Car Detailing: Why, How Often & More (Thinking of DIY Car Detailing? Read This First)

Getting ‘the works’ at your local car wash and vacuuming up your toddler’s animal crackers from under the seats will get you an ‘E’ for effort when it comes to car maintenance. In fact, you’ll need to invest in a more ‘detailed’ approach to automotive care if you want to keep your car in excellent condition—that is, you’ll need car detailing.

Regular Car Washes vs. Professional Auto Detailing

Most car washes simply spray on and rinse or wipe off a variety of treatments. Even self-service car washing facilities have limits to what they can offer. Automotive detailing goes further than superficial cleaning—professional car detailers will also repair scuffs and scrapes while applying specially formulated products to help prevent any new damage or rust. While detailing may not seem as convenient as a car wash, you can usually schedule detailing to go along with your regular oil changes if you go through your dealership.

How Often Should You Detail Your Car?

Between full details, the general consensus in the auto industry is to wash your car at least once a week. How often you do full detail treatments, on the other hand, depends on a number of factors:

Climate—If it snows a lot where you live, then you’ll need thorough detailing as often as once a month to remove the corrosive salt.

Family Size—Young children can make quite the impression on the interior of your car, so we’d recommend at least making seasonal visits to the detailer.

Lifestyle—Muddy hiking boots and off-road driving come to mind as reasons to get more frequent car detailing.

Even if none of these factors affects you, most cars will benefit from having at least two comprehensive detailing sessions per year.

New Car Detail Packages

By the time that you purchase a new vehicle off the lot, its brand-new paint job has probably already been exposed to a few rain showers and a little road grit from test driving. While the dealership will almost certainly provide a basic car wash, additional options such as proprietary polishes and waxes plus interior protectants are usually available as detailing upgrades as well. The warranty may cover certain significant damages, but adding on a detail service package from day one can help you avoid the inconvenience of coming back for unexpected touch-ups. Typically, dealers will offer a discount on these maintenance packages when purchased along with a new car.

Professional Detailing for Used Cars

When buying a pre-owned vehicle, detailing service comes highly recommended. Be sure to give the detailing professionals at the dealership plenty of time to do a thorough job. Oftentimes, you can have the same aftermarket treatments done to a used automobile as for a new one. However, you may need some additional retouching both inside and outside, depending on the previous owner’s car care routines.

DIY Detailing

You may end up spending as much or more cash on detailing products if you wish to ‘do it yourself.’ The professional products that your dealership uses often come with high upfront price tags, which the dealer usually gets discounts on for buying in bulk and saves by reusing some of them. There’s also a higher likelihood that you’ll use an incorrect formula for cleaning your car that could damage the paint or interior. Make sure to do your research if you’re going this route—even something that seems like common sense could turn out to be very wrong.

Just in case you do decide to detail your automobile at home, here are a few tips:

  • Use separate microfiber cloths or mitts for different cleaners and parts of the vehicle.
  • Stick gridded platforms at the bottom of cleaning buckets for debris to fall through and not get picked up again.
  • Read all the labels to be sure that you’re using the products correctly.

If you find the aisles of specialized car detailing products at your local shopping center more than a little intimidating, you’re not alone. There’s no shame in hiring professionals to take care of this aspect of car maintenance, even if you otherwise pride yourself on your automotive acumen.