Car detailing, or auto detailing is a term that is used allot nowadays and it can have different meanings to different People. For example, in America the term detailing usually refers to most kinds of car cleaning, whereas in the U.K the term ‘car valeting’ is more predominantly used to describe most car cleaning activities, with the term detailing only fairly recently being adopted to describe a more thorough clean.
Generally, the correct definition for the term car detailing is to meticulously clean, polish and protect all parts of a vehicle from top to bottom, inside and out, using specialist tools and products that would not usually be used by your typical car cleaner. It does not however, include paintwork and body repairs although sometimes light cosmetic restorative work will be untertaken, for example stone chip touch ups and clear coat wet sanding, depending on the condition of the vehicle and the detailer in question.
The main area and aim of car detailing is to fully enhance and restore the vehicles paintwork by eliminating light scratches and swirl marks that have been inflicted over time and that reflect the light in such a way that they give an unsightly cob webbing effect on the surface of the paint or clear coat. Before this is undertaken though, the exterior has to be thoroughly washed and cleaned in order to remove as much dirt and as many contaminants as possible.
The first step of the exterior detailing process is usually to foam the vehicle completely and allow it to soak, this helps to soften up any dirt and lift it off from the surface prior to pre rinsing. Whilst soaking, a soft bristled detailing brush may be used to agitate areas like the window rubbers, plastic grills, trim details and badges. The foam, along with the loosened dirt and grime is then thoroughly rinsed off.
Before washing the paintwork, wheels and wheel wells/arches are usually cleaned as these tend to be the dirtiest and most contaminated parts of a vehicle. Specialist brushes and wheel cleaning products are used to remove grime and baked on brake dust from all areas of the wheels and wells/arches including suspension components, brake calipers, around lug nuts and even from the wheel rears.
After the wheels and arches have been thoroughly cleaned, the paintwork can then be washed from top to bottom using plush wash mitts instead of sponges and soft micro fibre towels instead of chamois leathers in conjunction with the two bucket technique and grit guards, which all help to prevent any damage (in the form of light scratches and swirl marks) from being inflicted. The complete wash process including the wheels and arches can take anywhere up to two hours to complete, depending on the size and condition of the vehicle.
After washing, paintwork is clayed using a specialist automotive clay bar and lubricant which gently removes any bonded surface contaminants that washing alone cannot remove. This is an important step in the car detailing process as these contaminants can hinder the polishing process and prevent a top quality finish from being achieved.
After the paintwork has been properly cleaned and prepared it is then polished to remove any light scratches, swirl marks, hazing, oxidation and other surface imperfections. This is usually done with a rotary or dual action polishing machine as they allow the polish products to be thoroughly worked into the surface and broken down and so generally create better results. However, paintwork can effectively be polished by hand using the right products and great results can also be achieved with enough time and effort.
The polishing process is usually a multi-step task, as differing abrasive grades of polish are used to correct and refine the finish and it can take a number of hours or even days to complete, again, depending on the size and condition of the vehicle. This is usually the most involving, labour intensive and time consuming part of the car detailing process.
After being polished and corrected of any imperfections, the paintwork is then protected and sealed. Some detailers choose to use a pre wax cleansing product which prepares the paint for wax and ensurers it bonds to the surface properly. High quality natural carnauba based paste waxes and synthetic polymer sealants are used to provide months of tough, long lasting protection and create an incredible shine. Multiple layers of wax and sealant are often applied to ensure optimum durability and shine are achieved and it is not uncommon for high end carnauba paste waxes to cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Once the paintwork has been sufficiently polished, enhanced and protected, the other exterior parts are then dealt with. Windows and glass are also polished and protected, as are any metal and chrome parts. Rubbers, plastics and vinyls are revived and dressed to help bring them back to life and protect them from the elements. The wheels and even the brake calipers may also be polished and waxed using designated products which further enhance and protect them and give a level of detail beyond that of a normal vehicle clean.
The engine bay area is also always properly cleaned, polished, dressed and protected during the car detailing process, using a range of cleaning products and brushes, but it varies from person to person at which part in the process it is undertaken. Some prefer to tackle it first before the rest of the car, while others may clean it after the exterior has been detailed, before moving onto the interior.
An interior detail comprises of all upholstery being vacuumed and thoroughly shampooed to remove any contaminants and stains, while also brightening and freshening it up. Headlining is cleaned, leather is thoroughly scrubbed to remove any dirt from deep in the grain and is then conditioned and protected. Plastics, vinyl and trim are cleaned and dressed using appropriate products to revive and protect them from the sun, then the interior glass is also cleaned and polished to give a crystal clear, smear free finish.
The interior detailing process is also very involved and time consuming as every area including even the smallest vent and switch are properly dealt with using a wide variety of brushes, swabs and micro fibre towels to remove the smallest dust particles from the tightest of areas.
The general practice of car detailing is undertaken to ensure that the vehicle is kept in as good condition as possible during ownership. Once a full detail has been undertaken, mini details or maintenance cleans can be performed on a regular basis which will not be as involved as a full detail yet will help to give all parts of the vehicle that ‘just detailed’ look.
Car detailing helps to retain much of a vehicles original value and it can also add a considerable amount to the value of older more neglected or abused vehicles that have never seen that level of care. Overall, car detailing is the process of thoroughly cleaning, enhancing, restoring and protecting all parts of a vehicle, in order to keep it looking its very best and retain much of its value and a detail differs from your average car clean because of the levels of involvement, the time spent, the tools & products used and the quality of results that are achieved by the end of the process.