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Difference between car valeting and detailing

Due to the recent increase in popularity in car detailing there has been a big grey area created in the difference between ‘car valeting’ and ‘car detailing’. As far as Wikipedia is concerned, if that’s anything to go by, there is no difference and is simply called different things in different countries, i.e. car valeting in the UK, and car detailing in the USA.

However, the point of this blog post is to help some people who aren’t aware of what some of the differences are from a professional point-of-view but also to explain my point of view, which in no doubt is different to many other people in the industry.

So, what’s car valeting?

Gold Valet
ATG Gold Valet

Car valeting is the process of cleaning, polishing and waxing an auto-mobile in order to achieve an as-new look and enhance the resale value.

This usually includes cleaning the wheels & shuts, washing, polishing and waxing the bodywork, dressing exterior plastics and tyres, polishing brightwork and polishing the glass.

The cleaning process should also include the use of a clay bar to remove unwanted contaminants from the paint such as iron filings, industrial fallout, tar spots and tree sap, which all cause the paint to feel rough and dull the appearance of the paint.

The exterior process includes a variety of chemicals, tools and accessories in order to reach awkward areas, clean off as much soiling as possible and leave the car looking as near to the condition the day it left the showroom as possible.

The interior would be vacuumed in all areas including, dash, centre console, seats, carpets, luggage areas and vents before a variety of chemicals and tools are used to wet clean any soiled areas such as upholstery, trim, carpets and headlinings.

So, what does ‘detailing’ offer?

As you can see, car valeting offers a very extensive method of cleaning for your car and ensures you are left with a car with a higher re-sale value, pleasure to drive and a joy to look at.

So what more can you do? This is where things start to blur.

The main difference from my point of view is the paint rectification/correction process in order to get the paint looking its best i.e. free from swirl marks, scratches and other blemishes ruining the appearance.

These are removed through the use of a machine polisher, usually a fixed rotary polisher but sometimes a Dual Action polisher is used on delicate paint or for the refining stage.

This is combined with a selection of abrasive polishes and pads designed to remove defects, polish the surface and leave a flawless hologram and swirl-free finish.

I also believe car detailing is about cleaning every surface possible on the car, including the removal of certain parts such as wheels, in order to get access to otherwise unreachable areas such as suspension, arch liners and brake components, certain metalwork and access to cleaning the wheels inner rim.

I personally don’t believe that car detailing is simply enough just to have a set routine such as; washing, clay bar, polishing and waxing, but rather cleaning areas not usually cleaned and repairing parts which may be damaged, including paint repair or wheel refurbishment.

This is another area of confusion, as some people think that cleaning the inner rim of the wheel is classed as detailing although I personally clean the inner rim of the wheel on all of my valeting services as I see it part of cleaning a car properly.

The detailing part I would do differently is including removal of the wheel, for example, as this is necessary to reach areas that simply aren’t accessible whilst it remains on the car.

So what’s the confusion?

The main confusion comes when some people see valeting as a completely different service than detailing. In reality, its like anything, there will always be cheaper & inferior quality offerings in all walks of life, and due to car valeting being a popular service these days, there will of course be some people happy to offer a low-quality cheaper alternative.

However, this isn’t to say that all car valeting services are the same, for instance the car valeting I offer includes the same processes, products and techniques as used in my, and many other car detailing services. The term is simply being confused to mean different things.

Final Thoughts

I think many people have come to relate car valeting and car detailing to mean two separate services, when in reality simply due to the bad press of low-quality car valeting services available these days, they are still the same thing and just different terms used by different countries.

I believe some people also class detailing as certain processes, such as snow foam, intricate parts cleaned, inner rim of wheel cleaned, using a clay bar etc, where as I personally see this as part of cleaning/valeting rather than something  that’s defined or refined by a simple term or name change. Again, adding confusion!!

This isn’t to say that some car detailers are ‘just’ car valeters, or car valeters aren’t ‘car detailers’ but rather I see it’s about the attention to detail that differs the two services that have become separated over the last few years offered as opposed to a simple name change, and simply changing the name between the two isn’t and shouldn’t be enough.

but…what do you think..??

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. HI
    I used to have a car valeting business back in the early 80 and I used to do the same thing then with the paint correction systems used to day, I also used to leave a clear sealant on over night then polish it off the next day or use the best carnauba wax polishes auto glym could provide, great stuff I miss it I think I might have an other go and come back as a Detailer !!

    I agree with your observations

  2. Hi there, i am setting up a new valeting business and i am hoping to not just be using my van to do it mobile but rent a unit in order to do the autoglym lifeshine. I agree with your comments and myself i am in the grey area as to exactly what services to offer as i can do things that would come under detailing aswel as in my eyes just good quality valeting.
    it has been a while since i have done this business and i am having another go at it but there seems to be so much more out there that can be done to paintwork these days and i get confused with all the different ways to clean the car haha what ever happened to just a good shampoo and a clean sponge along with a good tfr.
    I am based in liverpool.
    i think i need to just stick to the basic services for now as it is so easy to get carried away wanting to earn money but which services neccesarily go together without getting a bit out of control offering too much or too little in accordance with each other.
    any advice would be greatly appreciated


  3. It can be confusing as car care technology is progressing very quickly but things are much clearer if you understand what you want for yourself. You can drive yourself mad trying to keep up with what is going on or what you ‘should’ be doing. The only way to know what to do, is to do what makes you happy. Good luck with everything, thank you for taking the time to comment

  4. Good write up,hope too use you at some point. Personally I think there is a difference between the two and also so a third ,the car wash. Car wash in a garage where the spinning brushes rip your paint off and the places where you get 10 east Europeans giving it a once over, both are about £5 to £20. A valeted service is more personal and will take a few hours or all day depending on how dirty it is. This will include shampoo of carpets and upholstery, exterior wash and polish. I do not expect a valet to include removing wheels and engine clean but this is up too the particular valeter too decide on what level he includes. Now detailing ,well the clue is in the word DETAIL, this is a service which will clean all the nooks and crannies etc and including engine bay. Then you can decide on the level of detail by having paint correction or paint protection and so on. As with any service it’s the fine detail that sets the top quality work from the rest.

  5. Thank you David, yes I agree with the points above 🙂 thanks for taking the time to read and reply. Have a great New Year!

  6. I am a valeter and work mostly for motor traders who always refer to my valets as “detailing” I routinely clean the engine bay and machine compound/polish every car, interiors are always wet/dry vacuumed and cars are treated to a carnuba wax and sometimes a sealant.
    I often touch in minor chips and scratches and if needed a deodouriser.
    I feel I am undercharging when I compare to other local valeters but the business has become so crowded that the only way to keep getting repeat work is to do quality work at a price that you see other people charging for what for me ammounts to not much more than a wash and polish with a hoover out and a quick wash of the main stained areas.
    I do still get a kick out of looking at the results and that’s what keeps me in it.

  7. Thanks for taking the time to reply! Glad to hear you are doing something you enjoy. There is a very grey line between valeting and detailing and what you are doing is basically detailing the car; paying attention to smaller details to improve its appearance.

    A lot of traders won’t pay the same as retail as they have a margin to make on their cars but want them to look as good as possible so as the valeter/detailer you feel the pinch at the end of the day.

    It’s good you enjoy it but make sure you are making enough that you can maintain a living off it as unfortunately happiness can’t pay for equipment and bills!

    Wish you all the best in your business and if you are around our way, drop down to my workshop and see what we get up to!

  8. I have my sl63 valeted and detailed once a year, the engine bay boot & spare wheel looks like it just left the factory

  9. Noramlly we called car deatiling in US and we do not know you also called car valeting in UK . But thanks for your great article to explain it in detail . And let me learn a lot from your content .

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