Car detailing (or car valeting as we usually call it in the UK) has been an industry on the rise for some years now. In fact, it is worth an estimated £1 billion per year.

The high-quality results that professional car detailing offers is just one of the reasons that so many people decide to invest in such services. These days, car owners more and more often choose to forego doing it themselves. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to this ever-growing industry and it is worth being aware of them!

man detailing car

What is car detailing?

So, actually, what does detailing a car mean? Whether you call it detailing or valeting, professional vehicle care services like this involve very detailed car treatments. They are, to a great extent, based on cleaning but you should never confuse detailing with an average Sunday morning wash. It is incomparably more than that!

The auto detailing process includes a deep-clean of your car’s interior and exterior as well as a range of cosmetic adjustments. It aims to restore the cleanliness and freshness in all possible aspects, returning your car to its factory condition wherever possible.

What does car detailing include? 

The precise laundry-list of tasks included in any given car detailing can vary depending on the price and length of time it takes. The most common car valeting services feature the following interior and exterior :

Interior car cleaning and detailing:

  • Carpet and mat cleaning
  • Air vent cleaning
  • Window cleaning
  • Dashboard cleaning and treatments
  • Upholstery cleaning
  • Air freshener

Clean Mercedes interior

Exterior detailing:

  • Alloy cleaning
  • Tyre cleaning
  • Body wash/cleaning and waxing
  • Polishing and buffing
  • Window cleaning

Detailing cars is becoming more and more popular because it has long-term benefits for a vehicle which go beyond making it look and smell nice. Car detailing services generally use products which protect the car from the effects of harsh weather, for example, and can make the paintwork of a vehicle slightly more scratch resistant. That’s why your original auto detailer may also offer the service, both for new cars and those already sold.

Improving the cosmetic condition of a car through detailing can also have an effect on the resale value of a vehicle. The increase in value, of course, depends on the type and working condition of the car as a whole, but a professional detail can increase resale value by as much as 5% - 10% (or even 15% in some cases).

man vacuuming car seats

How much does car detailing cost?

The exact cost of vehicle detailing in the UK varies greatly depending on your location, the extent of the service and the products used. 

For instance, independent car detailers in London that do everything by hand and use the very best polishes, waxes and equipment will cost far more than a detailer in Glasgow using over-the-counter car detailing products or an automatic car wash in a smaller town.

Most of the time, the terms ‘valeting’ and ‘detailing’ can be used interchangeably. However, it is accepted as a rule of thumb that full detailing (sometimes even referred to as ‘car SPA’) is more expensive because it focuses more heavily on correcting cosmetic wear and tear on both the interior and exterior surfaces of a vehicle. Just like cost, the length of time a car detailing takes depends up on a number of factors.

man polishing car wheels

The most expensive car detailing service in the UK, for example, takes a month and costs over £7,000! How long does car detailing take for an average person? In most cases you are typically likely to wait 2 – 4 hours, or perhaps a day if you go to a smaller, independent detailer.

The pros and cons of vehicle detailing

There are pros and cons to professional auto detailing, just as there are with everything, but the benefits really do outweigh the costs. 

In fact, the cost of vehicle detailing is the biggest, and usually the only drawback for most people. As mentioned before, though, this price tag will depend on who you go to and what their detailing includes.

The pros, in turn, are numerous and include:

  • Professional quality finish
  • Interior and exterior cleaning
  • Cosmetic damage repair and retouching (in some cases)
  • Weather and damage protection for treated surfaces
  • Convenience

At the end of the day most people who choose professional detailing services do so because of the high-quality results and the convenience of having an expert undertake the work for them.

After all, those who find the cost prohibitive or who enjoy the process can try valeting their car themselves. There are many different detailing tools and products available through auto-centred shops or specialist brands.

How to detail a car

If you’re determined and willing to perfect the art of car detailing yourself, there are a few things that you will need to get, and a few skills that you will need to hone.

First and foremost, you will need a car detailing kit – this means microfiber towels, buffers, polishers, waxes, and washes (as well as some specialist brushes for wheels). It is also helpful to have access to a steamer for upholstery and some paint correction tools if you want a professional finish at home.

person polishing car

Once you have what you need, you should work through the 12 basic steps of detailing:

  1. Wheels
  2. Pre-wash (to soften and remove stubborn grime and dirt)
  3. Snow Foam
  4. Wash
  5. Decontamination (dissolve iron, remove contaminants, clear tars spots)
  6. Drying (with a microfiber towel)
  7. Polishing
  8. Glazing
  9. Waxing/Sealing
  10. Glass and Interior Surfaces
  11. Tyre Dressing
  12. Steam and Deodorize Upholstery

This might seem like a lot of work… well, it is, and getting all these steps right it is not a quick or easy job. The results that this level of effort can get you are remarkable but you have to earn them if you are detailing a car on your own. 

That’s why professional detailing services are considered so much more elaborate and prestigious and the costs are so much higher than a standard car wash. Whether the cost is worth the results is entirely up to you, of course.