What’s the difference?

Detailing Defined

What is the difference? – Car wash, Valeting & Detailing

We realise that not everyone is aware of what exactly detailing is or what it involves, we get asked this question frequently.

Initially the term detailing originated in America in the early 90’s, people refer to detailing as being very much like valeting, which to a certain extent is correct. There are many different levels to cleaning, valeting or detailing a vehicle, every company will have different terminology/different names for their packages.

Car Wash

A standard or general car wash will offer you a wash/wash wax and a vacuum, they will dry the car with chamois leather and if you are lucky you may even get your windows cleaned! There can be different forms of car wash, self-service, fully automated or a full-service with attendants who will wash and vacuum your car for you. Overall there will not be very much attention to detail at all.


Valeting is cleaning all surfaces to make a vehicle look clean inside and out, without taking into account embedded dirt and any other defects. The interior will still have visible stains and the exterior will still have visible scratches and swirl marks.  You will often see signage around a standard hand car wash facility advertising and offering different valet packages i.e. a general car wash and they will offer to wipe the dash and plastics with a multipurpose cleaner, wiping over your windows inside and out and maybe even apply some cheap tyre shine. As good and as quick as some of the services might be – there really isn’t much attention to detail. The prices of these services vary from £12 upwards with some of the most expensive in/around this area being £90.


Detailing is getting the paintwork and interior to its best – aiming for better than new condition.  Removing embedded dirt, swirl marks, scratches from the exterior. Removing all embedded dirt from the interior, stains and other marks will be removed from all upholstery this can even include worn leather and vinyl repairs at an extra cost. The aim is for the vehicle to leave the workshop looking better than factory/showroom condition.

Detailing the Bodywork

Detailers will evaluate the condition of the exterior using specialist equipment, to determine which service would be appropriate depending on the condition of the paint work. A full safe wash and decontamination process will be carried out and defects will be erased on top of the paintwork and defects that are embedded in the paintwork will also be erased where possible. This can range from using clay bars to wet sanding the paintwork which eliminates deeper defects, imperfections and scratches. Often this is followed by a series of machine polishes and compounds to bring the paintwork back to its original state. Once these stages have been completed the detailer will finish the process with a good wax, sealant or ceramic coating.  In most cases this will make the paint look better than when it leaves the factory/showroom. We go into a little more detail of our services in our ‘what we do section’ and visuals are available to see in our gallery.

Detailing the Wheels

It is often the case that the wheels are removed from the vehicle. This is for ease of access for detailing the wheels, wheel arches and mechanical parts including brake calipers which in some cases will require painting. The wheels will be treated with a polish, wax, sealant and if required a ceramic coating. This process makes the maintenance of the wheels, both inside and out a lot easier to clean in the future when using the correct products.

Detailing the Interior

Detailers will evaluate the condition of the interior to see where they need to start. Detailing the interior is done by using specialist equipment and airlines to get in to the small areas i.e. Air vents and in the seat runners to remove dirt such as sand, dust and grime. The detailer will wipe all dash boards and plastics with an appropriate cleaner, remove any stains from upholstery, leather, door cards and headlining with the necessary products and if needed wet vacuum and/or steam all upholstery including carpets. All surfaces will be polished and have a protector applied.

Leather and Vinyl Repairs

Some detailers will offer Leather and Vinyl repairs – this is quite specialist area and it will have been put in place to try to save customers and clients money. This service in some cases can prevent customers and clients from buying new panels and seats to replace tatty, worn ones. Obviously there is limits to what a detailer can and cannot repair but by all means get in contact via our ‘contact us’ form.


Detailing the Engine Bay

These may also be detailed thoroughly where required. Covering all electrical components to prevent water damage.