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:

  • Thorough wash including all the door jams, trunk jam, etc
  • Wheels cleaned behind the spokes as well as around the lug nuts
  • Wheels wells cleaned/repainted as needed
  • Engine detailed, underside of the hood included
  • Entire exterior surface clay barred
  • All exterior surfaces polished (This should be done via machine by a skilled/trained technician) This step could be extensive depending upon the level of correction needed.
  • All exterior surfaces waxed or sealed for maximum durability/protection
  • Tires should be dressed
  • All interior surfaces should be cleaned including seats, headliner, ventilation system, door panels, cup holders, instrument cluster, carpets, etc.
  • All glass inside should be clean and streak-free.

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:

  • Do you have insurance?
  • Where will the work be completed?
  • Are you familiar with the surfaces in my car (coated leather, uncoated leather, alcantara, fire retardant upholstery)?
  • Do you have/use a vapor steamer? If not, how do you plan on killing allergens, mold spores etc from the ventilation system as well as hard surfaces in the car?
  • I have kids in the vehicle regularly, do you use strong chemicals to clean the car, or steam?
  • Do you have a hot water extractor?
  • How long will it take? If they say that you can wait, or that it will only take a few hours, they are not describing a detail.
  • Are you familiar with the paint system on my car (basecoat clear, nano-ceramic clear, lacquer, enamel, tinted clear, etc)?
  • When you buff my car can you guarantee that you will not leave unsightly swirls all over it?

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.