Consumer Guide to Auto Detailing
Discover inside this issue:

Brought to you as an educational service by:

Caribbean Express Car Wash

  • How to avoid detailing rip-offs
  • 7 costly myths about detailing
  • 6 mistakes to avoid when choosing a company to detail your vehicle
  • How much detailing work does your vehicle need?
  • Shampoo or steam extraction: Which is better for you?
  • The difference between polishes, waxes and paint sealant
  • The importance of value and price
  • 8 questions to ask when shopping for detailing
  • What's a no risk, money back guarantee?
  • 3 steps to getting your moneys' worth

1525 Jungermann Road
Saint Peters, Missouri 63376

Spring, 2005

Dear Car Owner,

Choosing a company to detail your vehicle isn't easy. Why? Because you’re often bombarded with misleading advertising, confusing claims and simply bad information. From “super-low prices” and high pressure salespeople—to unqualified technicians using questionable products and methods that they wouldn't even dare use on their own vehicles—how do you ever find a qualified, competent, professional detailer you can trust?

Start by reading this Consumers Guide. In this fact filled booklet, you’ll discover how to avoid the rip-offs, the mistakes to avoid and questions to ask when shopping for a company to detail your vehicle. You'll discover the important steps to follow to get the great looking results you want.

I wrote this guide to help you better understand automotive detailing. With this information, you can make an informed, intelligent decision. And if you have any questions about detailing, please call me at (636) 928-3866. I’ve dedicated my business to educating and coaching consumers. I’ll be happy to help you in every way.


Jeff Pawlik, owner
Caribbean Express Car Wash & Spa
Saint Peters, MO



Consumer Guide to Auto Detailing


4 All Too Common Detailing Rip-offs: Here's How You Can Avoid Them

Ripoff # 1: Unbelievably low price.

To some degree, all of us are attracted by a low price because we want to work within a budget. Professional automobile detailing companies like to use the best products available. Premium polishes and waxes tend to perform better and their results last much longer, especially in the extreme temperature we get here in Missouri.

There are several good products on the market today. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of questionable products available to detail shops at a much cheaper price. A lot of the fly by night shops tend to use that off brand cheap products to save money and increase profits… at your expense.

The best way to protect yourself against this type of rip-off is ask the shop for some written testimonials from past customers. Honest, reputable shops will have several to show you.

Ripoff # 2: Bait and switch.

Some companies use the price as the bait for their false and misleading advertising. They often advertise a cheap price as "the bait." But once you’re in the store, they tell you the price quoted was for a simple "wash and vac" package, definitely not what you thought you were getting. Then, they pressure you into paying much more for an "upgraded" package ("the switch") which ends up being much more expensive.

Professional detailing by an honest, reputable company (i.e., one that has a reputation of being willing to stand behind its work - guaranteeing your complete satisfaction) really is inexpensive... when you consider all the benefits. But don't be fooled: it's not as cheap as some of the unethical shops would like you to believe. Protect yourself by visiting the shop, having a look around and getting a quote for your vehicle in writing.

Ripoff # 3: Unsupported or exaggerated claims:

"Our detailing is the best" or "we use only the best products, etc, etc." - You'll read this in almost every ad. You’ll hear this from shops right here in St. Charles county. Many of these rip-off artists like to exaggerate and make "pie in the sky" promises, just to get their hands on your money. And when the results aren't even close to what you expected, you're left with their lies and excuses.

Remember this: The product and company that's right for you is the one that will give you the best value for your money. Protect yourself by asking questions. Ask to see some of their work and to have a look at your vehicle. Ask them to demonstrate it to you and guarantee your satisfaction with it in writing. Ask for a written quote and for testimonials from their past clients. What past customers say about them is far more important than what they say about themselves.

Ripoff # 4: "Here today/gone tomorrow" type detail shops: Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that this industry tends to attract its share of undesirables. After all, a place to work, along with a $100 polisher, a bucket and some chemicals and anyone can call themselves a detailer. These "gypsies" tend to show up almost every spring. They usually don't care enough to even be insured, which can leave you “stuck” if your vehicle is damaged while in their care. And that gives us all a bad name.

Here’s one good way to avoid rip-off artists: Call the local Chamber of Commerce where the shop is located. (St. Peters Chamber of Commerce can be reached at 636-447-3336). Inquire if the particular shop in question is a "member in good standing." Most honest and ethical shops choose to become members—however, most "here today/gone tomorrow" detailers won't spend the money.

Finally, pay a visit to the shop. Find out how long they've been in business, etc. Is the store neat and clean? Are the employees properly attired and helpful? Ask to see some of their work or for a demonstration. Do they look professional and appear like they’ll be around to help? If they don’t, they probably won't be.

6 Costly Myths You Really Need To Know About Detailing

MYTH #1: You can detail your vehicle yourself.

Maybe. Do you have access to a high-speed polisher and orbiter to smooth out the imperfections in the clearcoat paint and revitalize the finish? Do you have the knowledge and skill to operate one without damaging the finish? Do you know what chemicals and products to use? What about hot water steam pressure washer to clean the engine and door hinge areas -- do you have one and know how to use it?

And on the interior, do you own a commercial steam extractor, pre-spotting chemicals and have access to compressed air? Do you know what areas of your interior should never get wet - EVER?

The tools above are tools professional detailers use each and every day. Although detailing a vehicle isn't rocket science, it does take knowledge and training to get good results. A high-speed polisher or certain chemicals and compounds in the wrong hands can quickly do extensive, permanent damage.

MYTH #2: The only reason to have a vehicle detailed is to make it look better.

No. It is true however; that a clean, good-looking vehicle is one big thing you’ll enjoy right away. Like anything else, it’s much easier (and wiser in the long run) to keep your vehicle looking good than it is to attempt to restore it to a "like new" condition, once it's been neglected.

Car dealers know that for most people, purchasing an automobile is an emotional experience. It needs to look its best to sell quickly and for maximum dollar. That's why car dealers take the time to have every vehicle detailed before advertising them for sale—they know it's a wise investment.

If you are selling your vehicle yourself, you'll find it will sell quicker and for a higher price if you invest in professional detailing before placing it "for sale".

MYTH #3: All detailing companies are the same.

No. The best products and equipment in the world won’t make up for inexperienced, poorly trained technicians. Most people have found they’ve gotten the best results hiring a company that has been around for more than a year or two. Companies with good reputations in the marketplace are happy to show you their work. Reputable shops employ well trained technicians, ones that have detailed lots of vehicles, prior to yours.

MYTH #4: Leased vehicles never need to be detailed.

That's a common misconception. It really depends on the vehicle and how it's been taken care of. Read your lease over carefully before turning in your car. Most leases allow for what's called "reasonable" wear and tear when the lease ends—so it's really subject to interpretation and what your dealer deems "reasonable." Most people have found that a few dollars invested in detailing the vehicle just prior to the lease turn in will save them money. How? By avoiding an often outrageous charge by the dealer to detail it after you turn it in.

MYTH #5: The company that gives me the lowest detailing price is the one you should hire.

No. I’ve never seen so many problems arise from the lowest bid companies that I suggest you NEVER hire the company that quotes the cheapest price. Here's why:

1) The price may not be for high-quality work. The company may have given you a low price just to get you in, then cheats and cuts corners when it comes to actually doing the work.

2) The price you see advertised may not be the price you pay. Many people have learned that the "low price" they saw advertised lasted only until they arrived at the place of business. Then they are told that the particular package they thought they were getting doesn't apply to their vehicle, or it’s a "bare bones" package and doesn't include the work they really needed done. Then they often get pressured into paying a lot more. Some detailing shops in this area break the law by using a variety of bait and switch tactics.

MYTH #6: A warranty/guarantee is not important for a good job.
No. I’ve never seen a reputable detailing company afraid to stand behind its work, but I’ve seen several fly by night companies right here in St. Charles County that won’t. Be very wary of any shop that won’t include a risk free guarantee—one that says the work they do on your vehicle will be performed to your complete satisfaction or you won't have to pay. Review it carefully before you make a decision. Pay nothing until the work is completed and you are satisfied with the results. Steer clear of the shops that want their money up front or don’t have a risk free guarantee. They usually don't have your best interests in mind.

6 Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing A Company To Detail Your Vehicle

MISTAKE #1: Choosing a company based on a low price alone. Low price could be a problem in three ways:

(1) Low price can be "the bait" that attracts your initial phone call. But when you arrive at the place of business, you find out the low price is a "leader price" -- meaning it’s meant to lead you to call and inquire. It's usually not a complete detailing package or a package most people would choose. Then, you’re pressured into paying much more ("the switch") for what you really wanted in the first place.

(2) Similar to above. The price you were quoted might not be for a "complete" package but instead, a "stripped down package". It doesn't include the work you really wanted done in the first place. Rarely does the consumer know this and when told, asks for a complete package which often ends up costing much more.

(3) Low price can also mean the company doesn't have insurance. Garage-keepers, liability and workers comp insurance are expensive. Although it's against the law, many detail shops add to their profits by not purchasing this mandatory coverage—but do so at your risk and expense. Any physical damage to your vehicle while in their care (fire, theft, vandalism, damage to your vehicle, etc) as well as any liability becomes your responsibility—and you won't even know! It hardly seems fair, but it happens right here in Missouri. If you are in doubt, protect yourself by asking to see their certificate of insurance. Reputable detailing shops will be happy to provide you with a copy.

MISTAKE #2: Choosing a company based on a single telephone call. Instead, pay a visit to the place of business with your vehicle and ask for a written quotation. Most reputable shops will have several detailing packages for you to choose from, starting with very basic to complete deluxe packages. After the shop asks you some questions and inspects your vehicle to find out what your needs are, have them make some appropriate recommendations. You’ll know exactly what’s right for you up and what the cost is up front – and won’t be the victim of high-pressure tactics when you return for your appointment.

MISTAKE #3: Choosing a company whose installers aren’t well trained and well seasoned. If the person detailing your vehicle isn’t a close friend, you probably won’t know whether or not he has the knowledge to do the work properly, and without damaging your vehicle. If you want to be sure you’re hiring a competent professional, ask for a demonstration of their work on your vehicle, prior to making a decision. Reputable detailers will be happy to oblige you.

MISTAKE #4: Choosing a company that doesn’t offer a "risk-free" guarantee. In my opinion, every detailing company should be fully accountable for its work. If you aren’t pleased, you shouldn’t have to pay. Period. Not all companies offer a guarantee. Ask the company you are considering working with if a risk free guarantee is included. Then decide if it makes sense for you.

MISTAKE #5: Choosing a company without getting comments or references from their past clients. Face it, any company can say anything about its past jobs. Sadly, some of what they say may not be true. Ask for references or read comments from current and past customers. What others say about them and their work is far more believable than what they say about themselves. By doing so, you’ll get a much better feel for the integrity and honesty of the company.

MISTAKE #6: Choosing a new company with little or no experience in the automotive service business. You might expect this comment from me, since we’ve been maintaining clients’ cars, truck and vans here for almost 10 years. But there are several good reasons – the most important reason is this: the automotive service you purchase is only as good as the person that performs it, and the company that stands behind it. I’ve seen many so-called "detailing companies" come and go in the past, some in business less than a year or two. Their poor quality and outright lies to customers make us all look bad.

What The Heck Is “Express Detailing” Anyway And What Does Your Vehicle Need?

The word "detailing" was coined in southern California where many auto reconditioning craftsman (detailers) would cosmetically prepare a car for auto shows. Ask 10 people around here, though, to give you their definition of "detailing" and you’ll probably get 10 different answers! It means different things to different people! But here’s what its really about…

Do you remember that great feeling you had when you first drove your present vehicle?

Detailing is about recapturing that “new car feeling” by returning your vehicle to showroom fresh condition.  And there’s a bonus: Just like an oil change, detailing helps maintain the value of your investment. The kind of detailing service you’ll want, then, is dictated by the age and condition of your vehicle.

Full service detailing is more of a restoration service for vehicles that are older. Express detailing is more of a maintenance service for newer or well cared for vehicles. Full service detailing (restoration) should be done every 3-4 years and takes approximately 8 hours to complete. Express detailing (maintenance) should be done every 60-90 days and typically takes less than an hour.

Every detailing job has two steps in common, cleaning and protection.  How much of each determines the final effect and price.

Full service detailing can include: engine cleaning; custom washing; road tar removal; trunk cleaning & shampoo; carpet & upholstery shampoo; paint finish wax & polish; treatment of all leather, vinyl & rubber; chrome & glass polish; and paint touch up. Extra full service detailing can include: pin striping; body side molding; door edge guards; paint touchup; upholstery & carpet repair; vinyl top dying; windshield repair/replacement; window tinting; body and paint work; undercoating; and rust proofing. Appointments and deposits are typically required in advance, and you’ll leave your vehicle for up to a full day with the shop.

Express detailing can include: road tar removal and surface preparation; wax/sealant; power buffing; wheel polishing; seat & carpet cleaning; paint sealant; headliner and fabric cleaning; fabric protectant; leather conditioning; windshield treatment; and windshield chip repair. Appointments are rarely required and the work is performed while you wait, normally in 30-60 minutes (depending on the options you select).

Regardless of the level of service you seek, a professional detailer will inspect your vehicle, then ask questions to find out what your needs are. He will have several packages for you to choose from. You should also find ala carte detailing services that you can pick and choose from to suit your needs. And don't be afraid to ask the shop for a demonstration, prior to making a decision.

Buffing and Polishing.

How much is enough?

Restoring the “shine” to your finish requires adequate surface preparation and appropriate buffing of the waxes and polishes applied to maximize their effect.

Rule of thumb #1: The older your vehicle, the more surface preparation is required. Throwing a wax job on an unprepared surface may help prevent further deterioration, but won’t return the finish to its original brilliance. Chemicals can remove road tar, brake dust and overspray. Special clay bars are used to remove the buildup of oxidation, tree sap, rail dust, and other environmental pollutants from newer vehicles. High speed buffers are required to remove light scratches and heavy oxidation from older vehicles. Lower speed orbital buffers are used to maximize the visual effect of protective waxes and polishes. Careful selection, adequate training and lots of experience are necessary to utilize these tools effectively.

Shampooing vs. Steam Extraction.Which Is Better?

When inquiring about interior cleaning, you'll be choosing from a wide variety of methods. The two most common methods for cleaning the upholstery and carpeting in your vehicle are 1) shampooing and 2) deep steam extraction. Here's the difference:

Shampooing: It's the low-tech method that's been around for years. The detailer takes some carpet shampoo (often from an aerosol can) and applies it to your carpet and upholstery. It's then scrubbed in by hand with a scrub brush and allowed to air dry. Once dry, it's vacuumed and the job is complete. The results using this method vary -- often much soil and soap residue remain, especially in the carpeting. It's used most often by car washes, car dealers, etc because it's quick and cheap.

Deep Steam Extracting: This is the method preferred and most often used by professional detailing shops, and it's the principle method we use here at Caribbean Express. It's very similar to the method you've seen the pro's use to clean your carpet and furniture at home. After the vehicle interior is thoroughly vacuumed and blown out with compressed air, it's treated and lightly agitated with a pre-spotter to loosen the soil. The detailer then goes over the upholstery and carpet with a very powerful steam extraction machine that injects hot water and steam deep into the soiled material. The machine then literally sucks out all the hot water, but along with it comes the grease, salt, grime and dirt. Left behind is nothing but clean and fresh upholstery and carpeting. Not surprisingly, this method will cost more because it takes longer and is more costly to perform. Although no professional or method is capable of removing every stain, most people have gotten the best results using shops that use the steam extraction method.

Polish, Wax Or Paint Sealant:

What's the difference and which one is right for you?
It's not surprising. Many people are very confused about the proper way to protect the finish on their vehicle and what products to use. Should you wax it or not? What about the "hot wax" (or polishes) offered by local car washes—do they really do any good? And what about the paint sealant the car dealer tried to sell you for $300?

Here are the differences, what they do and what you can expect from each product:

• POLISHES: Modern polishes are formulated to deliver a broad spectrum of performance. Some are created primarily to enhance and add short term beauty to an already great finish, much like a furniture polish will do for fine wood. These are typically sprayed on and immediately wiped off. They offer little or no protection against UV rays but do provide some protection against oxidation caused by the elements if used regularly. These are the polishes applied on-line in the car wash.

At the other extreme, some polishes use sophisticated polymer technology to remove oxidation (present even with clear coat finishes) and provide a longer lasting protective coating. Because of special training or environmental requirements, these professional grade products are not typically offered through retail channels for the do-it-yourselfer.

• WAXES: Have been around a long time, still the product most people select. The good quality waxes are made up primarily of yellow Carnuba, and comes most often in paste form. Over the years, Carnauba paste wax has proven itself. It offers great protection to painted surfaces on automobiles, and also provides a deep, long lasting shine. Best results are obtained when it's applied to an absolutely clean and smooth surface. This means clay barring and buffing (also called "power polishing") can often be necessary prior to application to obtain the longest lasting and best-looking results.

• PAINT SEALANTS: Much like a wax, only much longer lasting. These were first introduced in the early 1980's, and are still a very popular choice for many people with late model vehicles today. Made primarily of a mixture of synthetic chemicals—silicone and polymer are the primary ingredients in most paint sealants today. Premium paint sealants are even further fortified with Teflon and UV sunscreen to further protect the painted finish. Some must be power polished into the finish, but all dry to a hard glass-like shine, totally eliminating the need to wax the vehicle! Just a simple wash and the vehicle looks "just waxed." Initial application around $150 to $200 at most detail shops—usually higher at the car dealer.

Note: Most paint sealants require some type of maintenance to remove the buildup of things normal washings won't remove—tree sap, road tar, car wash scratches, etc. Here in Missouri, annual maintenance is recommended. The cost is around $50 to $80, depending on the size of the vehicle.

Here Are Some Common Detailing PackagesYou'll Find At Most Detailing Shops

• ECONOMY PACKAGE: The most economical “detailing” package is more commonly thought of as a full service car wash that includes a simple washing of the exterior and vacuuming the interior. The windows are usually cleaned, ashtrays emptied, etc. No protections are applied. Often done while you wait in about 15 minutes - expect to pay around $20.

• GOOD PACKAGE: In addition to above, the vehicle is also hand polished when completed. Special attention is given to cleaning the wheels and dressings are applied to the exterior vinyl surfaces and tires. No power buffing is done, but the surface may be chemically de-tarred and de-bugged and then clay barred. The polish will usually last about 3 months. Expect to invest somewhere around $49 to $99 on average. This "express detailing" is new to the Midwest but quickly gaining popularity among busy people wishing to get the most out of their vehicle. Takes about an hour.

• BETTER PACKAGE: Includes all the above but in addition, the vehicle’s exterior is "power polished" (buffed out) prior to the application of wax, synthetic polish or sealant. Power polishing removes most car wash and wind scratches, as well as many small imperfections and scratches in the painted surface. It restores the paint to a brilliant shine. Carnauba wax or synthetic polish is then added as a top coat, to enhance and protect the shine. They will last 6 to 8 months on average. Alternatively, a permanent paint sealant may be applied at this point, which costs more but lasts indefinitely. Average cost on a package like this is around $150 to $200, depending on the work needed and the size of the vehicle. Takes about half a day for one man to complete.

• BEST PACKAGE: Truly a complete reconditioning package. It's the package used car dealers choose most often to have done on a trade in or lease turn in. It includes everything - front to back, top to bottom, inside and out. Includes all of the above (exterior power polish and wax) but in addition includes deep steam extraction of seats, carpet and all fabric trim (including the headliner). Also, all interior leather and vinyl (seats, door panels, trim, etc) are scrubbed clean and dressed. Every remaining nook and cranny of the interior is cleaned and polished. Engine is degreased, power washed and dressed to look new. Doorjambs are cleaned, along with the trunk and spare tire. The results? A sparkling clean engine compartment, a fresh interior and trunk, and a glossy exterior polished and waxed to a brilliant, radiant shine. Expect to pay from $160 to $250, depending on the size of the vehicle, and how much work it needs. Plan on leaving your vehicle with the shop the entire day, about 8 hours.
Here's a simple rule of thumb to keep in mind: Most reputable detailing shops base their prices on the condition of your vehicle -- how much work will it need? An average complete interior detail can take 4 hours or more. A complete interior/exterior recondition may require 8 hours or more for good results. Keep in mind that the larger the vehicle and the more attention it requires, the higher the price will usually be.

The Importance Of Value And Price:

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
When you select a company to detail your vehicle, you’ll choose from a wide variety of experience and prices. Here are some things you’ll want to look for:

1) A company where auto service is it's primary business, not a sideline. That way, you'll be much more likely to get the results you want, instead of a lot of excuses.

2) A company that has well trained, experienced detailers on staff, ones with plenty of experience. A high speed polishing wheel or the wrong chemicals in the hands of poorly trained personnel could wind up costing you dearly.

3) A company that includes a "risk free" guarantee on it's detailing work—all of it. That way, you risk nothing. Detailing won't make an abused or neglected vehicle look new again—it may need paint work or new upholstery. But a professional certainly can make it look as good as it possibly can look. And if you're not happy with the work, they should be willing to re-do it until you are. And if you're still not, you shouldn't have to pay. Period.

4) A company that has many different detailing packages for you to choose from, one to fit your vehicle and your budget. They should also be able to custom tailor a package for you. That way, you can get exactly what you wanted, instead of what they feel like selling you. Not surprisingly, having your vehicle detailed by a professional can cost a bit more initially.

If you want to take a chance and let your vehicle be detailed by a "back alley" shop with no history of reliability, don’t care who does the work and have little concern for anything else, doing it yourself or making your decision based on the cheapest price you can find might be appropriate for you. On the other hand, if you want to have your vehicle detailed by well trained professionals, using proven products, methods and procedures insuring you'll get the best results possible without excuses—truly adding beauty, value and years of life to your vehicle -- then you’re invited to stop in or call Caribbean Express. You’ll receive a written estimate and free demonstration (if you'd like) with no cost or obligation. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect before you make a decision. And if you choose to let Caribbean Express do your detailing, you’re further protected with my...

100% No-Risk Detailing Guarantee

As the owner of Caribbean Express, I want you to be super pleased – in fact, absolutely delighted with my work. Every detailing job comes with our exclusive risk free guarantee. What does this mean? Simply this:

No matter what service or package you choose, if you aren’t completely satisfied and delighted with our work, we'll redo it until you are. And if you're still not happy - it's free. Period. That’s a guarantee most companies are too afraid to offer you, but one we’ve lived up to for years. Most companies don’t guarantee their work but at Caribbean Express, nothing is more important than your complete and total satisfaction. We stand behind every job 100%, and always have. If you ever have any concerns about our work, please call me right away. Call (636) 928-3866.


Thank you,

Jeff Pawlik, Owner

Caribbean Express Car Wash and Lube