What is difference between professional versus automatic car washing?

What Exactly Does Auto Detailing Mean?

The confusion of “washing” vs. the professional “detailing” of a car is not uncommon. After all, aren’t we really just cleaning the car? The answer, as it turns out, is also not quite as simple and requires a detailed explanation (pun intended).
When referring to a “car wash,” the general definition is a tunnel setup whereby the vehicle can either drive through or be automatically pulled along a track where brushes, soap and water are applied. The drying process usually consists of employees using a towel or a giant blow dryer. The end result is a car that on first glance can appear mostly clean for a relatively cheap price.

So What’s Wrong with an Automatic Car Wash?

An automatic car wash can leave scratches and swirls in your paint. We have had countless vehicles roll through our many locations with damaged paint as a result of the brushes at these automatic car washes. First off, many times the brushes used to scrub your vehicle are not cleaned. If the car that went in before you just got back from a sandy beach vacation, or just has general dirt and grim built up, there will be some sand or dirt left in the brushes that can scratch your paint. In addition, many times the workers at the end use the same towel as the car before to dry your car by hand which means cross-contamination and can leave a residue. Automatic car washes focus on efficiency over quality; meaning, how fast can they get your car out so that the next one can get through.

How Does Detailing a Vehicle Differ?

For starters, auto detailers use the method of hand washing instead of an automated system. All of our detailers are trained to the highest caliber on how to take care of a vehicle. Proper procedures along with the right formulas mean your vehicle receives only the best treatment. The goal is to have your car, truck, van or SUV looking as great as it did when you first bought it. Every area of the car is meticulously cleaned, by hand, to insure quality. Beyond simply washing, auto detailing can include elements of cleaning and restoring the exterior and interior of a vehicle such as:


  • Washing
  • Waxing
  • Bug and tar removal
  • Clay bar surface or Nano mitt
  • Using degreasers
  • Dressing outside plastics and rubber
  • Waxing or wax sealant
  • Buffing
  • Cleaning and dressing tires
  • Cleaning the engine
  • Dent repair
  • Ventilation decontamination
  • Headlight restoration
  • Touch-Up painting
  • Fixing scratches or marring in the paint or wheels
  • Applying paint protective coatings


  • Vacuuming interior and trunk
  • Steam cleaning
  • Cleaning windows and mirrors
  • Cleaning door jambs
  • Cleaning the dashboard, console, vents and components
  • Cleaning and dressing interior leather, vinyl and rubber
  • Spot cleaning the interior roof
  • Shampooing the seats, mats, carpets and door panels

What If You Have Already Been through an Automatic Car Wash?

Many times we are able to fix those scratches before they get worse through a process called Paint Correction. We have a variety of detailing packages to suit your individual needs. Does your vehicle have an odor such as cigarette smoke or mold? We use an interior shampoo to restore your vehicle back to it’s former glory. Worried about sun damage from the incredibly hot summer days? Bring your vehicle in for a hand wash and wax sealant. This will help prevent the weather from damaging your paint along with adding a glossy shine. Looking for a simple cleaning? Try our starter package where we detail your vehicle inside and out while still having you home in time for dinner.

Check out some of the benefits of cleaning your car regularly.


To begin with, the car just looks better. Sad to say, we live in a world of people who make snap judgments about others based on a one or two second first impression. If that impression is you getting out of a filthy car to go into the store, the person next to you may assume that your personal habits and housekeeping are no better.

They will perhaps feel “creeped-out,” and be careful not to come to near you, for fear of catching fleas, cockroaches, bedbugs or that general-purpose ailment from your childhood, the dreaded “cooties.”

General Maintenance

As you clean your car’s exterior is a perfect time to check for things that may be working loose such as license plates/frames; headlight and taillight lenses; mirrors; valve stem caps; hub caps and antennas.

It pays to use the time down on the ground while cleaning the wheels to take a peek underneath the chassis to be sure you have no loose or broken cables or hoses. A worn or broken brake fluid line, for example, is not something you want to find out about while driving.

While washing the car, pop the hood and take a look inside the engine compartment. Look for loose wires; broken cable ties; you don’t want a wire hanging and getting snarled in the fan; loose connections on the battery; loose connections on the air cleaner cover, and so forth. Check to be sure there is no corrosion built up on the battery connections as well.

Exterior Finish

Your car is metal. Well, mostly metal, although a lot of plastics are being used these days in such places as bumpers, the linings of the wheel wells and some trim parts. Metal is known to rust. The paint protects the car from the elements, forestalling the process of rusting. The paint is in turn protected by a clear coat, which is what gives the shiny-looking finish to the paint.

Pay attention the next time you see an old beat-up car. The clear coat is all worn off, and the paint is dull. It looks like a primer coat instead of the finish coat of paint. New finish-coat paint will be somewhat shiny by itself, but not nearly as much as after the clear coat is applied. Dirt dulls the finish.

What Makes Dirt Stick?

As you drive, and even while you are parked outdoors, dust and dirt blow around and land on the car. Now, believe it or not, even on a dry day, and especially overnight, there is moisture in the air. Unless you live in an absolute desert, there is going to be moisture. When that moisture hits the dust that has settled on the finish, it makes it sticky, and you cannot now “blow it off.” After a few days or a week, depending upon your climate and how much dust is blowing around, you will notice a dirty film start to appear, even though the car may not yet look very dirty from any distance.

Even in a large city, where all the natural dirt is pretty well paved over, there is still dirt and dust blowing around. The source, instead of Mother Nature’s dirt may be particulate matter from bus exhausts; construction debris; rubber dust from all the tires on the roads themselves, and so forth. These kinds of dirt are even stickier than “regular” dirt, and stick by themselves without the help of moisture. Add the moisture, and you have a very dirty car. That dirt is damaging to the finish.

There are also run-ins with those rude birds who never like the color of any car, and try to re-paint it to their own tastes. Bird poo is highly acidic, and will etch the clear coat and paint. Get it off as soon as you notice it, even if it is not a regular wash day.

How Does Dirt Damage the Finish?

As dirt builds up, it traps moisture. That moisture and dirt on the bottom layers are now in continual contact with the clear coat. As you drive down the freeway, the wind generated by your speed is enough to move that dirt around some, and as it moves, it makes tiny scratches in the clear coat. Over time, those tiny scratches become larger ones, and then the real trouble begins.

Once the clear coat is damaged, the dirt and moisture are able to seep underneath, and begin to lift and destroy the clear from underneath. Once the clear coat is gone, there is nothing to protect the paint, which is the next thing to begin to be abraded by the action of dirt and wind—and clueless, careless people brushing against the car in parking lots, or stupid kids writing stupid sayings in the built-up dust. All of these things continue to scratch the paint.

Once the paint is damaged, you’re down to the bare metal…and now the problems get worse. A scratch in the paint may be minor, but if it goes all the way through the paint, and exposes any metal at all, even if it’s too small to see with your naked eyes, that moisture and dirt now start working their devilment upon the metal.

Regular washing along with other routine maintenance helps retain your car’s resale value.

You’ve seen cars with “bubbled” areas in the paint around the doors or windows. Those are rust bubbles. As soon as the metal is exposed, the process of rusting begins, and it creeps under undamaged paint, causing those bubbles. It can start to happen as fast as overnight, especially if you live in a moist climate near a body of water. ** Salt water is the worst: it accelerates the damage exponentially.

Automatic Car Washes???

Oh! An easy, mess-free way to wash your car! Yes, we’ve all been to these drive-through machines, probably more than once; some on a regular basis.

The trouble is, these are not very good for your car’s finish. Most of them recycle the water, which is good, environmentally, but maybe not so good for your paint job. There could still be microscopic particles not trapped in the filtering system.

And think about those revolving brushes and spinning whips. Those never get rinsed or washed out, so they are also full of the dirt from everyone’s car before you.

When we had the graphic painted on our show car, we were specifically instructed to never, ever take it through an auto-wash (and that’s with ten coats of clear-coat over the graphics)!

Auto-washes are just not kind to the finish of your car.

What Happens If You Don’t Wash the Car Often Enough?

Well, if you are very lucky, and live in a fairly dry area, maybe not much. You might consider that you have a protective coat of mud instead of a clear coat.

Ironically, the older the car, the more likely you may be to get away with this approach for a time; they had better paint jobs in the old days.However, the newer cars, with our modern emphasis on doing everything faster and on the cheap, have thinner coats of paint and thinner clear coats.

Besides that, the appearance of the paint is a factor in the trade-in value, so it behooves you to keep it nice-looking. The salesman will likely assume that if you couldn’t even be bothered to wash the car, then there are probably other things wrong with it, including a lack of routine maintenance, which could result in mechanical issues.

Today’s cars are almost designed to be throwaway vehicles; as much as our corporations are dealing out planned obsolescence. They don’t expect people to keep a car for 10, 15 or 30 years as people used to do; they expect you to trade it in for the latest model hardly before the ink on your final payment check is dry.

The paint jobs are made to match that expectation, so to keep your car looking shiny and new, you’d better get out there and wash it, pronto!