What To Do Before Getting A Car Detailed

Shopsteampower, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shopsteampower, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What To Do Before Getting A Car Detailed


As a detailer, I’d like to thank you for asking yourself this question and taking the time to find out what to do before getting a car detailed. Not just because it helps me as a detailer, but because it will help YOU!

It’s common for people looking to have their car or truck detailed to not put a lot of thought into the process. They just want a clean car. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what you’re looking to get out of a professional detail and what is going to make the process easier for the detailer.

Let’s dive into the details of professional car detailing.

What to do before getting a car detailed

  • Remove money and other valuables
  • Remove bulk trash
  • Note exterior problems to discuss such as rock chips, scratches, paint swirls, etc.
  • Note interior problems to discuss such as carpet stains, upholstery stains, leather tears, etc.
  • Plan to be without your vehicle for 3 to 5 hours

Types of Car Detailing

Different detailers will provide various different levels of vehicle cleaning options. Here’s a list of services to consider.

Basic Car Wash

Not really a detail service, but many detailers will offer a basic wash.

Basic Car Wash & Vacuum

Again, not really a detail service, but getting a basic wash and vacuum is often offered by some detailers.

Exterior Detail

Most exterior details will include a wash and wax. The wax used will likely be a paint sealant, which is a much longer-lasting and better performing alternative to carnauba wax.

More advanced car detailing packages will include paint decontamination such as cleaning the surface of your finish with a clay bar and iron remover.

Paint protection that is more advanced than paint sealant is usually available as a premium option. Ceramic coatings or paint protection film (PPF) installation are very effective paint protection methods that come with their own unique pros and cons. Your detailer can consult you on what is best for your vehicle and needs.

Paint correction is another premium option. Paint correction is the process of polishing out fine swirls and scratches in the clear coat of your finish. These fine scratches don’t penetrate into the paint layers beneath the clear coat but the do produce a spiderweb-like appearance in bright light. They’re especially noticeable on darker colored cars and trucks.

Other premium exterior detailing services that may be of interest are trim restoration, headlight restoration, scratch removal, rain repellent application, and some detailers may even offer paintless dent removal.

Interior Detail

Most interior detail packages will include thorough vacuuming of carpets and seats, as well as cleaning and application of protectant on dashboard, door cards, consoles, and leather surfaces.

Advanced interior detailer services include various smell removals, stain removals, leather repair, upholstery repair, headliner repair, etc.

Know What You Want From A Detailing Service

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t if you take a moment to consider it. It’s important to communicate to the detailer the problem areas you want addressed.

Don’t blindly assume that the detailing package you chose will address all of your concerns. Detailing packages vary quite a bit and for good reason. Some problems take a lot of time, effort, and even specialized tools or products to properly solve.

If you don’t have any expectations other than to receive your vehicle returned to you being cleaner than before, you’ll likely be quite happy.

But if there was some particular issue, like a smell from the vents, worn leather, or fine swirls and scratches in the clear coat that you hope will be addressed, be sure and communicate those issues.

These are examples of things that cost a premium to resolve and won’t be included in a basic detail, or even a more advanced detailing package.


Plan Ahead

Good detailers are booked out several weeks. Get on their calendar before your detail job becomes a pressing need.

Knowing what you want done is also important before booking your appointment. Some detailers provide mobile services and will come to you. I can be difficult for them to address some concerns if they weren’t prepared for your unique issue and may not have the equipment necessary on hand.

Getting Your Car Detailed

When you take your car to get it detailed it’s smart to take a few steps to ready it for the detailer. Let’s go over things to consider prepping before car detailing is done on your vehicle.

Exterior Prep

When it comes to the exterior of your vehicle there isn’t a lot that most people need to be concerned with.

Don’t be concerned with the level of road debris and dirt on the outside. The detailers job is to clean it. There’s no need to perform any washing of the outside.

As mentioned earlier though, you should take a moment to walk around the car and at least mentally note any issues that you may have concerns regarding.

Things like water spots, stone chips, paint swirls, scratches, etc. Even if you’re not asking the detailer to address some of these issues it is smart to document these problem areas with a few quick photos and maybe even point some of the more glaring issues out to the detailer so that everyone is aware of existing issues.

Interior Prep

Interior prep is usually a little more critical. There are usually a lot of personal items that should be removed for the safety and convenience of everyone.

Child seats should be removed from your vehicle unless you’ve specifically discussed dealing with these with the detailer.

Also, it’s a good idea to remove trash and other loose items in the cabin. Any money in the console, important paperwork that isn’t secured in the glovebox or other storage compartment. Check door panels and seat back pockets for trash or other items that don’t have a permanent home in those locations.

It’s not good to assume that the detailer will no what you consider trash and what may be something important you want kept for some reason.

Once your interior has been cleaned out it will be easier for you and your detailer to identify and discuss problem areas that you want addressed.

Your initial thoughts may be that all of these things should be the detailers job and what am I paying them for? Removing some personal belongings and grabbing excess trash out isn’t a big ask and will ensure there isn’t confusion about what’s important to not be thrown away or concerns about items missing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to empty my car before detailing?

It’s smart to remove money, personal items, and other important items before handing your vehicle off to your detailer. It’s not that you need to be concerned about things being stolen but rather it makes the detailers job easier and ensures that confusion regarding these items won’t be a problem.

It’s also good to pull out excess trash. They say one man’s trash is another’s treasure. It’s not fair to assume the detailer will know what can be thrown out and would has some importance and should be kept. It’s simple enough to grab a trash bag and clean out the loose trash to make the detailer’s job easier and avoid confusion.

Is my car too dirty to be detailed?

No car is ever too dirty to be detailed but you should be prepared to pay extra for work that take longer than normal. It’s not reasonable to expect a job that takes twice as long to cost the same amount as one that should take half the time.

Do I need to wash my car before detailing?

You don’t need to do a basic car wash your car before taking your vehicle to a detailer although there are times that it does make sense to do so.

If you have paintwork issues such as scratches, rock chips, paint swirls, etc., performing a quick wash will allow you both to clearly see the problem areas at the time you meet the detailer for them to begin working.

Do you tip car detailers?

Most professional detailers won’t be expecting a tip however they do get tipped sometimes and obviously greatly appreciate any tip added to what they are aware is already a relatively expensive job.

How long does it take to detail a car?

The amount of time it takes to thoroughly detail a car usually is around 3 hours but can take longer depending on many factors. Some vehicles will have more hard to reach areas and unique problem spots. Also, if your detailer is addressing specific issues such as rock chips or scratches you can expect the job to take longer.

How long does it take to detail a SUV?

SUVs are usually quite a bit larger than a car. Detailing them top to bottom can take significantly longer than other vehicles. You can expect large SUVs to take a couple hours longer than a normal sized vehicle. Cars take 3 hours typically. 5 hours is not uncommon for oversized vehicles.

How long does it take to detail a truck?

Full-size pickup trucks are large vehicles and can take quite a bit more time to clean than the average-sized vehicle. That said, the interior may be less time-consuming to clean unless it’s a crew-cab. You should plan on 5 hours for most full-sized pickups with 2 rows of seating.
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