Valeting vs Detailing

Weekend Teaser valeting vs detailing


On Friday we asked a doozy. We wanted to know what’s in a name. Is there a difference between Valeting and Detailing?

Valeting and Detailing go together like sausage and sausage – yes that is an actual meal, especially if one of the sausages has herbs in it for “vegetables”. They are two sides of the same coin, but they don’t always see eye to eye if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors.


Social media’s answer was pretty clear cut…

95%Yes 5%No




The comments were just as interesting and pretty much reflected the poll results by %. But a majority of those respondents think there is a marked difference between the two. Obviously, all of us here at the Academy agree on an answer…

Well, no.


Here are three of our instructor’s takes on it…


Rich’s opinion.

Firstly, I would have to say that there is definitely a difference between ‘Valeting’ and ‘Detailing’ however – there is not necessarily any difference between ‘Valeters’ and ‘Detailers’…

In my mind there is so much cross-over in services and levels of service that it is almost impossible to determine precisely the point at which Valeting becomes Detailing and vice-versa.  The fact that it became adopted as a term in the UK quite late in the day by those who wanted to portray their level of workmanship as being over and above ‘standard valeting’ has not helped – especially when in the USA and many other countries around the world a ‘Detailing Centre’ can be anywhere from a mechanical car wash to a high-end paint restoration studio…  Equally, if you tell people from those same countries that you ‘Valet Cars’ for a living, they will most likely assume that you park them for other people…

Terminology in this industry is so messed up, it really is beyond belief sometimes!

Putting aside that titles in our world are almost entirely self-professed, there are a lot of Valeters who carry out work I would term as Detailing to a very high standard; there are a lot of Detailers who carry out work I would term as Valeting to a terrible standard; and absolutely everything in between, not discounting those who choose more flowery titles such as ‘Surface Correction Specialists’ or ‘Vehicular Decontamination Operatives’…

But!  In terms of a basic definition in my personal opinion:

Valeting – Cleaning and decontaminating the interior, exterior and any other surface of a vehicle to a standard higher than a basic “car wash” can reach. This may also include stain removal, engine bay degreasing, wheel removal for deep cleaning, etc and also the application of some protective solutions to facilitate future cleaning of all of the surfaces worked upon.

Detailing – Would include a full decontamination as above as a part of the service offered, but also includes some element of restorative and preservative works.  For example – machine correction to remove marring from paintwork; refinishing a piece of leather upholstery; deep cleaning an engine bay and also re-painting some tired-looking parts; stripping brake callipers to deep-clean and paint.  To me, it isn’t – as the name implies – about going into more ‘detail’ but rather pushing the service beyond just cleanliness (to maintain value) and into the realms of improvement (to increase value), even though this now blurs the boundary between ‘Detailing’ and ‘Restoration’ opening yet another can of worms!

At the end of the day, with there being so many people in our industry calling themselves Detailers but only really performing a Valeting service and others who state they are Valeters and yet regularly complete corrective machine polishing, etc it is entirely apparent that the terminology is so overlapping that it has led to an almost total confusion among our clients and potential clients, and also to a certain extent amongst the operators themselves.

Maybe it’s time to simplify the jargon?


James’ opinion


There is no difference between valeting and detailing, they both come to the same conclusion, which is a cleaner vehicle.
This seems like a cop out answer, but I’ll explain why I believe this to be the case.
The term valeting only really exists in the UK. For countries abroad, the generic term is ‘detailing’. For many years, valeting has been seen as a low-skilled, low paid industry, but when the arrival of the term ‘detailer’ came round, it was seen as the more lucrative business choice.

This is the first misconception. The arrival of the term ‘detailer’ wasn’t the reason for the uplift in revenue or skillset, but in fact it was the adoption of techniques used abroad (where the term valeter doesn’t exist). The most common comment when this topic is discussed online is that ‘a detailer does machine polishing’, which is correct, but valeters have also been machine polishing long before ‘detailing’ became a thing over here.

We also see that many detailers only offer very involved services, and some even refrain from doing interior detailing. This doesn’t make them exclusively detailers, it actually makes them lower skilled and less professional than other car care professionals.

Maintenance detailing, or basic detailing is merely a renamed valet. Yes there are more steps involved in some aspects, but this is down to market trend, product development, and more importantly, access to information. The Internet has had the largest impact on this industry, over any re-naming or difference in service levels, and with it has come a massive expansion of knowledge base and skillset throughout the whole industry.

So for me, there is no difference between Valeting, detailing, and the ‘ers’ attached to each. There is only the difference in level or quality of work being carried out between different car care professionals. In my opinion, the terms ‘valeter’ and ‘detailer’ have led to disparity between business popularity, and there are extremely skilled professionals out there, being overlooked due to a business name.

Ian’s Opinion


Is there a difference between detailing and valeting?



At least there should be in the processes – that’s not to say that a detailer can’t valet, and a valeter can’t detail as part of their overall business. It’s the processes which need separation rather than the trade itself. There should at least though be a perma-ban on oxymoronic phrases such as “express detail”.

Unfortunately, separating them is like trying to unstick two halves of a pizza sandwich, because the processes – at least early on – do indeed have a lot in common with one another. The purists will say in the most simple terms “it’s all car cleaning”, and this is true to an extent, and I believe this is where customer confusion sprouts. I think there are three basic principles which do indeed separate the two sides of the coin – none of them derogatory.

  • Expectation
  • Process
  • Results

With detailing, expectation, should be far higher than for a simple valet. Going back to the “Express Detail” example – that’s like a GP offering “speed surgery”. Much which would be excusable from a valet, even a quite in depth one” would not fly with a “fully detailed” car. Whilst there are extremely good valeters out there pushing the top end of valeting, and extremely poor detailers out there dredging the bottom of the detailing pool, it’s up to those individual companies to have a bit of honesty about what their true profession is. There is nothing to say a valeter can’t change their business to become exclusively a detailer, or vice versa, but if a company calls their service what it is, rather than what their ego thinks it should be, then customers will know what they are getting.


Process. Forget safe wash methods, multi buckets,  and expensive products. The end result promised defines the process used. For valeting, the end result is a clean car with some protection, improving on what is already there and in the knowledge that you’ll need to visit on a regular basis to maintain that level of cleanliness – and I think maintain is the key word there. With detailing, quite a lot of the time you will have to make things worse in order to improve them dramatically – claying, heavy machining, leather repair, spot repairs – these are all things which you wouldn’t generally want to do on a traditional valet, as they require you to invest in more work to fix the consequences of the process and bring back up to a high standard, which isn’t the aim of the game. A valet will put gloss on a finish, a detail will make the finish glossy.



The results a customer should expect from a valet, as mentioned, are “enhancement” at realistic best. If there are visible scratches on the car which were present before, that’s not something which would be in the scope of what I would term a valet. However, if after a “correction detail” there is little permanent perceptible improvement in the level of marring – not withstanding extenuating circumstances such as paint condition after inspection – can you really call that vehicle detailed? If an engine bay is superficially cleaned and dressed, but you can lift plastic covers or move pipes to reveal hidden dirt, has that car received a full engine detail? If the carpets are hoovered out with lovely stripes but the seat rails are still caked with grease and fluff… well, you get the point. There is a state of cleanliness which is fine for the day to day, and a customer is charged appropriately for this. But if you’re customer is promised perfection and you don’t deliver it, you’re only reducing your customer base with each dissatisfied customer.


My summary is, you can – and probably should if skilled enough – offer both detailing and valeting services within your business “menu”, but there is a need to have a clear line in the sand between the two processes and to educate the customer on what they are receiving based on their requirements upselling or down-selling to the service they actually want or need. Don’t try to sell them a gold painted penny, because whilst you’ll fool a minority, you look a fool to the rest.

The industry as a whole needs to stop the view that one is perhaps more valuable as a business than the other – I’ll take a good valet over a poor detail any day of the week, and a successful valeter will likely out earn a successful detailer nine times out of ten.


So even we can’t agree on a definitive answer between three guys who have been doing this far too long already and who, I think, can view it objectively – and all for different reasons. That’s not to say that any of us is definitively correct, but one thing we do seem to agree on is quality is a deciding factor. Keep your quality high and your customers informed and frankly, you can call yourself what you want.


Still… bloody £5 car washes, eh?…



Want a career in Detailing, Valeting, or Both? check out our Levels courses for some of the leading training available in Car Care, and get your career off to the right start.

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