Unfortunately this is the most abused term in the industry. What one shop calls a detail another considers a wash. It is not uncommon for me to speak with a customer who is asking me about a detail only to find out that he or she is actually describing what we consider a car wash. A detail by our definition means that every surface of the vehicle is cleaned, conditioned, and restored to its maximum potential. We see hundreds of vehicles that are clean, but need to be detailed.
At the minimum, a full detail should include the following:
Wiping the interior with a towel and a bit of cleaner is not thorough enough to be considered detailing in my opinion. The cracks and crevices should be cleaned using either air, or what we prefer, a vapor steamer. Same goes with the carpet-wiping it with a towel after brushing is not detailing. A true detail should consist of first steaming the carpets with a vapor steamer to remove/kill allergens, then extracting the solution with a hot water carpet extractor. All of the inaccessible cracks between the seats, around switches, vents etc should be cleaned with a vapor steamer.
A full detail typically takes two to three technicians at least 6 hours to complete with an additional hour for dry time. If you are looking to have your car detailed be sure that you know the appropriate steps that should be taken, as well as the correct questions to ask the detailer with whom you are considering leaving your vehicle. Here are a few questions that come to mind:
Be sure to describe any special needs that you have about your vehicle as well as your expectations for the detail. If you ask these questions and are satisfied with the response from the prospective detailer you will be one step ahead in making sure that your expectations, needs, and goals are met when the detail is complete.