Does Your Car Need a Wash or a Detail?

To the untrained eye, car wash and car detailing can appear to have the same purpose. But make no mistake, these are two different processes, and not knowing the difference can lead to pricey mistakes.

Here are some notable differences you have to be mindful of:

Car wash

A car wash is the usual inside-out wash involving an exterior shampoo and interior cleaning, depending on where you are getting it. An automatic drive-through car wash does not typically offer interior cleaning, which involves vacuuming the seats and floor, and wiping down hard surfaces. Its primary purpose is to remove tar, dirt, salt, and other environmental debris from the coat of your car. Some car wash facilities offer specialty coatings, such as special soaps or waxes, to remove caked on grime.

In an automatic or drive-through car wash, the job can be as quick as 10 to 20 minutes for as low as $3. However, a premium or professional hand wash may cost more at an average of $10 to $20 and take longer than a drive-through or automatic car wash. A regular car wash (once a week or every other week) is necessary to minimize the buildup of grime, dirt, and other contaminants on the paint.

Although relatively cheaper, an automatic car wash can cause some damage. The rotating brushes in an automatic wash are usually rough and abrasive, and can scratch your car’s glass and paint. Even though some establishments have swapped their brushes for softer ones, you are still likely to go through uncleaned brushes. If you went in after a car that just came from a beach vacation, for example, there will be some sand left in the rotating brushes that can etch the glass and paint. It’s also likely that the towel used to dry off your car was used on other cars, which can leave a residue.

Car detailing

Red car being washed

Car detailing is more in-depth and time-consuming than a normal car wash. The procedure conducted on the car’s exterior includes waxing, washing, and detailing, which is meant to restore the auto finish to its original condition. Detailing will also be conducted on the interior, as well as vacuuming and deep cleaning. This includes shampooing carpets, deep-cleaning the engine, restoring the headlights, and polishing the car’s finish. The purpose of car detailing is to make your car look brand new, minimize wear and tear, and improve resale value.

While a car wash commonly takes under an hour to complete, car detailing takes several hours to an entire day. So, you do not have to get your car detailed often, and once or twice a year will do, as long as it gets waxed seasonally. The average cost of a detail service is around $100, while more extensive services cost several hundred dollars. If your car needs more advanced services, such as paint color correction, and dent or ship repairs, the detailing may cost thousands.

If you regularly travel with pets or eat inside your car often, unpleasant odors and stains may settle into the interior. This cannot be solved just by regular washing, and may require detailing services already.

Car washing and detailing are both necessary to keep your car clean. However, you cannot go to a car wash and expect your car to look brand new, and it is impractical to have your car detailed every month just to have it cleaned. These are different services with different purposes, and it is important to know which one your vehicle needs and when it is needed.

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