Thinking about detailing the car? Here’s what you need to know before letting a professional detailer touch your car.

1. You don’t need a detailer every time your car needs washing

You should wash your car once a week if you’re driving it daily, and wax it once a month or so, according to Mike Phillips, author for the car-care website and the author of The Complete Guide to a Show Car Shine. Your main objective: removing dirt, salt, tar and other debris from your car’s clear coat, which is the top layer of pigment-free paint that protects the body from rust and corrosion. That said, if you have enough time, patience – and the right tools — you can do your own detailing and save a little money in the process.

You’ll need a few key supplies including high-quality wash mitts, good, soft towels and nondetergent car soap. Never use dishwashing detergent because it can strip off wax. Internal cleaners should be specific to the material you’re cleaning. You never want to use vinyl cleaner on leather or vice versa. And since newer cars have advanced paint systems and
unique interior components, make sure whatever you’re buying is formulated for your particular make and model of car.

2. If a detailer gives you a price without seeing your car first, there’s something wrong

Prices vary depending on the size and make of a car and whether the exterior has any visible scratches, swirls, tree sap or tar. The condition of the interior is also key. A detailer might have a bigger job if he’s working on a car driven by smokers and those who eat and drink in the vehicle. The bigger the job, the more hours a detailer will need to put into your car — unless he’s cutting corners.

3. Watch out for detailers who may use cheaper materials to cut costs

For instance, you can purchase many types of rubbing compound, which is a rough polishing material designed to eliminate tough dirt, swirls and scratches. All compounds contain abrasives in the form of mined ores or manmade materials, but particle size matters, says Phillips. That’s why compound prices can range from $10-$80.

Better buffers are made of soft foam, and good detailers toss them after a series of jobs. Contrast that with wool pads that can last for decades, but may scratch a car’s surface if they are not clean. Likewise, car washing soap can range from $2 per gallon to $50 for two quarts.

Experts suggest asking detailers what products they are using on your car, and making sure they are customizing products based on your car’s year, make and model.

4. There’s no need to steam clean or pressure wash an engine

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, car engines were predominantly metal. Today, your engine bay is also filled with plastic, computers and wires. Putting a pressure washer or even a hose on those components can cause damage that will affect how your car runs and behaves.

While it is important to wipe down engine parts, paying for a
special engine cleaning may be a waste of money — and a risk to the health of your car. “You don’t want to force water into the electrical clips and computer components,” says Phillips.

5. It should take a minimum of 2 hours to clean carpeting and upholstery

Cleaning the interior of a car is usually as simple as vacuuming, washing the windows and wiping down the seats and dash with a material-specific cleaner. However, if you’ve got spills and ground-in dirt, your car may need a deep clean. In this case, dry steam cleaning is the best option, says Renny Doyle, a master-level detailer and owner of Attention to Detail, a training and detailing company based in Big Bear Lake, California. “You want low water saturation and a low level of chemicals,” he says.

Whether your detailer uses steam cleaning or opts for the old fashioned method of a bucket of water and cleaning materials, you’ll need to make sure the interior is completely dry before you drive away, or you can end up with a mold or mildew problem, causing odor and discoloration. Explains Phillips: “You always want to use the least amount of water as possible. Make sure detailers get your car completely dry using  extractors as well as fans or air movers, which should run at least an hour or two.”

6. Detailers should be certified or trained and have insurance

Before choosing a detailer, ask about training. Someone who is certified by the International Detailing Association, for instance, has taken classes and gone through a series of 10 written exams. If a detailer isn’t certified, he or she should have been trained to use tools and products and have the proper liability and business insurance to protect your vehicle in the event of a mistake.

7. There’s a right time and place to do a detailing job

If you have ever touched a car in the middle of summer, you know that a vehicle’s surface temperature can get as high as 150 or even 200 degrees. When the weather is that hot, wax can bake onto paint. Cleaners, which contain cutting agents, can actually stain paints. Make sure that a detailer who is working on your vehicle is inside or in the shade for the best results.

From Car Keys,  June 2014 (