Your car can look nearly new inside and out after a professional auto detail but what do you get for your money? A complete detail begins with a thorough exterior wash, including the tires, rims, wheel wells, door and trunk jams. Technicians shampoo the entire vehicle from top to bottom with a mild cleaning solution, a soft wash mitt and towels. Detailers employ special tools such as air compressors and a boar's hair brush to clean dust and dirt from crevices. Professional auto detail can restore most cars to their former glory. With proper tools and years of experience, a professional detailer will make your vehicle look its best. In the detail shop, your car will be deep-cleaned inside and out, top to bottom you may not even recognize it when you pick it up. So what really happens to your car during a professional detailing?
Logically, a professional detail begins at the vehicle's exterior. "A complete detail is really an all-day job," said Scott Taylor, who owns and operates Taylor's Auto Detailing in Mt Laurel, NJ, with over 25 years experience. "The detail begins in the wash bay, where we take care of the wheels, tires, door jambs, trunk jambs, bumpers, grilles, and all of the nitty-gritty tight spots on the car using a high power heated power washer," explained Taylor. The next step is to remove any road tar and bugs that are stuck to the finish, and to evaluate the paint. "We examine the paint to establish a game plan for how we will polish and buff the paint to really make the finish look as new as possible," Taylor said. Detail shops use different types of wool pads, foam pads and polishes with a power buffer to remove scratches, scuffs and other small imperfections from the paint. The detailer decides what products and tools to use, based on the condition of the paint. A series of products or steps may be used, but the final result should be a smooth, glossy paint finish. "The key with the paint is to only be as aggressive as you need to be to get the result, because we don't want to create any swirl marks in the paint" explained Taylor. "We want to produce the job, but not leave any footprints in it." Once the car is polished and all the swirl marks are removed, a coat of quality wax is applied by hand to protect the paint. "The final step is to address all of the exterior trim and rubber pieces on the car, including door handles, moldings, tires, rubber trim around the windows, and polishing the glass," concluded Taylor.
The Inside Job
A vehicle's interior cleaning begins with a thorough vacuuming to remove all loose dirt and prepare the car for the interior detail. A brush and air nozzle is used to clean the air vents, and to get between the seats and other tight areas. After a complete vacuuming, the car's interior is shampooed from top to bottom, literally. Detailers use a mild cleaning solution, with the top of the line shampoo carpet extractor machine, a soft wash mitt and towels. "The headliner is first, followed by the dash, center console, air vents, seats and doors, leaving the dirtiest area for last, which is the carpets and floor mats," said Taylor. "The idea is to work your way from the top to the bottom, cleaning and drying as you go," he explained. You want to pre-soak any stains and get in there with a shampoo brush. Once the interior has been shampooed, detailers go back through the interior with an air nozzle and a boar's hairbrush to knock loose any dirt particles loosened by shampooing. Then the interior is re-vacuumed, again using the boar's hairbrush. The brush and vacuum clean as much as possible without a lot of moisture. If a vehicle has leather interior, detailers apply a liberal amount of a leather care product and allow it to soak into the seats for a few minutes. The seats are wiped down with clean microfiber towels after the product has had time to soak into the leather. Then we apply a leather conditioner to protect the leather.
Detailers Focus on Problem Areas
Probably the most common problem with cars that enter detail shops is contaminants on the paint, such as dried tree sap, bird droppings or paint overspray. "Detailers use a soft clay cleaning bar prior to buffing, gently rubbing over the finish to remove contaminants such as overspray paint and diesel," explained Taylor. "The clay bar is designed to work with cars that have clear-coat paints. It smoothes the paint out prior to buffing." Other contaminants can be removed safely with a mild solvent and, according to Taylor, a little dab of rubbing alcohol will often remove some contaminants, but it should not be used in direct sunlight. Another common problem is coffee stains, which Taylor advises cleaning up quickly. Coffee stains are presoaked with a mild cleaner and then roughed-up with a nylon brush. The important step is to rub the stain with a terry towel to bring the stain up before vacuuming. But Taylor warned that coffee left too long on upholstery or carpets can leave a permanent stain. Smoke and pet odors are another common problem that detail shops deal with every day. The odor in the car of a person who smokes can usually be handled with multiple shampoos. We use spray-on products that contain active enzymes to treat the interior. We also have an ozone machine that generates an "ozone fog" inside the car, which can be very effective to counteract the most severe odors.
Once the interior is finished, detailers often wipe the exterior again with clean cloth diapers or microfiber towels. The exterior is wiped from end to end, beginning with the paint, since the goal is a glossy finish without any swirl marks. The doorjambs and the fuel-filler door are opened and wiped clean again. The areas around the lights and under the grilles are wiped and checked for any small spots or hidden areas that were missed in the cleaning or buffing process. The last step of a quality auto detailing is a final inspection checklist, which ensures the job was completed from top to bottom.
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