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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Auto detailing details

A well-detailed car or truck shows pride of ownership.  Besides that, it helps protect your dollar investment by averting the ravaging effects that exposure to the elements heaps on your ride.

Dirt roads and foul weather are not the only culprits in the detrimental mix either.  The ultraviolet rays coming from above provide a relentless onslaught on paint and interiors.  How does one combat the attack? 

Actually, garage cover is the best protection a motor vehicle can get.  So, the more time spent under a roof, the better.  The ultimate storage is climate controlled:  heated in winter, cooled in summer.  But many cars don’t get covered parking, and even garaged cars get driven in foul weather, especially during winter.

As a result, detailing, which is actually a careful cleaning with selective application of protective products, is an important aspect of vehicle longevity.  Savvy owners with proper equipment can effectively detail their own autos.  Depending on the level of cleaning and paint renovation required, however, the services of a professional may be desired.

Whether doing it yourself, or relinquishing the task to a pro, it’s good to know the basics of auto detailing. 

Detailing begins with an exterior wash — a good one includes a brush-scrubbing of tires and wheels, along with hosing inside wheel wells and underneath.  After that, the state of the paint finish is judged.  A newer car that has been kept clean and free of surface scratches will only need wax for continued beauty and protection.  Others, which have been dulled by the sun or large nylon-bristled automatic car wash brushes, or have scratches and contaminants like tree sap or road tar, will need more.

While older cars have single-stage lacquer or enamel paint, newer vehicles (since around the mid-1980s) are painted with a durable two-stage urethane finish consisting of a base color coat covered with a clear top coat.  That allows polishing minor scratching from the clear finish without encroaching on the color beneath.

Scratches and contaminants may be removed with abrasive polish, clay bricks, or even fine sandpaper.  Fine scratches left by the removal of the big scratches are progressively addressed by finer and finer polishes and wax. 

Needed interior attention can range from a simple vacuuming to a full water-extraction treatment.  The latter requires a machine (similar to a carpet cleaner) to excise dirt and stains from headliners, carpets and cloth seats.  Leather and vinyl surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned before applying protection and treatment products.

Basic auto detailing may be professionally had for as little as $150.  Paint finish restoration, including sanding, polishing and waxing may run as high as $500.  A complete extraction service on an interior averages $200.  That’s why it pays to avert the need for a complete detail of your newer car or truck by maintaining it’s cleanliness from the start, and why it’s best to keep your older vehicle in top shape once you get it there.

Engine compartments are often detailed too.  On today’s vehicles, though, one must be careful not to soak electronic components with water during the cleansing.  On newer engines that are not laden with oil/grease buildup, dry cleaning with rags is recommended.  If using degreaser and water, certain ignition parts and sensors should be protected with small plastic “tarps.”

It’s often been repeated that an automobile can be one’s first or second biggest investment — it makes sense, then, to take care of it!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at


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