Car Detailing vs Valeting: All The Differences Compared


If you want to make your car look super clean and in great condition, then you’re probably looking into getting it professionally detailed or valeted. But what is the difference between a detailing and valeting service, and which is best for your car? In this article, I’ll be comparing them head to head so you can decide.

The Quick Answer

Valeting involves deep cleaning both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Detailing goes a step further by restoring and protecting the finish to get the car in the best condition possible. Hence, most detailing services usually costs 2-3 times more than valeting services.

Valeting

First let’s take a look at valeting and what it actually involves.

Valeting is a service used to deep clean the interior and exterior of a vehicle.

This is the basic definition, but it doesn’t tell us a whole lot of information. So what processes are usually included in a full car valet? Here’s the rundown.

  • Exterior wash (paint, windows, alloys and tires)
  • Interior vacuum
  • Window cleaning
  • Carpet and mat cleaning
  • Seats cleaning
  • Roof lining cleaning
  • Any stains removed
  • Dashboard wipe down

The purpose of a valet service is to deep clean the interior and exterior to improve the overall appearance of the vehicle.

Detailing

Now let’s take a quick look at the definition of car detailing.

Car detailing aims to clean and restore the condition of the vehicle’s interior and exterior to new and then to protect it.

Car detailing is not only about the deep clean process, but also about restoration and protection, and that’s the main difference when it’s compared to valeting..

What does a full car detail include?

  • Exterior wash (paint, windows, alloys and tires)
  • Paint correction (polishing and compounding)
  • Paint decontamination (using chemicals and clay)
  • Paint protection (wax, sealant or ceramic coating)
  • Alloys removed, cleaned and protected
  • Wheel arches deep cleaned
  • Tires cleaned and dressed
  • Exterior trim dressed
  • Exhaust pipe restored to a shine
  • Exterior glass sealed
  • Interior vacuum
  • Window cleaned
  • Carpet and mat cleaned and protected
  • Seats cleaning and protected
  • Roof lining cleaned
  • Any stains removed
  • Dashboard wipe down and dressed

As you can see, the list is much much larger, because it involves all the extra details on the vehicle, as well as the restoration and protection steps.

Now let’s take a look at a bit more of an in-depth comparison between the exterior and interior treatment, the pricing and the time it takes to perform a detail and a valet.

Exterior Differences

The main differences between an exterior detail and an exterior valet are as follows:

  • More car and time taken when washing to prevent inflicting scratches with detailing
  • A deeper and more thorough clean when detailing compared to valeting
  • Restoration of paint and trim
  • Protection of paint, glass, trim and wheels

Here’s a bit more information about each of these differences.

The Wash Process

With detailing and valeting, there are two main differences when it comes to washing the vehicle.

  1. More care and time is taken to prevent scratches with detailing
  2. A deeper clean with detailing

When a car is detailed, it’s all about making the finish look as new as possible. Poor wash technique and a lack of time and care whilst washing, is one of the biggest causes of scratches in the paintwork.

When a vehicle is washed with a sponge or brush, and not pre-washed using a snow foam, then the car’s clear coat is very likely to become scratched. These scratches stand out in bright light, often looking like swirls or spiderwebs. They also cause the paintwork to look dull.

Scratches caused by improper wash technique

When detailing a car, the proper tools are used (microfiber or lamb’s wool wash mitts) and the car is pre-washed to remove as much dirt as possible before touching the paint. This all helps to reduce the chances of inflicting this clear coat damage. The result, is shinier looking paintwork.

If this is the first time you’ve ever heard about “washing your car safely” and not using a sponge or brush on the paint. Then check out this article on how to wash a car without causing scratches to learn everything you need to know.

Now of course, this is a generalisation. There are plenty of valet services out there that are very careful to use the proper wash technique to prevent these scratches. But there are also plenty that don’t care about being this careful.

Generally, when you get a car detailed, you can be more confident that the wash process is performed correctly to reduce the risk of scratches from occurring.

The second difference, is a deeper clean. Now this refers to things like the wheel arches, alloy barrels, tires, exhaust tips, grilles etc. Basically, when a car is detailed, every single surface will be cleaned thoroughly and the time will be taken to make the car effectively look as clean as it did before it was ever driven.

Valeting usually doesn’t take such an extreme approach. The exterior paint, glass and wheels will be cleaned. But things like the wheels arches and exhaust tips are often neglected. Again, this does depend on who does the valeting, some are more thorough than others.

Exterior Restoration

Most valeting services do not include any restoration of the paintwork or trim. Instead, valeting is usually just about deep cleaning. But if you want your vehicle to look brand new again, then restoration is essential. So what does this involve?

Restoration usually applies to the paintwork, trim and exhaust tips. The aim is to get them looking brand new again.

With regards to the paintwork, as you can see in the previous photo, improper wash technique can lead to scratches. These can be removed through a process called paint correction.

When these scratches occur, a layer of the car’s clear coat (top layer of paint) needs to be removed to create a flat surface. This allows light to reflect evenly and not only removes the look of the scratches, but also makes the surface look glossy.

This process of paint correction is a permanent process, and of course comes with risks. The clear coat is designed to protect the base coat (the colour) from fading, corrosion and dirt. When you remove a layer of clear coat you run the risk of taking too much away and exposing the base coat.

It is possible to correct the paint at home, using a machine polisher, however professional detailers have the correct skills and equipment to make sure this process is performed safely by removing a minimal amount of clear coat to enhance the look of the paint.

If you want to learn more about paint correction, then check out this article on polishing to find out more.

Detailing also aims to restore the finish of the rest of the exterior. This includes addressing faded black trim, and rusty exhaust tips. This all helps to make the car look brand new again.

Exterior Protection

The final difference between exterior detailing and valeting, is that detailing focuses more on protecting the vehicle to keep it looking cleaner and newer for longer. Valeting is more focused on deep cleaning and tends to neglect the protection aspect of vehicle maintenance.

Paint

Detailing services usually offer the choice between protecting the car with a wax, sealant or ceramic coating. Waxes offer a wash glow, but less protection and are less durable. Sealants are more durable that waxes but ceramic coatings offer the best level of protection.

Some valeting services will offer a wax or sealant application, but rarely a ceramic coating application. However, most valeting services only offer spray wax application, which only lasts a few weeks, or no protection at all.

Windows

Protection of the exterior windows is not included in all detailing services, only in the top-end ones. Whilst glass protection is very very rarely offered with a valeting service. The

Glass protection involves sealing windows with a water and dirt repellent coating. This improves visibility when driving in the rain and helps to keep the windows cleaner.

Wheels

Usually, when a car is detailed, the alloys are coated to help repel dust and dirt to keep them clean, and prevent rusting. Then the tires are dressed with a gel or liquid to restore them to a deep, black shine. With valeting, the alloys are usually only cleaned, and the tires are only dressed on higher level services, or not at all in some instances.

Interior Differences

Interior detailing and interior valeting are relatively similar. The most significant difference is that interior detailing usually includes the application of protection to the plastics, fabric and leather and valeting generally only focuses on cleaning. 

Both full valeting and detailing services a vehicles interior involve a very thorough clean. However, there are many different levels of valeting service which depend on the region and company.

A full interior valeting will usually include the following:

  • Full vacuum Removing and cleaning mats 
  • Stain removal 
  • Deep clean of leather or fabric seats
  • Glass clean
  • Dashboard and plastic clean 
  • Headliner clean 

However, cheaper valeting services may only include a full vacuum and light clean to remove any stains, dirt and dust. 

Detailing goes a step further by protecting the interior surfaces as well. Of course again, there are different levels of detailing. The cheaper detailing services are usually the same as a full valet and will involve a deep clean of the interior. 

Full interior details will include the following 

  • Deep clean of all surfaces 
  • Leather conditioner and sealant applied 
  • Fabric protected with stain repellent coating 
  • Plastic trim protected to prevent stains and fading 
  • Removal and installation of a new air filter

Of course, it is possible to get the car professionally valeted to ensure it’s completely clean, and then protect the interior yourself. Take a look at my recommended interior detailing products if you want some suggestions. 

Under the Hood

Engine bay cleaning usually only applies to detailing services. Very rarely will valeting services include any engine bay cleaning.

In fact, most detailing services do not offer a full engine bay clean, and instead focus on the interior and exterior instead.

Engine cleaning of course isn’t essential. Most cars never actually get their engine bays cleaned in their lifetimes. However, if you’re taking your car to a show, it can be worth doing. 

Pricing

The next thing to consider, is the price of detailing versus valeting. Now this is a bit of difficult thing to compare, because there are many different levels of detailing and valeting. So it’s hard to give an accurate and helpful comparison. However, it’s clear that detailing is a more expensive service than valeting.

But, I appreciate that just saying detailing is more expensive, doesn’t help a whole bunch. To know which you should choose, you need something a bit more conclusive

So I’ve put together this table to show a comparison between different detailing and valeting services, and the average costs to show you what you actually get for your money. These prices are in dollars, and have been taken by comparing 10 different detailing and valeting services from the same region. However, they are pretty reflective of what you’ll get around the world too.

ServiceValetingDetailingExtra Services With Detailing
Interior$50$90Plastic, leather and fabric protection
Exterior wash$25$40Pre-wash and safer tools
Paint ProtectionNot included$30-100Wax, sealant or ceramic coating
Paint CorrectionNot included$500Defect removal and increase level of gloss
Glass ProtectionNot included$40Glass sealant
Wheels$10$50Take off alloys, clean wheel arches and barrel, apply sealant
Data taken from a comparison of detailing and valeting services from a range of different companies to provide relative information of the cost of detailing vs valeting

A full detailing service is usually at least 2-3 times more expensive than a full valeting service. Most valeting services cost between $25-50 and most detailing services cost between $100-400, but can be as expensive as several thousand dollars.

Time

It’s also worth noting the difference between the amount of time it takes to detail a car, versus the time it takes to valet a car.

Since valeting generally only focuses on deep cleaning, and detailing includes restoration and protection as well, detailing is a much longer process.

If you take your vehicle to a professional valeting service for a full exterior and interior clean, you can expect it to take anywhere from half a day to a full day. Rarely will you need to leave the vehicle there overnight.

Detailing services usually take a minimum of a day and often several days. This is because detailing involves a deeper and more careful clean (to reduce the risk of scratches), paint correction and exterior protection. For a full exterior and interior detail, this usually takes between 3-5 days to perform.

If you want to learn more about how long the detailing process takes, then check out this article on how long it takes to detail a car at home for a breakdown of each step and time estimation.

Detailed car

Which Should You Choose?

This is where it all boils down to. Which is right for you, detailing or valeting? Hopefully, by now you have a bit more of an idea about the differences between the two, and you’re maybe leaning more towards one option.

But just incase you’re not here are a few points to consider.

Choose a Valet Service If…

  • Your car is filthy and just needs a good deep clean
  • You’re planning to spruce up the car before selling it
  • You want a cheaper option
  • You’re not concerned with making the car look brand new again

Choose a Detailing Service If…

  • You want your car to look in the best condition possible
  • You’re planning to keep the car for a long time and want it to be protected so it stays looking new
  • You want to get a glossier finish and remove paint defects

Really, it comes down to how much you are willing to spend, and the level of service you’re after.

If you don’t want a full detailing service, and would prefer to pay less and get the car valeted, then you can always buy a few protection products to help maintain the car’s condition. It’s cost effective, and with a bit of know-how (and help from this website!), you’ll be able to get great results.

Check out my recommended products page to see what I use to detail my car at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

To round off this article, here are some of the most commonly asked questions related to this topic.

Is it worth getting a car detailing?

It is worth getting a car detailed if you want to restore the finish so it looks brand new, and protect it so it stays looking that way for longer. Valeting is a good option for deep cleaning the vehicle, but does not bring the car’s finish to as higher level as detailing does.

How can I detail my car at home?

It’s really easy to detail a car at home and get professional level results. Personally, I’ve never taken my car to a pro detailer, and although I know they do a great job, I enjoy detailing my car myself, and find it far more cost-effective.

If you’re interested in detailing your car at home, then you’ve come to the right place! This entire website and the Auto Care HQ YouTube Channel are dedicated to DIY detailing.

Here are two articles to get you started.

Check out the Auto Care HQ YouTube Channel

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Don’t forget to take a look around the rest of the website to learn everything you need to about making your car look its best.

Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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