Overview of Detail Services



What goes into performing a detail on my car?




Automobile detailing and reconditioning have been around in some form since the invention of the automobile but now you will find that detailing is becoming a huge, fast growing business. It is moving out of the back alley shops and into elegant "state of the art" detail shops, car washes and also into fully equipped self-contained mobile units.

Virtually, every car will have some type of detailing done to it. To start with, it will receive a new car prep before it is sold. Then, it will (or should) receive washing, polishing and waxing on a regular basis by its owner until the point in time when it is no longer fit to be on the road.

The money spent on detail maintenance is a good investment. Not only will you take more pride in your well-maintained vehicle, but you will also get a higher trade-in dollar when it is time to sell it. Most used car dealers use detailing and reconditioning to enhance the value of their vehicles. In so doing, the end result will be higher selling prices on those vehicles and, in addition, they will become faster selling units. Remember, the price you can get for a vehicle is based almost entirely on the appearance of the vehicle.

The detailing of an automobile will include the cleaning and/or compounding, polishing and waxing of each section of the automobile. This will include the engine, trunk, interior and exterior.

The first step is for my protection by starting with a Vehicle Condition Report.  This report will protect me from any damage claims from the owner. In filling out a Vehicle Condition Report, we will look over the vehicle and list any damages that are showing on the vehicle prior to working on it. We will list things like dents, paint chips, buffer burns, thin paint, moldings (dented or missing), broken glass, wiper blades or tail lights, etc. Also, check the interior for burns or tears. Any pre-existing damage will be noted and initialed by the owner prior to any services being started. We will also discuss any specific area of concern you may have and what other services you may be interested in.

The following is a very standard instructional of a typical Full Detail….


Let's begin now by breaking the process of detailing down into four (4) sections, which are:

1. The Engine
2. The Interior
3. The Trunk
4. The Exterior


Begin with the engine compartment. It is usually the dirtiest area to deal with, so we prefer to clean it first. With the car in the wash rack area and the engine warmed-up, its hoods up and let's go!

1. Warm up the engine for a couple of minutes, especially when you are in cold climates. This will help the cleaner/degreaser do its job more effectively. You don't want to warm it up too much, however, because the chemical can evaporate if it hits a super-hot engine and can create a steam or condensation problem with electrical components.

2. Brush or vacuum soil from the hood insulation.

3. Before detailing, cover alternators and under hood computers before you wet down everything. Do not get hood insulation wet, If no hood insulation is present, be sure to degrease and wash underside of hood.

4. Spray the engine compartment with a non-acid degreaser.  Include the engine block, firewalls, fender wells, hood hinges and latches. Do the undersides of the hood last (to keep the degreaser from dripping on you while you are working under the hood)?

5. Wait 2 - 4 minutes for the degreaser to work. While we are waiting, we degrease the door hinges. Simply, open the door, spray one hinge with degreaser and flush off with water. Repeat the procedure on each door. Back to the engine. It should now be ready to be flushed off with water by using a hose or pressure washer. First start with the underside of the hood; then move on to the block, the firewall and fender wells.

6. Inspect area for any remaining grease. Apply degreaser and flush again if needed.

7. Blow dry.

8. Repaint and/or touch up as needed. Then spray compartment with a water base dressing.











If the vehicle has any special wheels, such as wire wheels or mag wheels, this is the time to clean them. It is vital that you review the products beforehand, so that you will know which products are needed. In cleaning wheels, it may be necessary to use an acid based wheel cleaner to remove the embedded brake dust. BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO ACID BURN THE WHEELS! If an acid product for wheels is not needed, use a non-acid cleaner or standard degreaser.

1. Flush wheel with water to remove loose dust.

2. If needed, spray wheel cleaner on the wheel. (Do not spray a dry, hot wheel with product.) Agitate with a brush to speed up the operation and help to remove embedded brake dust. Let stand only per directions on product. Flush with lots of water. Repeat if necessary.

3. Spray a degreaser on tires. Brush with a nylon or brass tire brush, and then flush with water. The degreaser will also neutralize any remaining wheel cleaner on wheel.

4. Flush out fender well. Move to next wheel, repeat the process.

Now, that the wheels and tires are clean, it is time to do the vinyl or convertible top, if there is one.


1. Wet down the entire car.

2. Using an Upholstery Brush, apply cleaner to top and scrub well. Do one side. Flush with water. Repeat on the other side. (This step is for vinyl and convertible tops only).

3. Scrub any side body moldings with an all-purpose cleaner (APC). Then flush off.

4. Now, with a quality automotive soap wash the entire vehicle from the top down.

5. Dry the car off using microfiber drying towels or air.

















By cleaning the interior at this point in time, you will allow it a longer drying time before it will be returned to its owner. If doing and exterior clean as well, now it the time to clean the doorjambs. Any overspray from the hose or pressure washer will be removed during the interior cleaning.

1. Remove floor mats and ashtrays. Pick up any large objects and place all items in a bag to be returned to the owner. Floor mats can be hot water extracted or if rubber backed or rubber mats, they can be cleaned with a brush and carpet cleaner or a pressure washer. Hang to dry afterwards. Ashtrays can be soaked in a degreaser or APC and water solution to remove odors and ashes.

2. Blow out excess dirt from under and around seats, and seat tracks. Blow out air conditioning ducts and dashboard being careful with the vent louvers. This can be done with air compressor or with steamer.

3. Vacuum well. This step can take up to an hour alone. For pet hair, try various brushes to find the right one for the type of hair and type of carpet fiber texture. A wet exam glove may work, as will a lint roller.

4. If you have a cloth or velour type headliner, we use a high foaming product to clean it to prevent the material from soaking up excess moisture that can damage these fragile surfaces.

5. Carpeting and fabric seats are pre-treated and stains steamed.  Surfaces are then extracted with hot water until return water is clear. Towels remove excess moisture. Continue cleaning until all the carpets are clean. Consider fabric dye if stains are set in and consider a Fabric-Guard treatment afterwards.

6. Next, clean dash and door panels with an APC. DO NOT PUT STRONG CLEANING SOLUTION ON THE CLEAR PLASTIC FACE COVERING OF THE INSTRUMENT PANELS, AS IT MAY CLOUD THE PLASTIC. Take care around electronic areas (stereo, climate control, door switches, ect…) to prevent water or cleaner from entering these areas. Steam is best used around these areas.

7. The last section of cleaning here will be the seats.  Again, use the extractor machine if you have one. If not, use the same procedure as you used to clean the carpets. Scrub, rinse and wipe dry. Do not forget to clean the ashtrays and floor mats. Leather surfaces can be cleaned with an automotive leather-specific cleaner and then treated with a conditioner rich in UV protectants.


8. Apply a dressing to the plastic and vinyl surfaces. A high, medium or low gloss finish can be used depending on the owners preference.** Do NOT dress any foot pedals, rubber floor mats or the steering wheel**


8. Clean all interior glass including window tips and edges. The windshield may need two or three passes to remove all off-gas residues from plastic dashes.


NOTE: We consider the glove box to be a private area in the vehicle and will only clean it with the owner's permission found on the pre-service inspection form.


Things to look for in the interior as a final check are:

1. Rear view mirrors, including visor mirrors.
2. Dome light.
3. Center console – with permission.
4. Gauges.
5. Vents.
6. Ash trays.
7. Steering wheel.
8. Door jambs and rubber moldings.
9. Visors.
10. Final vacuum.


1. Remove everything from the trunk.
2. Clean trunk jambs with engine degreaser or APC+ as needed.
3. Vacuum trunk area.
4. Wash any area that needs it.
5. Clean carpet and/or mats.
6. Clean and dress spare tire with one of the
7. Replace items back in the trunk.














The first impression given from any car is usually based on the exterior finish; therefore, this is the area that will probably get the most attention. A good wash job is important but it is only the beginning in the process of detailing. In some cases, badly scratched or oxidized finishes may need more than just a cleaner. A compound should be considered, followed by a polish. Then, a topping wax or paint sealant can be applied. Detailing the exterior painted finish is a three or four-step process.

1) Claying, if needed. Removes stuck on surface contaminates.
2) Compound, removes deeper scratches and swirl marks.
3) Polish, removes fine and mild scratches and marring from the compounding step.
4) Paint Sealant and wax or just one or the other. A finish product to give the high gloss and paint protection from the elements.

Determining what has to be done to a painted surface is probably the most difficult choice to make. How that vehicle was cared for will determine what product will be needed to restore its luster.


The majority of new cars today are painted with a basecoat/clear coat system. A primer coat is sprayed on the metal. Then, a basecoat (color) is applied, followed by two or three coats of clear finish. It may sound like a thick finish, but in reality, on cars made in the U.S., it is only about 1.5-3.0 mils (1-mil=.001 inch) thick. This will, in comparison, equal about one page of this manual.

There are two factors to look at in dealing with the painted surface. They are:
1) Degree of oxidation

2) Depth of scratches

When paint deteriorates from weathering (oxidation), the first level of paint or clear coat is attacked. If it goes untreated, the second level is affected as well, and eventually, the basecoat is involved. As each level is weathering, it loses its oil and begins to crack and get flaky.

A finish can also become scratched in any number of ways. The scratches can be simple surface scratches or scratches that go to the bare metal.

Buffing products containing abrasives will do two things:

1) Remove thin layer of paint or clear coat

2) Replace the lost oils in the paint

If a painted surface needs to be compounded, the first thing to determine is how much paint needs to be removed to eliminate oxidation and scratches. Remember, the car has a very limited amount of paint, so you should never remove more than is absolutely necessary to correct the problem.

Start your cutting power on the mild side and move up if it does not give you the results needed. Each compound will vary in cutting ability - from a very mild abrasive on up to a sandpaper type compound.


NOTE: Before you apply any product to the finish, the finish should be cool. If the finish is too hot, the product applied could possibly stain or spot the paint.

NOTE: To keep from wasting product and having to clean up a lot of splattered product, use a wax applicator to apply the product to the finish.

NOTE: Wipe on product to a small section of the finish. Then, buff with some pressure applied to the buffer. When the product is being used up and is still wet, but drying, reduce the pressure on the buffer and burnish to a high gloss. To avoid buffer streaks, keep the buffer as flat as possible.

You will find that the top surfaces will require the most cleaning: the hood, the top and the trunk. This is because the flat area is the place where all contaminants come to rest: fallout, dirt, acid rain and dew. These things will lie on the surface and embed into the finish.

Normally, the sides will require a light cleaning product in order to bring the finish back to a high luster.

After compounding, the second step in a complete detail is polishing. This will remove any marring left from the compound step and give the surface a very smooth finish. To conclude the job on the finish, it is necessary to apply a topping wax or paint sealant. Any number of products can be used at this point. That will depend on the type of finish your customer prefers. A long lasting sealant, or a high gloss carnauba wax, or even both. For a permanent* sealant, consider a product like Opti-Coat 2.0.  or GTechniq EXO.



 Now is a good time to evaluate and work the chrome & stainless steel sections of the car. Next, it is necessary to clean the glass, windshields and mirrors with a good ammonia-free glass cleaner.

Water spot removal can be considered now and it also a similar multi-step process as well.



Headlight lens restoration can make faded and cloudy lenses look like new again. This is a multi-step process too, as it involves 2-3 passes of wet sanding, 1-2 passes of polishing with a plastic or Lexan® polish, and a UV sealant.












Finally, it is a must that all tires and rubber moldings be dressed. Again, there are a variety of dressing types that can be used depending on customer’s preferences.


This step is probably the most important part of the operation, and that is final detailing. This step includes the removal of any polish or wax from moldings, door handles, nameplates or any other location that may show leftover material from your final step. To do this, you can use a rag and a detail brush. The whole vehicle surface can be wiped down with a finial spray wax or a quick-detailer spray to remove and dust or fingerprints left behind. Check glass for streaks on inside and outside, use a paint inspection light to check for through defect removal.




Open all doors and hood for a customer presentation and finial inspection. 





A full service detail will take from 4-8 hours even up to 12 or more, depending on how large the vehicle is how dirty and how much pain correction is needed. 5-6 is very typical of a SUV or minivan.

This is something that one can do in their garage if they are smart about the products they use and follow instructions to the letter. Even with consumer products, it’s very easy to do major damage to paint and aluminum surfaces that cannot be repaired. I am not affiliated with Meguiars products in any way, but I use their Professional Line exclusively and highly recommend any of their consumer store-bought products. Just follow the directions!





Or, of course, give me a call and let’s see what I can do for you and your vehicles!!



Mike Sommer



Washing a canvas convertible top can be a real  challenge!

There is a fine line between scrubbing too hard and damaging the fabric and it not coming clean!