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New Car Detailing

You just got a brand new or new-to-you car recently and want to learn how to detail and take care of it. First of all, congrats on the new ride! Time to make a plan.

Initial Assessment

Regardless of the vehicle age, start with a basic wash then step back and take a look all around the vehicle. Are there scratches? Does the surface look hazy when you shine a flashlight at it? If you gently run your fingers across the paint, does it feel gritty or rough? Check out the Surface Damage Guide and make a list of what you find.

Factory new vehicles will have less dirt on them than a used vehicle, but they’ll likely still have rail dust that settled on the paint, swirls from bad dealership washes, or minor scratches from the shipping process. The interior shouldn’t have any issues – after all, it’s brand spankin’ new!

Used vehicles can be a mixed bag. Some will be maintained very well while others will have tons of swirls in the paint and brake dust caked onto the wheels. Pay attention to the interior as well and use the Interior Damage Guide to assess any issues.

If you find any surface damage such as rock chips, deep scratches, or have cloudy headlights check out the Surface Damage Repairs Guide before starting any other detailing.

Do I need paint correction?

If you have an unacceptable amount of swirling or scratches in the paint, you probably do. Bear in mind that a daily driver or a vehicle that lives outside is not going to be showroom perfect 24/7, so you’ll want to manage your expectations a bit.

What are paint protection options?

OptionCost*DurationRock Chips?Swirls?Scratches?
Carnauba Wax$5+2-3 weeksNoNoNo
Synthetic Wax$20+2-5 monthsNoNoNo
Sealant$30+6-12 monthsNoNoNo
Ceramic Coating**$500+2-3 yearsNoYesYes
Paint Protection Film (PPF)$1000+5-10 yearsYesYesYes
Vinyl Wrap$2000+5-10 yearsYesYesYes

* Cost is listed here as a general range, not a hard rule. Always check prices when purchasing and get multiple shop quotes when pricing out professional services, which will vary between cities.
** Ceramic coating cost is based on a professional application, not DIY.

DIY Options

For DIYers, waxes and sealants are the most common, affordable options. They’re liquids or pastes that are applied to the surface of a clean vehicle, allowed to set, then wiped off. If you plan on detailing your car regularly, a wax or sealant is an easy choice.

Professional Options

There are some ceramic coatings that are DIY friendly but it’s not generally an application that a detailing novice can do. It’s more common to have a professional apply it. The cost from a shop should include a paint correction as well since you want to apply a ceramic coating over pristine, perfect paint.

If you’d rather pay a professional to “do it once and forget about it”, a paint protection film would be up your alley. It’s a custom cut clear vinyl film that goes over body panels to protect from damage. You can have just the front of the vehicle done (bumper, hood, mirrors) or the entire vehicle front to back. It requires a lot of finesse and training to apply PPF properly (hence the high price!), so it’s not a DIY option. Like a ceramic coating, the cost to install PPF should include a full paint correction.

You can also have a ceramic coating applied over PPF for additional protection. Talk to your local installer for more information and pricing.

Updated on 21 November 2022

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