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What is Car Detailing?

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Introduction

“What is car detailing?” is such a straightforward, simple question that you could be forgiven for expecting the answer to be so too. The truth is- much like the industry itself- there is no one correct answer. A quick Google search of ‘What is car detailing?’ or ‘What is included in car detailing?’ will lead you down a rabbit hole of varying opinions and definitions – most of which have merit.

A consensus of what most define car detailing is removing dirt and embedded contamination from vehicles’ exterior or interior. Additionally, signs of wear and tear may be rectified, as well as applying degradation-preventing products.

 

The History of Car Detailing

It may or may not come as a surprise that the beginnings of the automotive detailing industry fired into life before the invention of the car.

For the best part of a century before Carl Benz (yes, that Benz) registered his patent for what would be the world’s first car in 1886 – wax was already being used.

Derived from animal fats, a protective wax was applied to protect the paint on carriages since 1800.

In 1910, George Simons (Simoniz) formulated a new, cleaner, and still used today carnauba wax for car paint finishes.

The first half of the 1900s saw the establishment of several companies which still dominate the industry today, namely Meguiars, Menzerna, Simoniz, 3M and Turtlewax.

“Automobile Laundry” is credited as being the first ever production line car wash, opening in Detroit, Michigan, in 1914.

The emergence of what was to transform into the complex and far-reaching car detailing industry began in the 1960s. By the ’70s, various services such as paint protection, engine cleaning and rust-proofing became more popular.

The 1990s saw the introduction of advanced technology concerning car paint systems and detailing products (two-stage paint, microfibres and clay bars.

The latest innovations in the industry are nano-ceramic coatings, which came to fruition in 2010 and have been developing and improving ever since. PPF (paint protection film) is a fast-growing service at the moment.

So in the past 100 years, the detailing industry has grown alongside the introduction and increasing ownership of cars. As long as there have been cars, drivers have wanted them to look nice or protected.

 

Understanding Car Detailing

As previously discussed, settling upon one clear and concise definition of car detailing (and what it consists of) is a challenging task. It is broadly agreed that ‘improving, repairing and protecting’ the physical appearance of motor vehicles (inside and out) – is an all-encompassing definition.

Having a stunning gloss on a car that is the envy of your neighbours is not the only benefit of having your vehicle detailed; there are other practical benefits too. Apart from having a more enjoyable environment to drive around in and a much easier exterior to care for, regular detailing can preserve or increase resale value.

The website Auto Trader has shown that having your car professionally detailed ahead of a sale can return up to double what you invested for this service in the resale value.

With reference to interior detailing, removing and preventing dust, dirt, mould and bacteria formation may prevent health issues or leave behind a more suitable environment for those who struggle with conditions relating to poor air quality.

Improved vision and driving safety are benefits when opting for a hydrophobic glass coating. The rainwater on your windshield is quickly dispersed by the coating, significantly increasing clarity- even in heavy rainfall.

Bugs wash off easier, and ice doesn’t strongly bond to the glass.

Is there a difference between a car wash, mobile valet and professional detail?

Yes. A vast difference.

 

Car Washes

Car washes are convenient, accessible and fast. To varying degrees (dependent on the format- hand/touchless/spinning brush, as well as different abilities of individuals) – your car will come out looking clean. To the vast majority of the population- that’s all that matters. They see a cheap, effective service and use it. But at what cost?

Manned car washes- whether it is yourself using a brush at a fuel station or a hand car wash- there is a high probability that the washing equipment being used is cheap, well worn and potentially filled with pieces of dirt/grit from previous washes. Using this grade of equipment will lead to scratching of your paintwork.

The same applies to the ‘soft bristle’ automatic drive-through car washes.

The individuals who work at these places are low-paid, inadequately trained and have strict restraints on how much time they can spend on each job. Time pressure can exacerbate issues, such as lack of proper care and attention to safe practices or properly rinsing off chemicals.

All car washes tend to use cheap, strong chemicals (especially ‘touchless’ washes). When misused, left to dry, not diluted enough or simply, used too regularly regularly- these chemicals cause burning/staining and can permanently damage your car’s paint and trims.

High alkaline, caustic traffic film removers (TFRs) can accelerate corrosion on your vehicle, with particular areas of concern being the wheels and underbody of your car.

Summary of carwashes: car washes make your car clean and are fast, cheap and convenient- but when used regularly, they will destroy your car’s appearance.

 

Valeting

Whether a premise-based or mobile service, valeting is a massive step up from a drive-in car wash. Most valeting businesses will be run either by an individual or a small company- their reputation is on the line.

A professional valet carried out by a reputable company will be of a far higher standard, take several times longer, and the chemicals used are far safer on your car.

Through the offering of tiered packages, it is not uncommon for valeting to cross the line into detailing, which allows their customers to have a more in-depth service completed on their vehicle- but in a shorter time frame and at a lower price.

Summary of valeting: valeting provides a far more thorough and safer cleaning service for your car and may allow essential detailing services to be carried out mobile at a lower price point.

 

Detailing

So, does this mean detailing is the same as a valet but “more detailed”? Well, in straightforward terms – yes. Especially regarding interiors, a ‘detail’ could be viewed as a ‘super, in-depth valet’.

The way the company ‘Auto Finesse’ have described the difference between the two services is spot on. Valeting removes what is on top of the paint/upholstery, and detailing goes ‘far deeper’, removing contamination, imperfections and damage that would otherwise be permanently inside the surface.

Even if your valeter has the knowledge and training required for an in-depth, professional detail, the cost they charge you certainly won’t cover the time it takes. A decent full valet inside and out can take 2-4 hours.

Whereas an interior detail on its own could surpass 5 or 6.

When carrying out machine polishing/paint correction, the exterior on its own will often take 8-10 hours, and that still does not factor in having to store protective coatings overnight (if required).

A detailer would (usually) have an indoor workspace that allows them to custom build a set-up. This set-up is designed to show up even the slightest imperfections from every angle, regardless of the time of the day or month of the year.

Detailing is an in-depth, advanced, transformative service for your vehicle using high-grade tools, equipment, and products. It is a thorough ‘clean’, including permanent removal of engrained contamination and damage accompanied with durable, effective protection.

 

 

What is included in exterior car detailing?

By this point, you will understand the meaning of car detailing and how it is a separate, mind-boggling branch of automotive care. Some companies specialise in smaller sub-categories of detailing (i.e. only exterior paint polishing, paint protection film or interiors), whereas many will offer a range.

Although this article is designed to give you a broader industry scope, turning this into a 100,000-word book would be relatively easy. To avoid overdoing it, I have chosen to break down car detailing into two parts, ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’, and then focus on the main components of each.

 

Washing

The first step of exterior detailing is to (obviously) wash the car. Washing the vehicle correctly will remove dirt from the surface without damage. The most critical stage of washing a car is the ‘pre-wash’. The main aim with each step of the process is to do it as effectively as possible before moving to the next- thus, removing as much dirt from the paint with chemicals and a jet wash before physically touching the paint- vital when it comes to avoiding swirl marks.

The use of a citrus pre-wash is a common starting point. Applying and rinsing this to the most soiled areas (lower half of the car) and onto organic contaminants such as bug splatters and bird droppings can do a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ right off the bat.

A snow foam, essentially a car shampoo designed to ‘froth up’ and be applied to the vehicle by a bottle/lance attachment from your pressure washer. This thick soap sticks to the paint, giving the chemicals time to sit on, loosen and break down dirt. The foam slowly slips down the paintwork, taking with it the loosened dirt- before being rinsed off.

Now that the ‘pre-wash’ stage is complete, it has removed the lion’s share of the grime. A thin layer of a dust-like film will likely remain on the surface, and hand-washing will remove this.

The ‘two bucket method’ is usually adopted for this part. The two-bucket method (safe wash) uses one bucket of clean car shampoo-infused warm water- providing lubrication (for the mitt to glide over the paint) and cleaning power.

The second bucket (often with a grit guard) is used solely for rinsing and cleaning the wash mitt before re-entering the clean bucket- reducing the chance of dirt building up in the mitt and scratching the paint.

The car will then be dried, usually with a large, highly absorbent, soft microfibre towel designed to soak up large amounts of water. The towel should be lightly ‘pulled’ across the surface (without applying pressure). It will lift the water away with it.

By this point, the car will have no surface dirt remaining- and that is as far as a wash/valet will go regarding removing pollutants. Now the ‘detailing’ begins…

 

Decontamination: Tar Removal

Decontamination will begin with the tar removal stage. Tar is pieces of the road. It is visible (and very rough to the touch) as black dots on your car. It is a refined natural resin that binds the materials that form the road together.

Road tar is most likely bitumen, essentially a semi-solid form of petrol produced through the distillation of crude oil- and composed of complex hydrocarbons.

Loose pieces of tar are kicked up by car tyres and thrown at the paint (newly laid roads, in particular, are prone to it), and some of these fragments cling on and bond with the paint. Over time, your paint can become pitted by the tar and discoloured.

It also gives a rough surface which is easier for dirt to cling onto.

Tar removers are solvent products which contain hydrocarbons and can be viewed as “deconstructing’ or ‘re-wetting’ the pieces bonded with the car (much like paint thinners do to fresh paint)- allowing them to be softened or dissolved and can they be safely rinsed or wiped off without scratching.

 

 

Decontamination: Iron Fallout Removal

Iron Fallout (brake dust, rail dust, fallout and industrial fallout) is tiny shards of metal thrown at or melted into the top layer of paint.

These small particles have naturally jagged edges, which allow them to lodge in the pores of the paintwork.

They come from your and other cars’ brakes and dust in the air near railways or factories.

Iron contamination gives car paintwork an unpleasant appearance and a rough, gritty texture.

These tiny metal pieces begin to oxidise (rust), expand and bury themselves deeper into the clear coat.

Over time, they can cause pitting in the surface, allowing more fallout to penetrate further- potentially damaging the protective properties and integrity of the paint system.

If these fragments become loose when washing, they pose a risk of scratching and prevent protective products such as wax or ceramic coatings from properly bonding to the surface.

Iron Fallout Removers are chemical products sprayed onto the paint’s surface. They trigger a “controlled corrosion” process. They are often PH neutral but react and become slightly acidic when coming into contact with iron. The piece of iron stuck within the hills and valleys of the clear coat begins to corrode (some products turn purple to demonstrate this process visibly) – and dissolve. As a result, the jagged particle changes shape, reduces in size, and (no pun intended)- ‘falls out’ of the space it has inhabited within the paint.

This process may take 5-10 minutes and, once rinsed off, leaves paint with far less contamination and may be repeated.

Chemically decontaminating the paint is unlikely to remove all of the iron fallout on a car’s exterior. Still, it eradicates a large proportion of it in a safe, touch-free manner.

 

Decontamination: Claybarring

Detailing clay (clay bar) is a polymer resin compound that removes bonded contaminants from car paint. It was created in the 1980s by a Japanese scientist named Tadao Kodate. It was later introduced, became popular and patented by US-based company ‘Auto Wax’ in the 1990s.

It can be described as a firm ‘play-dough’ or putty-like substance and comes in various hardnesses, colours and grading.

With the aid of lubricant, clay is slid across the paint in a straight, cross-hatched pattern. The clay clings onto and pulls the remaining (too deep to be removed by chemicals) pieces from the paintwork.

The clay is regularly folded over on itself and remoulded to ensure the contaminants transferred from the paint are buried within and not dragged around the surface.

When using a clay bar, it is highly likely (because it is abrasive) that it will leave behind what is called ‘marring’. In layman’s terms, it scratches the paint. The difference between marring and typical scratches is that marring is incredibly minor and easily rectifiable.

The tendency to introduce marring when using detailing clay means that this process should only be carried out with the time, knowledge and equipment to machine polish the paint afterwards.

There are choices to make regarding the grade of clay used. The harder the clay bar, the more effective it will be, though subsequently will introduce more marring. The level of contamination plays a factor in the choice of clay grade.

Paint hardness must be taken into consideration. Softer, cheaper paint (usually used on Asian car models) is more susceptible to marring than their harder clear coat, German counterparts.

The washing and decontaminating process is now complete. Not only does the paint look cleaner and feel silky smooth, but it is also safe to go on to polish (having pieces of pollutants dragged around by a polishing pad can lead to permanent damage in and of itself!).

The polishing stage will be more efficient as a result, friction caused by rough paint will not hinder the pad, nor will it pick up contamination which will clog up and make the polishing pads less effective.

 

Machine Polishing & Paint Correction

What is paint correction? Is it different from machine polishing? What if I want correction and not a polish – or a polish but not correction?

I get it; it’s confusing. So I am not surprised that these questions are asked. We often get asked at MPCS, “Does your polishing include paint correction” – and you know what? The confusion is due to semantics and a melting pot of opinions and egos.

Let me clarify things (or at least give you my opinion of what the terminology all means) before telling you how it works and why it is a crucial integrant of car detailing.

 

Actual definitions: 

Paint Correction: Removing damage/scratches (imperfections) from car paint. These imperfections are removed by removing the paint they are buried within (often with a machine polisher).

Machine Polishing: The act of polishing a car with a power tool designed for polishing cars– complete with accessories called pads, which are lubricated with an abrasive substance (polish).

 

Where things get confusing:

The confusion between these terms stems from car detailers trying to distinguish the difference between their prices and packages. Whether it is being called a ‘single stage polish’ or an ‘enhancement polish’, a ‘multistage correction’ or a three-stage polish with two stages of cut and one stage of refinement’- IT IS ALL DIFFERENT INTENSITIES OF THE SAME THING!

Paint Correction: is done by a machine polisher. It is still “machine polishing”. It is the term most used by detailers to describe ‘multiple stages’ of machine polishing– and usually required when scratches and swirls on the car have been inflicted deeper into the paint.

Paint correction/multistage polishing requires ‘machine polishing’ the car at least twice (sometimes more). The first ‘going-over’ is aggressive and will remove the largest amount of paint and, therefore, deep scratches. The paint will likely have a dull finish caused by very, very small, shallow scratches (holograms/hazing) left behind by the machine polisher/pad/compound (compound being another word for a more aggressive type of polish designed to remove scratches rather than increase shine).

The second (or more stages) will use a less aggressive combination of pad/polish that removes these compounding scratches.

Machine Polish/Enhancement/Single Stage: this is the most common term to describe a “single stage” or machine polishing, in other words (not multiple stages). This is when the car gets just one “going over” to remove as many paint imperfections (AKA correcting paint) as possible without leaving behind ‘holograms/hazing’ (i.e. tiny scratches introduced by aggressive polishes/pads).

A “single-stage” removes less paint, not only because the car has been polished only once but because a less aggressive polishing method has been used. Therefore, if a paint defect/scratch travels deeper into the paint (more than the level of paint shaved off) – it won’t be removed.

So an old car with many swirls and scratches (most likely to go quite deep into the clear coat) will benefit far less from a “single-stage polish”.

 

paint correction west lothian

How Paint Correction Benefits Your Car

The aim of this part of detailing is, in short- to make your car shine! But what is shine?

Shine is the physics of light. Shine is the side effect of light bouncing off a surface very evenly.

I remember watching a BBC documentary on The James Webb Telescope. The mirrors used to reflect the light needed to produce clear images were required to be near perfect. It took years to polish them to a microscopically flat finish- so much if you scaled up the scenario of a human hair lying on the mirror to the size of The United States, that hair would be comparable to a mountain range.

So what makes car paint ‘less’ shiny? Well, anything that interrupts the evenness of light reflections, scratches (swirls) being the leading cause.

Paint (although microscopically very uneven) is very flat in the context of general day to situations.

Light bounces off of it and into our eyes evenly. However, a scratch is like a V-shaped valley in the rolling hills or a dried-out riverbed carved into a flat floodplain. Instead of light bouncing back in the same direction as the rest of the surface, it gets caught within this recess, refracts, bouncing around the ‘walls’ of the scratch and exits in a completely different direction to the rest of the surface. This refraction of light gives a scratch its white appearance (or it is primer if it is an extremely deep scratch!).

Paint texture, often referred to as ‘orange peel’ due to its resemblance to the skin of an orange, can scatter light in a way that is detrimental to the shine.

Of course, numerous other factors play a part in the reduced shine of the paint, including- but not limited to oxidation, chemical burn, water spot and mineral etching- again all introducing ‘indents and unevenness’.

The only way for your paint to be ‘like a mirror’ would be to contact NASA and give it the ‘James Webb Treatment’- but paint correction is the next best thing.

Glazes, silicone sprays and waxes all temporarily ‘fill in’ these microscopic peaks and throughs- allowing light to reflect off the paint more evenly.

Paint correction permanently flattens the surface to a more even, aesthetically pleasing reflective finish.

If you have made it this far into the article, congratulations. When you started reading this, maybe you were looking for the best way to remove bird poo from your car; I doubt you were expecting a physics lesson and references to NASA.

But this is indicative of how complex the world of detailing can be. This sub-section (Machine Polishing & Paint Correction) of the article was just shy of 1000 words and- if you will pardon the pun- has barely scratched the surface.

 

Paint Protection

Ok (wipes brow), now the hard part is done; your car looks as close to brand new (or perhaps even better!) as possible. It would be mad to ‘leave it at that’!

Paint protection aims to shield your car’s bodywork from the elements and prevent damage from common sources of wear.

Most forms will offer the surface of your vehicle varying degrees of resistance to UV radiation, acidic rain, chemical staining, tar, brake dust, general grime, water repellency, and easier maintenance.

Carnauba Wax

Derived from the fronds of the Brazilian carnauba trees, carnauba wax is the traditional way of protecting your car. It offers UV protection, water repellency and excellent gloss but tends to only last a matter of weeks.

Synthetic Sealants

Synthetic paint sealants are chemically formulated pastes or liquids similar to wax and are sometimes blended with it. There is little difference between synthetic sealants vs a wax when discussing application and benefits. The main difference between the two are that sealants are far more durable and longer lasting than wax.

Ceramic Coatings

Typically composed of Silicone Dioxide (SiO2), ceramic coatings are applied using a ‘carrier liquid’, which then evaporates, leaving behind a layer of protection (nanoparticles). These nano ceramic particles are small enough to fill in and bond within the microscopic pores of the paint. The bond between a ceramic coating and clear coat differs from waxes and sealants is that it physically bonds to the paint, waxes and sealants sit on top. The resulting layer evens the paintwork’s aforementioned ‘hills and valleys’. The now flat surface does not allow contamination to get stuck within the pores.

Ceramic Coatings are far more chemically resistant than waxes or sealants. They are harder and can be resistant to light scratches. Instead of lasting weeks and months, they last years.

Paint Protection Film

Otherwise known as PPF, paint protection film is an extremely robust, self-healing, thermoplastic urethane film that can protect the paint on your car from stone chips and light scratches.

What protection is best?

The answer to this comes down to budget, driving style and mileage. If you have no upper limit to your budget, then the best possible protection for your car would be a full vehicle PPF install, accompanied by a ceramic coating (which is more resistant to chemicals than the film).

Paint Protection Film is the strongest and longest-lasting protection possible for cars. However, it is costly to purchase and install.

Most clients will not opt for a full car install of PPF. Instead, a front-end kit proves to be the most popular, reaping the benefits of rock chip and scratch protection on the most exposed, damage-prone areas (bonnet, bumper, wings)- and ceramic protection on the remainder of the car.

In reality, the vast majority of car owners will not have the budget or need for paint protection film.

Ceramic Coatings have recently overtaken wax as the most popular paint protection and for good reason. They are an extremely effective method of protection, value for money and durable. They are (unlike when they were first introduced) relatively cheap to have professionally installed, and DIY options are available to purchase.

 

What is included in Interior car detailing?

 

Interior Detailing

Now that the outside of the car is gleaming, it would be such a shame to set yourself down into a musky, crumby interior. On the face of it, interior detailing can be done without practice or skill. It is a ‘quick hoover’ and dash wipe-down. Right?

Interior detailing, much like the difference between a basic car wash and exterior detailing explained in depth above, an interior detail removes dirt engrained below the surface.

 

Vacuuming

I don’t need to go into much depth with vacuuming. Once any rubbish and clutter is removed, it is the starting point of any interior detail. A detailer will likely use a heavy-duty industrial vacuum instead of a household machine. Professional detailers also have special tools and attachments to get down in crevices and hard-to-reach areas.

 

Seat and Upholstery Extraction

The fabric in your car, whether on the seats or the carpets on the floor, are magnets for dirt. Vacuuming will remove larger pieces of surface dirt or loose contaminants within the fabric- but dirt and stains embedded within the material’s fibres won’t be removed.

Extraction (or shampooing) is the process used to remove this embedded dirt. A cleaning solution is sprayed onto the fabric, soaking into the fibres, breaking down stubbornly attached grime. A detailing or drill brush attachment may further work the cleaning solution deep into the material.

The cleaning solution is then ‘extracted’ (sucked) out of the fabric by a carpet cleaning machine taking the grime with it, and this dirty liquid is deposited into a tank in the machine.

 

Steam Cleaning

The use of steam to clean is extremely effective. A steam cleaning machine (steamer) allows the user to blast the vapour created by boiling water from a spray head. Although hot and powerful enough to cut through muck, steam is surprisingly gentle on surfaces (when used carefully).

Pressurised steam reaches into areas only gases can, quickly killing bacteria and sterilising the area.

 

Leather Cleaning

Leather is incredibly complex. It can very quickly be irreparably damaged if cleaned with improper equipment and chemicals.

Common degreasers and all-purpose cleaners (APCs) are too strong to use. Anything above a PH level of 8 will cause a chemical reaction called Hydrolization (damaging the leather’s top coat).

Dedicated, high-quality leather cleaners and extremely soft bristle leather brushes or sponges must be used.

When cleaning leather, excessive use of either heat, abrasion or chemicals (or a combination of the three) will cause permanent damage.

As a result, investing a larger amount of time than typically assumed (but with softer cleaning methods) is the best way to approach leather cleansing.

 

Glass cleaning

Cleaning the glass (especially the interior) on your vehicle, you have probably found, can be frustrating. Getting that perfect, streak-free finish can seem elusive. Still, it is achievable with the right methods, clothes and cleaners.

Glass cloths (yes, there is a specially designed cloth for every job in detailing) split up the traditional blend of polyester and polyamide fibres found in microfibre cloths and tightly weave them into a tight, lint-free waffle pattern.

Glass-specific cloths are more abrasive than normal microfibres and only safe for use on the hard surface of widows. They are designed to have a larger surface contact area, picking up the smallest grease and dirt particles that traditional cloths may miss.

 

Ozone Treatment

Ozone treatment is used as a last resort to remove the most stubborn odours, namely cigarette and tobacco contamination.

Once all previous cleaning treatments have been completed and the cabin filter replaced, if an unpleasant odour remains, we may resort to using an ozone generator.

Ozone (O3) is a gas of three oxygen atoms and naturally occurs in trace amounts in the stratosphere.

Ozone is the most powerful sterilant in the world and must be used cautiously. O3 is an ‘unstable’ molecule, which means it will attack every other molecule it comes into contact with by oxidation.

Bacteria and viruses are broken down on a molecular level, meaning Ozone destroys them entirely (as opposed to simply masking or filtering them). This includes “phenol”, the chemical present in second-hand cigarette smoke.

The Ozone generator must be used sparingly as the harmful by-products it creates can damage rubbers, plastics and fabrics in high doses and be dangerous to breathe.

When carrying out a deep clean detail, we always build the time to properly air the vehicle before returning it to the customer.

 

Pro vs DIY Detailing

We all start somewhere. The rise of YouTube, blogs and ‘high profile’ detailers offering online training has made the craft far less ominous and accessible.

If you want to detail your vehicle instead of taking it to a professional, do so for the right reasons.

If you are tempted to start your own business or even do favours for multiple friends and family’s cars, then your car is the ideal starting point.

However, if you are looking to try your hand at your car (as a one-off) to save money or because you feel you can do as good a job on your first try- be prepared to think again!

Not only are you paying for your car to be worked on by cutting-edge equipment and products within a purpose-built studio set up- you are paying for the experience.

Since moving into our premises in December 2020 (not counting my brief stint mobile), I have polished and ceramic-coated over 1000 cars.

One thousand cars. I have hit the ’10,000’ hours needed to be seen as an “expert, ” yet- I am still learning, and I am not afraid to admit that. With innovations in technology, products and new problems to solve – there is always room to learn more about this craft.

Most of the cost of detailing is not so much in the products themselves (don’t get me wrong, our overheads are high!) but the labour-intensive process and the experience to get the job done well.

Some people out there (without prior experience) believe they can achieve the same results at home.

Fairly recently, I returned a customer’s website enquiry with a phone call. He was looking for a price for his 6-year-old Mercedes that was apparently in “very good condition”.

At the time, we were offering a discount on a single-stage polish and ceramic coating, bringing the cost down to an outstandingly low price.

His response was rather surprising, and I was slightly taken aback. Going by his email address (and what would become apparent from the conversation), he was also a small business owner. One of his past businesses was a skilled trade. But sadly, he did not appreciate the complexity and skill involved in detailing.

The conversation went a little like this…

Customer: I’ll have to stop you there- how much? I’m sorry, but that price is far too high for what it is. It is not worth it.

Me: I’m sorry you feel that way; with the discount, this is almost half the average cost for this service, and of course, if you read our Google reviews, you’ll hopefully conclude that it is worth it.

Customer: That may be the case, but to be honest, I am a researcher at heart. I love to research things. I read up on things and do them myself. I have a rotary polishing machine in my garage, so if everyone charges that much, I will have a go at it myself.

Me: Ok, that’s fair enough if you feel that way, but I would advise against using a rotary if you have not polished a car before; they can be quite aggressive and, if misused, cause a lot of da-

Customer: Ah, you see, I used to have a floor sanding business. So I am experienced with the various grits of sandpaper and how you go up the grits to refine it.

Me: Wait… you’re not planning on wet sanding your car, are you? That’s a massive job…

Customer: No. I used to use a sander on the floors – and on the edges, I used an angle grinder. If I can use an angle grinder, I can handle a rotary buffer. So I am going to go away now and research “the best creams” for polishing a car and have a go at it.

That was that. We said goodbye; I wished him luck. I don’t know if he ever did try polishing his car- but I would be desperate to see the results of his chosen ‘creams’ and angle-grinder approach!

The above conversation is an extreme example; most customers who wanted to or have tried detailing themselves (bringing it to us to rectify) were not arrogant. They were not complacent and knew when too much was too much.

The cost of tackling your car by yourself may not just result in a spray job needing to be carried out on a damaged panel or paying a detailer to rectify mistakes.

The cost to purchase tools (even the cheaper, DIY versions) and products to complete a one-off job on your car will cost more than taking it to us.

 

What does it cost to do a DIY detail compared to a professional one?

We priced some basic tools and came up with an estimated price of £485 to purchase everything needed to get started. Then, of course, it is finding the time to complete the job (when I first started, it took a lot longer than it does now- two full days).

Our starting price for a single-stage polish and 2-year ceramic coating is £350.

Here is the work behind our figure…

 

Washing/Decontamination Tools/Products

  • Nilfisk Pressure washer – £60
  • Snow Cannon- £20
  • Citrus – £11.50
  • Snow Foam- £19
  • Iron Fallout- £15
  • Tar Remover- £10
  • Claybar- £12
  • Pack of cloths: £20

 

Polishing Tools/Products

  • DA Polisher- £100
  • 2x Cutting Pad- £32
  • 2x Medium Pad- £20
  • Cutting Polish – £17
  • Finishing Polish -£20
  • Panel Wipe- £10
  • Inspection Light- £60

 

Ceramic Coating

 

Here we have listed some of the pros and cons of both ‘doing it yourself’ and taking your car to a professional detailing company like “Machine Polishing – Central Scotland”.

 

Advantages of DIY Detailing

  • If doing several cars- the initial start-up cost is cheaper than paying a professional per car.
  • Have an unlimited amount of time to spend on your car.
  • Flexibility to start and stop the job whenever you want.
  • You don’t have to travel or be without transport.
  • Enjoyment and job satisfaction (if you enjoy cleaning your car and appreciate achieving things yourself).

 

Disadvantages of DIY Detailing

  • Lack of space to work on or store your car indoors (if using ceramic coatings).
  • Expensive start-up costs
  • Time-consuming
  • Unlikely to achieve the desired results
  • Often weather dependent (if no indoor space)

 

Advantages of Professional Detailing

  • High-end, stunning results.
  • Peace of mind job is done correctly
  • Insured against accidental damage.
  • More cost-effective than purchasing required tools.
  • Time-saving, you don’t have to spend a weekend or time off work to detail your car.

 

Disadvantages of Professional Detailing

  • Can be costly
  • You can be without your car for a few days.

 

Maintaining Your Detailed Car

Every customer that leaves our business having had polishing and a ceramic coating applied to their vehicle leaves with an aftercare booklet. We wrote this from scratch, addressing every frequently asked question regarding after-care advice asked by collecting customers. Since writing it, we have yet to have someone ask a question that I have not been able to respond with “the answer is in your booklet!”.

Here are excepts from that booklet.

You’ve just invested in a ceramic coating for your car. Although our prices are extremely competitive, it’s still a significant spend- so we’ve put together some advice that will help with looking after it.

The protection offered by your coating should last several years when properly maintained. In short and in simple terms, all that is required is to regularly (and properly) wash your vehicle (once every week or two ideally) with quality products.

Important Points

  • Do not wash (rain is fine) or apply products to your car for a minimum of 1 week after our service is carried out.
  • Glass Coating – If you have opted to have the glass coating applied to your vehicle, avoid screen wash for the first 72 hours. Use wipers manually rather than on auto, more wiper use will lead to more coating wear .

De-icer, harsh chemicals and ice scrapers will damage the coating. Clean windows with ‘Pyramid Car Care’ glass cleaner when required (and clean the wiper blades too!)

  • Stay clear of car washes (manned, automatic or fuel stations etc) – although they offer convenience, doing it yourself or via a detailer is best. Scratching and the use of harmful chemicals is inevitable at these outlets.
  • Wash regularly. Hand-washing at least every two weeks is the minimum we recommend to keep your coating fresh and to prevent it ‘clogging up’.
  • Don’t polish your car. Waxing is fine! People sometimes get mixed up between the two. Wax is a protective layer that sits on-top of the paint, polish is an abrasive (scratch removers, t- cut, compounds etc). The use of these or any products with abrasives will harm your coating.
  • If your wheels were removed, it is strongly advised that you check the wheel nut torque after approximately 50 miles of driving and should something not feel/sound right – immediately take to a mechanic.
  • BIRD DROPPINGS – Remove ASAP. Don’t wipe/rub (they scratch!). Spray with citrus pre-wash and jet wash off. Or soak a kitchen towel and leave on it for 5 mins- then pour water from height.

 

How to Wash

Ceramic Coatings definitely add gloss but the majority of shine comes from a scratch free, clean and smooth surface. Washing properly will keep your car and coating at its best.

  • Always follow manufacturers’ product instructions and adjust dwell times to suit weather conditions.
  • A helpful Youtube video to watch- is by ‘Car Craft Auto Detailing’ titled “How To Wash & Care For a Ceramic Coating” shows you the whole process as well as decontaminating.
  • Remove as much dirt from the car before hand-washing (Pre Washing) this VERY important to prevent swirls.

‘Citrus Pre-Wash’ particularly dirty areas first, rinse, followed by snow foam (let dwell) and rinse again.

  • Hand-wash with high quality wash mitts. Do not apply ANY pressure. You’re trying to capture dirt with the mitt and remove it from the paint, pressure pushes it into the surface and scratches.
  • Use two buckets- one for clean water/shampoo. Another for rinsing your mitt (after every panel). Use a separate mitt for the lower half of the vehicle also.
  • Pyramid Car Care’s “Revival” shampoo with hot water provides both cleaning power and lubricant.
  • Don’t wash in circles, straight lines only, circles increases risk of swirling.
  • Wash from top to bottom, this prevents the dirtier parts of the car contaminating cleaner parts.
  • (WHEELS) follow same pre-wash routine. Use dedicated wheel brushes for cleaning, then apply iron fallout remover to remove embedded brake dust.
  • Dry with blower or a high quality, dedicated drying towel (without pressure) to avoid water spots. Don’t dry by hand if doing a snowfoam only wash.

Decontamination

Decontaminating (removes build up that normal washing can’t) is important to do at least every 3 months. Some cars may need it more often, some less- but this will prevent your coating being clogged and losing hydrophobicity. (You can also carry this out on glass coating)

  • After your normal prewash, handwash with a dedicated coating decontamination shampoo such as (‘Infinity Wax Synergy Refresh’). Once rinsed and dry, apply tar/glue remover to a panel at a time, let sit for a few moments and wipe with fresh cloth.
  • Spray Iron fallout remover all over the paint, let sit for a few minutes, then rinse.
  • After these steps, you should snow foam/handwash the car again to remove residues.

 

Conclusion

If you have read this biblically sized opus of an article to here- then you’re probably my wife (hey Jenna!) or my marketing manager (hey Callum!).

For as long as there has been widespread ownership of cars, there has been a desire to preserve their mechanical performance and cosmetic appearance.

Detailing is a complex craft. It is a collaboration of science and art which aims to remove embedded dirt, day-to-day wear and damage from vehicles’ exterior and interior. A detailed vehicle will have protection installed to protect the car’s surfaces from further wear and damage and preserve or increase its resale value.

The world of detailing is easily accessible to the general public through budget tools and online learning, and it has never been easier to dip your toe into the craft- however, caution should be taken. There is a mammoth list of potential mistakes that can be made, leading to the damage of cars- and it takes years of practice to become professionally competent with others’ pride and joys.

With constant innovations in products and tools, an almost infinite number of cleaning and polishing combinations can be used to detail every car. There is not always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, so trial and error is essential.

A detailed car is easier to maintain, and if you have visited a professional to have your car worked on, you should receive appropriate and effective aftercare advice.

 

References

https://timelesscarcleaning.com/when-did-auto-detailing-started/#:~:text=The%20recorded%20history%20of%20auto,roads%20were%20full%20of%20dirt

https://www.detailxperts.net/blog/2015/09/17/auto-detailing-a-brief-history/

https://www.carwash.com/brief-history-american-carwashing/

https://aquabio.co/uncategorized/blog/car-wash-history-from-simple-beginnings-to-modern-day-features/

https://www.capitolshine.com/blog/the-first-car-wash-opened-in-1914-since-then-things-have-changed

https://group.mercedes-benz.com/company/tradition/company-history/1885-1886.html#:~:text=On%20January%2029%2C%201886%2C%20Carl,1

https://www.flawlessdallas.com/the-history-of-auto-detailing/

https://www.autotrader.com/car-tips/clean-car-before-trading-selling#:~:text=Detailing%20your%20car%20before%20trading,and%20a%20dealership’s%20evaluation%20staff

https://diamondcutdetailing.co.uk/what-is-car-detailing-a-complete-guide/

https://www.chipsaway.co.uk/blog/what-is-car-detailing-and-what-does-it-include/

https://www.autofinesse.com/en/blog/guides/what-is-car-detailing

https://www.baltimoredetail.com/benefits-of-car-interior-detailing

https://www.familyhandyman.com/article/will-a-car-wash-hurt-your-cars-finish/#:~:text=Sadly%2C%20the%20answer%20is%20potentially,the%20finish%20is%20always%20there

https://autocarehq.com/are-traffic-film-removers-bad-for-car-paint-and-waxes/#:~:text=Traffic%20film%20removers%20should%20not,them%20during%20a%20maintenance%20wash

https://detailfreaks.co.uk/blogs/news/the-whole-detailing-routine-from-a-to-z

https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/how-to-get-tar-off-your-car#:~:text=In%20a%20nutshell%2C%20the%20tar,it%20by%20another%20name%3A%20asphalt

https://www.thedrive.com/cleaning-detailing/38284/how-to-remove-tar-from-car

https://www.instituteofmaking.org.uk/materials-library/material/tarmac#:~:text=Tar%20is%20refined%20natural%20resin,crude%20oil%20production%20by%20distillation

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bitumen.asp#toc-bitumen-vs-asphalt

https://www.prokleen.co.uk/blog/how-to-remove-iron-fallout-from-car-alloys#:~:text=What%20is%20Iron%20Fallout%3F,or%20even%20a%20factory%20nearby

https://www.detailingwiki.org/decontaminating/what-is-a-fallout-remover/

https://www.duelautocare.co.uk/blogs/guides/what-is-a-clay-bar

https://www.detailingwiki.org/decontaminating/what-is-clay/

https://detailfreaks.co.uk/blogs/news/the-ultimate-introduction-to-paint-correction-and-polishing

https://www.theultimatefinish.co.uk/car-care-blog/detailing/paintwork/

https://www.sindicateauto.ca/our-blog/polishing-vs-paint-correction-what-is-the-difference#:~:text=While%20they%20may%20seem%20similar,scratches%20within%20the%20clear%20coat

https://ceramicpro.com/what-does-paint-correction-do/#:~:text=Paint%20correction%20is%20the%20process,scratches%20are%20leveled%20or%20removed

https://webb.nasa.gov/content/observatory/ote/mirrors/index.html#:~:text=Webb%20Telescope’s%20scientists%20and%20engineers,before%20been%20launched%20into%20space

https://www.caranddriver.com/car-accessories/a38162593/sealants-for-cars/

https://blendedwaxes.com/blog/5-facts-carnauba-wax/#:~:text=Carnauba%20wax%20comes%20from%20the,as%20a%20natural%20plant%20wax

https://www.bestclearbra.com/blog/wax-vs-sealant-vs-ceramic-coating-which-better

https://www.apmcustoms.co.uk/blog/paint-protection-film-ppf-the-facts#:~:text=Paint%20protection%20film%2C%20also%20known,bug%20splatters%2C%20and%20minor%20abrasions

https://www.detailxpertsfranchise.com/blog/2022/06/29/steam-cleaning-vehicles/?__hstc=179528635.09d5b6ecd892d409a9e7c40b0995db07.1687344957753.1687601450377.1688566996327.6&__hssc=179528635.1.1688566996327&__hsfp=3363200471

https://www.slimsdetailing.co.uk/collections/glass-towels

https://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/facts/SH.html#:~:text=What%20is%20Ozone%3F,Sun’s%20ultraviolet%20(UV)%20radiation

https://www.definition-detailing.co.uk/car-ozone-treatment#:~:text=Car%20ozone%20treatment%20is%20a,smells%2C%20and%20other%20common%20odours

https://pro-wash.com/2017/05/04/ozone-treatments-smelly-cars/

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