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How to protect your vehicle with a professional auto detail

A good exterior auto detail reflects light and protects your finish.  This is a 2007 Sienna.
A good exterior auto detail reflects light and protects your finish. This is a 2007 Sienna.
Rick Wonders

Note: Ten years ago, the author worked getting off-rental cars from a national firm ready for retail sale. For argument's sake, he was referred to as an " auto detailer," and his business was registered as such. In reality, he did what was asked for by the rental agency, just making cars look nice for sale. This is technically not auto detailing.

If you looked at your car this morning, it no doubt accumulated a great deal of water from last night's storms. If the water is not beading up on the roof, hood and trunk, your vehicle's finish is unprotected. You should have it detailed by one of the many auto detailers scattered throughout the Baltimore area. The question now is, who though should you trust?

The term "auto detailing" has become a watered down catch phrase for anything that passes for cleaning a customer's car. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. We are passing this information along because we are seeing a wide diversity of services that are being passed off as an auto detail. In order to educate and protect the consumer, we are posting this helpful guide so you can make a more informed decision when picking an auto detailing shop to enhance and protect your vehicle.

"Express Detail" is a fancy term for washing and waxing your car. Depending on the outlet, you may or may not get the interior vacuumed. These services have their place, but should in no way be confused with a full auto detailing job. We will touch more on when these services are useful later in this article.

When you are looking for an auto detailing service, you should look for a shop that will provide the following services:

  • Wash and dry exterior
  • Clean the engine, bay and inner hood
  • Clean, not just wipe door panels
  • Clean the gas filler compartment
  • Clean the fender wells
  • Vacuum interior carpet, seats and panels
  • Wipe and clean all interior panels
  • Shampoo carpet and cloth interior (minimum)
  • Clean and condition leather interior Use steam or heat extraction on carpet and cloth **
  • Clean interior headliner
  • Remove dust from vents, cracks and crevices
  • Use a protectant on interior panels
  • Use a protectant such Scotch Guard on carpets
  • Clean and polish wheels
  • Dress tires
  • Clean interior glass
  • Clean and polish exterior glass
  • Clean, not just wipe door panels
  • Clean the gas cap compartment
  • Clean the fender wells
  • Polish out scratches and swirl marks
  • Use a paint sealent
  • Use a high quality carnauba wax

The purpose of a full auto detail is two-fold. The first is to bring your vehicle back to near original condition. The second is more important, and that is where it seems most auto detailers offering express or cut-rate services miss the point; protection.

Baltimore weather is tough on a car. In the summer a car's finish is attacked by UV rays, bugs, tar and grit. In the winter, we all know what a mess salt and snow-melting chemicals can make of an automotive finish. Even worse, throughout the year, birds deposit droppings on your car's finish. If left unprotected, these droppings can eat away the clear coat, leaving unsightly etchings in the paint.

Using a paint sealant twice a year helps protect a vehicle's finish from fading, corrosion, and birds. And while most sealant products advertise a full year of protection, that protection diminishes gradually over time. That is why we recommend having your car sealed twice a year. This keeps your vehicle at maximum protection throughout its life.

Most people, and this includes some auto detailers from what we have seen, consider a vac and a carpet shampoo a sufficient interior detailing. Sure, it makes your car's interior look and smell nice, but shampooing alone does not disinfect carpets, nor does it truly get into the carpet's fibers for a thorough cleaning. The only way to do that is with a steam extractor. The process is much like the one you would use on your living room carpet. Face it, your car's carpeting takes as much abuse as the carpets in your home.

Protecting the plastic and vinyl helps prevent fading and cracking from UV rays streaming through your windows. Make sure the auto detailing shop you choose does not just slop on the protectant. This is a common practice. The protectant should be put on with a soft foam pad, allowed to dry for a few minutes, then wiped with a terry cloth or micro-fiber towel.

As we mentioned earlier, the Express Detail has its place in the circle of protecting your vehicle. It should be done as a refresher between full auto details to keep your car or truck looking sharp inside and out. Without the full auto detail service outlined above, your car will look relatively nice, but it will not have the enhanced protection to ward off environmental factors.

For a complete look at how the arthor goes about detailing a vehicle, see "Detailing DIY" at Reliable Digital World. Don't be mislead when it comes to protecting your investment.

** Some auto detail shops are not equipped to perform these tasks. Most auto detailers are equipped, but to protect yourself, ask. If they are not, look for another auto detailing shop.

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