Car detailing is a term used to describe various different extents of car washing. Some people call their weekly maintenance car wash “car detailing” while other people think of paint correction and ceramic coatings when you say “car detailing”.
Not only is the term not clearly defined, also the frequency of car detailing is questioned regularly.
A professional detail including paint correction and a ceramic coating should be performed every two years. A car detail, including a clay bar treatment and waxing, should be performed every three months, while a regular car wash should be performed weekly or bi-weekly.
Check the table below to see how frequently which kind of detail should be performed on a car.
|Type of detail||Recommended frequency|
|Car wash, including interior vacuuming||Weekly or bi-weekly|
|Clay bar treatment||Every 6 months and whenever fresh wax is applied|
|Waxing||Every 3 months|
|Paint polishing||Whenever necessary, max. once a year|
|Full detail, including polishing and ceramic coating||Once every two years|
Of course, these numbers are generalized and a lot of different factors influence how often a car detail should really be performed.
Factors that influence the detailing frequency
The following factors influence how often a car detail is necessary:
Amount And Type Of Driving
In the end, the amount of dirt on your car determines the detailing frequency. And the simple logic is, the more you drive, the dirtier your car will be.
The more miles you drive, the more contact your car will have with insects, dust, grime, and road debris, making it dirty in the process of driving.
This means that it needs to be cleaned more frequently than a car that just sits in a garage.
But do not get me wrong, just because your car sits in a garage or is parked on the street, does not mean that is does not have to be detailed at all.
There is still a lot of dirt in the air that will attach to the car over time. Maintenance washes are definitely needed, although not as often as with a car that is being driven regularly.
Another factor that determines the required frequency of car detailing is the type of driving performed.
If you drive a lot of off-road, your car is most likely much dirtier than a car that is only driven in the city.
That also means that it needs to be washed and detailed more often.
Type Of Dirt On The Car
“Dirt is just dirt” is not true. There are lots of different kinds of dirt that determine how often you should wash your car.
In dry regions, the dominant type of dirt will be dust, which is not too harmful on the paint.
It does not look nice and prevents your car from shining beautifully, but it does not damage the car or the paint.
Regular washes and detailing is more of a luxury thing to do than a real necessity.
There are also other types of dirt besides dust, that make regular car detailing necessary in order to prevent rust and paint damage. Examples are mud, oil, and industrial fallout.
These are not just harmful to the paint and could, in the worst case, even damage the car’s frame.
So, regular car detailing is necessary in order to keep your car “healthy” and working well.
The type of weather in your area is also a crucial factor that determines the detailing frequency.
If you live in a dry area, where there is not a lot of rain and mostly sun, your car will not have to be cleaned as often, as there will mostly just be dust on the car.
What might be necessary on a regular basis, though, is paint correction and UV paint protection, given the amount of sunlight in a drier area.
UV light will, over time, bleach car paint and make it look dull. This can also be resolved by polishing the paint or it can be prevented by protecting the paint with an UV protectant.
Even if many people still believe that rain cleans a car, this is very much not the case.
Rain water contains a lot of minerals that are harmful to car paint. Moreover, roads in rainy regions are muddy and there is a lot of grass, mud, and other debris around. In order to keep the car clean, regular maintenance washes are necessary.
UV paint protection and paint corrections in the form of polishing are not needed as frequently as in drier regions, though.
As you can see, the weather not only influences the detailing frequency: it also influences the type of car detailing that is needed.
Type Of Paint Protection Used
The type of paint protection that is used determines the detailing frequency to a high degree.
The better the paint protection is, the fewer times a car needs to be detailed extensively.
A car without paint protection can be damaged by the slightest amount of dirt and this requires a lot of detailing work to keep it in prestine condition.
Bare paint needs to be clayed more often, polished more often and overall the car should be washed more often.
If a spray sealant or wax is used, everyday dirt from the road and traffic is not really harmful to the paint, as it is protected by the wax or the sealant.
This means that any kind of dirt will destroy and wear off the protection instead of harming the paint itself.
Nevertheless a spray sealant or a car wax is by no means a guarantee for a perfect paint job.
Protecting the paint with a spray sealant or a car wax does not mean that the car does not need to be washed regularly.
It just means that very expensive and extensive detailing needs to be performed less often.
Even a ceramic coating does not mean that maintenance washes are unnecessary.
A ceramic coating has self cleaning properties and very effectively protects the paint against bird poop or any other kind of dirt.
Because ceramic coatings apply a thin layer of ceramic on the paint, claying or polishing is not necessary.
Regular maintenance washes, on the other hand, are still a necessity, given that normally the paint is not protected by a ceramic coating.
The wheels for examples will not be coated in most cases, alogn with any body components that are not painted.
So the wheels and body components that are not painted will still get dirty over time and need to be cleaned.
The paint itself will also get dirty over time, but a ceramic coating makes sure that the paint will not be damaged and is easy and fast to clean.
Time of the year (Summer or Winter?)
This goes hand in hand with other factors like the weather and the type of dirt.
During summer, there will be different kinds of dirt on the street than during winter.
It will mostly be dust and dry dirt that can easily be washed off with regular maintenance washes.
During winter, this is another story. The dirt will most likely be moist or you might even pick up snow and salt from the street.
These types of dirt attach to the paint more aggressively and are abrassive to a certain degree.
Keeping a car in pristine condition during winter requires a lot more work and attention to detail.
Frequency of maintenance washes
You might have noticed how often I have talked about maintenance washes in this post already.
This is because they greatly influence how often a car needs to be detailed professionally.
Regular maintenance washes will keep the car clean, prevent the paint from looking dull, prevent scratches, etching, and other problems.
In short, regular maintenance washes keep the car looking shiny, which is the goal of car detailing.
But not only do regular maintenance washes keep the car shiny, they also protect it.
If you wash your car regularly, dirt and grease will not have a chance to damage the paint, preventing an extensive repair job.
Any kind of acidic substances, like bird droppings, will be washed away almost immediately, so the paint will look great for a long time.
Regular maintenance washes are not only fun, they also protect the car and save you money, as the car does not have to be detailed professionally as often as without regular washes.
Type of vehicle (Ferrari or Fiat)
Now this is a pretty straigthforward point: if you have an exotic car that is more like an investment, professional detailing is in order to keep it looking the best it can.
On the other hand, professional detailing, involving lots of work and lots of money, is maybe not the right thing for a daily driven, rusty Fiat.
It is important to find a balance between wanting to care for the car by detailing it frequently and burning lots of money by doing so, because the car is just not worth it.
As a rule of thumb, you can say, the more expensive and rare a car, the more often it should be detailed.
How dirty is your car allowed to be?
This is also a pretty big factor that influences how often a car should get detailed. In the end, you as the owner must be happy.
If you are happy when your car is a bit dusty and might have some mud on it, there is no need to spend the money to have it professionally detailed.
If, on the other hand, you are only happy and satisfied if your car shines bright like a diamond and is in perfect condition, be ready to spend a lot of money and time at the detailer.
As you can see, there are many factors that influence how often you should have your car detailed.
Some of them are out of your control, like the weather and the type of dirt. Others, on the other hand, are totally in your control, like the amount of maintenance washes you perform.
If you are unsure about how often you should get your car detailed, the table shown above is a great rule of thumb.
When to have your car detailed
Car detailing can be expensive and not everybody is willing to have his or her car professionally detailed two or three times per year. So when exactly is the best time to have the car detailed? When is it most necessary?
A car detail should ideally be done in summer and fall. During summertime, the interior needs to be protected from harmful UV rays in order to prevent damage. The exterior of the car should be detailed in the Fall to prevent larger damages that can occur during winter, due to the harsh environment.
As you can see, the best time for a complete interior detailing is the Summer, as the interior needs to be protected from harmful UV rays.
Moreover, many people use their cars most during this time to go on vaction and enjoy time outside.
The car is moved more, so it tends to get dirty a lot and needs to be cleaned.
Moreover, going on vacation is just a lot more fun in a clean car!
Fall is the best time to get a professional detail on the exterior of the car.
A professional detail including high quality paint protection will prevent larger damages during wintertime and save you money in the long term.
It is much better to have the paint restored and protected, before snow and ice approach, than to have it detailed during wintertime.
It is always better to prevent damage then to repair it.
How to maintain a car after detailing
In case you have already gotten a professional detail for your car, you might wonder what the best way to maintain it is.
After spending a lot of money to have the paint protected and restored, you want to keep the car in pristine condition for as long as possible.
The best way to maintain a professionally detailed car is to perform weekly to bi-weekly hand washes. Using high-quality products, combined with the correct washing technique, will keep the paint clean and free from scratches.
It is important to use the correct washing technique and high-quality products. This includes snow foam, car shampoo, and, maybe most importantly, high-quality microfiber towels and wash mitts.
Apart from regular washes, there is not much you can do to keep the car in great condition. Depending on the kind of paint protection applied during the professional detail, you might want to reapply wax after 3-4 months and clay the car.
The interior of the car is also easiest to maintain by cleaning it regularly. This should include vacuuming and cleaning the dashboard along with the seats with a special cleaning solution.
Why detailing is important
A car detail is not just something for neat freaks that want to have a shiny car in their garage to show off at car meetups.
It is something that everyone should consider, and there are multiple reasons why.
Car detailing is important, because:
These arguments seem easy to understand, nevertheless many people do not think about them when they check car detailing prices.
It is just logical that a regularly detailed car will look better, be in a better condition and subsequently have a higher resale value on the market.
But even if you decide to keep your car until it breaks down, the longevity of the car will also be increased by professional detailing.
Cars are extremely expensive nowadays.
So it makes a lot of sense to invest a bit of money to keep the car in pristine condition to get the best return on it.
Can you detail your car too often?
Detailing a car increases its resale value, make it safer to drive and all in all maximizes the return on investment that you get on the car as a car owner. So it is best to have it detailed as often as possible, right?
Detailing a car too often is possible and should not be done. Correcting the car paint too regularly can lead to damages over time, as the clear coat will be reduced and the actual paint can be attacked. If this happens, the car needs to be repainted, which is very expensive.
Of course, if you consider vacuuming your car as car detailing, feel free to do it every day, if you feel like it.
But professional detailing that includes paint correction and intensive interior cleaning should not be performed too often, as it can lead to damages.
Paint correction always involves polishing, which is just a term for smoothing the clear coat by removing it to a certain degree.
This way, light scratches will disappear and the paint will look perfect and shiny again.
The problem is that there is only a certain amount of clear coat on the car, usually between 1.5 – 2.0 mils or 0.015 – 0.02 inches of thickness. If the car is polished every time a light scratch occurs somewhere, the clear coat will be gone in no time and the bare paint will be visible and attacked by dirt and debris.
If scratches occur in the actual paint, polishing does not help anymore and the car has to be sanded and repainted, which is very labor intensive and comes with a huge cost.
But not only is it possible to detail the outside of a car too often, it is also possible to detail the interior too often and damage it as a consequence.
Cleaning the plastic parts inside the car extensively can lead to them drying out and cracking over time. The same goes for leather parts inside the car. Most effective cleaners will dry out these parts a bit everytime they are used.
Even if your seats are made out of fabric, extensive vacuuming can destroy the fabric and tear is apart.
Make sure to have your car detailed regularly, but not too often! As a rule of thumb, check the table in the beginning of this post to know how often you should have your car detailed professionally.