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Choosing your Auto Detailer - A comprehensive guide to vehicle care

Updated: Feb 27

It may seem unimportant but there's a lot to think about when choosing the right detailer for you.

To some having a detailer can feel like a luxury service only available to a limited number of people. This is not the case there are several options in your area that you can choose from that might fit your needs and budget depending on where you live or work. Some have a premium level of service and only offer at a premium price and those that are on the lower pricing end, as with everything - you pay for what you get! The main benefit to having a detailer is knowing that your car is maintained and cleaned properly with the correct chemicals or solutions and tools that will keep your car in its most optimal shape. With everything, there is a level of maintenance expected to ensure its upkeep and longevity. A detailer will use tools and expertise to preserve your paint and interior surfaces, prevent rust, and overall maintain your resale value. Since there are so many factors involved in choosing the right detailer, I've created a guide for you from the perspective of a detailer to help you with what to look for and how to know you've picked the right one for you!

What is auto detailing?

a person wiping a vehicle clean

Auto detailing is a service that provides comprehensive cleaning, restoration, and protection of a vehicle, both inside and out. It goes beyond a standard car wash and involves a more meticulous approach and attention to detail to enhance the overall appearance and condition of your vehicle.

Exterior detailing consists of a thorough washing and drying step that will remove all dirt, grime, and contamination to the paint; this usually is combined with a deep clean of wheels and tires. It can also consist of clay bar or clay towel treatments, polishing to remove minor scratches, swirls, or imperfections, and lastly waxing or sealant application which can be in the form of a general carnauba-based wax to a ceramic coating that will give you the highest level of sealant protection.

An interior of vehicle detailed

Interior detailing consists of general vacuuming., window cleaning, dashboard & trim cleaning as well as some more premium level cleaning such as steam cleaning, shampooing and leather cleaning/conditioning.

Some additional services you could see detailers offer would be headlight restorations (which will give you more clarity and brighten yellow or foggy headlights), Paint correction (which will address more significant paint imperfections), Odor elimination or air quality resets for interiors(which will remove or neutralize odors such as mold, smoke or any other strong odors found in vehicles), fabric protection or coatings, engine bay cleaning (which will degrease all hoses and plastics that are prone to degradation with long periods of grease and oils baking on its surface) as well as protective coatings such as interior sealants and ceramic coatings.

Choosing a detailer - Factors to consider:

Man laughing next to clean car

Experience and Expertise - Most good detailers will have a decent sized portfolio on their website or social media pages. It will showcase a variety of vehicles based on size, condition and level of needs specific to the customer. The level of time in business may not be the best metric because you could find a detailer in business for 3 years but has been doing it part time or on weekends and maybe has completed 20 cars in those 3 years or hasn't seen difficult situations or mastered the craft as well as someone who might have been in business for half the time and completed over 50+ vehicles in that time. The length of time in business can be a factor but needs to be only a portion of that decision. I'd suggest you look at their social media profiles and website or maybe reach out and ask a few questions to gauge their knowledge or expertise.

Here's a few questions you could ask that every detailer wouldn't have an issue answering.

What was your most difficult detail and how did you handle it?

View inside of clean front of vehicle

Look for problem solving tactics or knowledge in their tools that they could navigate through this problem detail with ease or even better their ability to have a conversation with the customer to notify them of the difficulty and were they able to come to a resolution based on that conversation. It might have lead to an added fee (which is totally normal!) or maybe something that was outside of the realm of the detailer, and he/she might have referred to a different detailer or maybe required a more specific service provider like a body shop or mechanic.

Can you provide a reference or a customer that can vouch for your work?

a woman typing on bed with laptop

Most good detailers have a portfolio of reviews or customers that they can either connect you with or show you where to find reviews from past customers. Some customers aren't always open to being bothered to review or discuss but the detailer might have a couple customers willing to share a little feedback. For the most part if the customers leave reviews on their google business profile or social media pages it's a step in the right direction that this detailer has been able to provide some great services to a few customers.

Can you explain the process or steps for this service?

a group of people branstorming ideas on large pad

If the detailer has experience, they will be able to shoot out the steps pretty easily. With everything there's an order of operations or an SOP (standard operating procedure) and if you've done it more than a handful of times you've been able to create an SOP for it that will keep you working efficiently and able to provide consistent superior results. Let the detailer walk you through the steps and listen for confidence and knowledge in the process and maybe they can explain what has or hasn't worked for them or if they've had to change the process to be more efficient or cater to the condition of the vehicle.

Services offered is the second factor to consider -

two men with car door open and clipboard

A well-established detailer has expanded their service offerings to cater to their customers and have been either trained or learned how to successfully complete these services and can speak about them with you, again with confidence and knowledge.

Included in this second factor is pricing and packages, good detailers have their packages and pricing ironed out and can speak to exactly how their pricing works and be transparent with their pricing. Know that with most pricing there's a "starting" price and levels in pricing depending on the condition of your specific vehicle. You can't expect to pay the same for a well-maintained vehicle as someone who has neglected their vehicle and is filled with trash and pet hair. The customer with pet hair or stains will have to pay a little extra simply because the detailer needs to use better tools, more expensive chemicals and the extra time to ensure they get your vehicle fully cleaned. Overall, the detailer will be transparent and easily able to speak to the different packages, add on services and fees based on conditions.

Lastly the third factor is Reviews and Testimonials -

picture of the words google reviews and five stars

A qualified detailer will be able to encourage and guide you to their reviews. Usually, you'll be able to find them on their google business profile or on any of their social media pages. Reviews or testimonials are a great way to see what others say about this detailers work. Were they able to get customers to speak highly of their service and work? Did anyone rate them lower than a 3 or 4 star? You can't please everyone so if they only have one lower scored review and all others are 5 stars then it's likely that this detailer is a solid choice!

Again, none of these single factors should hold the whole weight of your decision but as pieces of the full picture they will be really helpful in choosing the right detailer for you!

There are some huge red flags to look for when choosing a detailer that I'd like to share because not all detailers are made the same so these might be helpful to spot early in your search to filter through some of the detailers in your area.

No online or social media presence - hard to see their work or check reviews.

Inability to provide any professional references or customer feedback.

No clear pricing structure or after discussing they are unable to really give you an idea of what the pricing would be ahead of scheduling an appointment.

They can't tell you what products they use based on the condition of the vehicle. Are they using dawn soap and magic erasers with a degreaser to clean your vehicle? These are tools and chemicals you do not want to clean your car and your detailer should have done their research on the chemicals that are right for their details and the condition of your specific vehicle. You wouldn't use bleach in every load of your laundry just because you know it will clean and disinfect - you will do the research to see what would give you the results you need and be safe for the fabrics. This is the same technique with detailing.

So, to sum it up, choosing the right detailer involves various factors such as pricing transparency, package and service offerings catered to size & condition of the vehicle, experience & expertise as well as being able to provide reviews & testimonials. They don't stand alone in the decision but combined they can give you a really great starting point and clear direction for making the right choice.

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