Wax and sealants offer stronger UV protection and additional hydrophobic qualities, thus protecting your paintwork from oxidation and potential water spots.

Protects your trim and upholstery

When washing the interior of your vehicle there are many products that are designed to maintain and protect your trim and upholstery.

Applying a plastic trim protector will minimize the threat of UV Rays and high temperatures, preventing your dashboard and door cards from cracking and discoloration.

You can also get fabric sealants that offer the same benefits while adding extra hydrophobic qualities too.

Maintain a higher resale value

A clean car, that’s polished to perfection will automatically give the buyers a level of confidence that they never previously had.

As a result, the car will sell a lot quicker, it may sell for more money and the buyer will be a lot happier with their purchase.

Detailing your car could also be the deciding factor in the sale. Just something to consider before creating that online advert.

How long does car detailing take?

Basic car detailing services can be done in as little as 30 minutes. Advanced detailing services, on the other hand, can take up to 5 working days. It all depends on the condition of your vehicle and the services that you are paying for.

Most mobile detailers will only take jobs that can be completed in a day. If you’re paying a mobile detailer to clean your car, you should expect to be able to drive it later that day.

If you’re looking to get a full car detail from a professional shop, you should expect to be without your car for 3-5 days depending on the condition of your vehicle and the business of the shop.

The best thing that you can do is communicate with whoever is detailing your car.

While they won’t necessarily give you an exact time and date, but they’ll give you a good idea of how long each process is and when to expect your car back.

Common Car Detailing Services

Every detailer will offer different packages and services.
Below is an idea of basic procedures and services a detailing business will offer:

  • Complete Interior Valet (Clean & Protect)
  • Complete Exterior Wash
  • Paint Correction
  • Paint Protection
  • Ceramic Coating Application

There are other services and upsells that detail companies will offer, you can learn more about these services in our “price of car detailing” article.

How to learn car detailing

If you want to learn car detailing, the best thing you can do is research the car detailing services I’ve listed above.

Once you’ve done that, you have 3 options.

  1. Self-Educate yourself using the internet
  2. Pay for a training course & certification
  3. Get a job as a detailer

All 3 options are great. They all have their pros and cons but if you work hard, I’m sure you’ll become very good at car detailing.

Personally, If I was a young person trying to get into detailing I would be trying very hard to get a job at a reputable dealership.

While dealership jobs are more about quantity, not quality, It’s very common for valeters and detailers to be considered for body shop roles when they become available.

Going Independent

If you’re looking to self-educate because you can’t afford to take risks or just want to detail as a hobby there’s a lot of information online that will help you.

For starters, you can check out our detailing section. There you will find how-to guides on each individual detailing procedure.

Another great place to learn is youtube.
I learned a lot from Ammo NYC, White Details, Wilson Auto Detailing, CarCleaningGuru, Forensic Detailing Channel and many other channels that I stumbled upon.

You can also find many different online courses from major detailing brands and independent detailers on udemy.

The internet is full of information but you will need to buy some equipment to get yourself practicing. It’s no good knowing it all, but not actually being able to do the task at hand.

Basic Car Detailing Equipment

Since you’re just looking to learn and don’t yet know if detailing is for you, I recommend buying entry-level/budget products. You could also buy second hand.

  • Application pads
  • Microfibre towels & Mitts
  • Water Hose
  • Pressure Washer
  • Dual Action Polisher
  • Wet & Dry Vacuum cleaner
  • Detailing products

Once you’ve accumulated some tools it’s time to start detailing. I would recommend detailing your own car and/or test panels until you’re at a level where you’re comfortable.

It’s better to have to pay to fix your own car over someone else’s.

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