Other Vehicles – You Want Me to Detail What?

As a professional detailer, you are accustomed to detailing passenger vehicles — cars, trucks, and mini-vans. To do so, you already have a set of professional cleaning and protecting chemicals designed for several different types of surfaces, like paint, chrome, glass, vinyl, plastic, carpet, and leather. You also have a set of equipment that helps with the bigger jobs like polishing paint and cleaning carpets. 

Finally, you have a set of tools like brushes and towels that can be used in many situations.

In providing service to many customers over the years, I have been asked to detail vehicles other than passenger cars. There was the 85-foot stockcar hauler, and the forklift, as well as many RVs, motorcycles, and scooters.

If you are not experienced at detailing non-standard vehicles, I offer this article as encouragement to not be intimidated by the prospect of detailing vehicles that are not shaped like cars. Regardless of the shape of the conveyance to be detailed, it is likely made up of the same types of surfaces that exist in and out of a car. So it’s simply a matter of adapting your knowledge of vehicle surfaces.

My Boat Needs Your Help

Just the other day, for example, I was asked to detail a 19-foot ski boat. The customer was upset because his usual do-it-yourself routine was not working to remove some built-up oxidation from the hull. I tried a couple of standard paint-correction chemicals by hand and found that they brought the color back, so I knew that a polisher and the right paint chemical would do just fine to solve my customer’s problem.

I started with a forced-dual-action polisher, a cutting microfiber pad, and a heavy-cut compound. This combination made the gel coat look better but took a lot of time and effort. I next tried a rotary polisher and a wool pad, which did the trick in much less time. In fact, it was not even necessary to come back and polish after the compounding because the surface looked great. If there were swirl marks, you couldn’t see them.

I threw a coat of wax on all the gel-coat surfaces and the customer was thrilled.

Notes on the job:

Always test a section with a less aggressive technique and work your way up the aggressiveness scale until you find a combination of machine, pad, and chemical that will get the job done quickly without damaging the surface. Be careful around lettering on the boat hull, especially if hand-painted. In fact, better not to touch the hand-painted lettering with the aggressive steps.

Whenever you are working on a larger vehicle, it’s best to take one section at a time. If you look at the entire side of the boat at one time, it’s easy to get discouraged at how much surface there is to cover. Instead, focus on a two-by-two foot area in front of you; make that section look fantastic, then move over to the next two-by-two foot area. Before you know it, you’ll be at the other end of that side of the vehicle.

Also, I find it helps to first attack the part of the large vehicle that is in the worst condition. By doing this, you get the worst part cleaned up while you’re fresh. Then the balance of the vehicle that is in better condition is easier to finish up later in the job when you might be a bit fatigued.

Remember to brush out the polish and wax residue from chrome fittings on the top side of the boat with your favorite wax removal detail brush. I like using a horsehair toothbrush-style brush.

This boat was delivered on a trailer and we noticed that the chrome trailer wheels were dull. So we spent a few minutes cleaning them up with chrome polish and then dressed out the tires. These few minutes of extra effort really made the whole presentation of the polished boat sparkle just that much more.

Mall Cops Need Love Too

A private security company joined my LeTip Chapter recently, and when they found out about my business, they had lots of work for me. The first job involved cleaning up a couple recently purchased T3 “Patroller” stand-up electric trikes. They were well used and the larger panels had some scratches as well as adhesive residue leftover after removal of the decals from the previous company.

I used bug and tar remover to take off the adhesive residue, then used a rotary polisher and foam pads to lessen the scratches. Then I waxed the painted panels by hand. I used an all-purpose cleaner designed for interior panels to clean the handlebars and any plastic or vinyl pieces. Spray-wax is great for areas like instrument clusters that have shiny chrome trim surrounded by painted panels.

On this vehicle, the wheel hubs were uncoated aluminum, so I used aluminum polish to shine them up. I dressed the tires, but being very careful to use product minimally and only on the sides making sure not to get any dressing on the treads. (On motorcycles, I do not recommend dressing the tires at all.)

Notes on the job:

With odd-shaped vehicles, I like to pick a spot at one extreme end of the vehicle and slowly work to the other end. In this case, it made sense to start at the handlebars and work down and then to the rear.

More Love

The same security company had a couple of patrol vehicles with roof-mounted light bars that were dull and oxidized. I treated these just like I would plastic headlamp lenses.

We removed the light bars from the patrol car, as it was much easier to work on them on a table. Then it was a matter of going through the normal routine of using heavier grit sandpaper to take off the oxidized top layer, then progressively lighter grits of sandpaper to remove the heavy scratches, then applying automotive clear coat to protect the re-clarified plastic.

This scenario is a perfect example of adapting skills that we already have to a similar problem on a similar material. Plastic headlamp lenses and emergency light bars are really the same material, just a different shape.

Now the Big Job of the Day

The person in charge of fleet maintenance at the church I attend called a few weeks ago saying that they were going to sell one of their passenger shuttles and needed the interior cleaned up. It was a 24-passenger shuttle — the kind you might ride in at the airport. Even though the shuttle had carried kids and teens on many occasions, it was not too dirty. But it needed some fine detailing on the inside to really make it sparkle for potential buyers.

This is yet another example of the power of networking — letting people know what you do in all of your life’s walks, of course without being obnoxious about it. Instead, through casual conversation, most people at the church know that I am in the automotive reconditioning trade. As a result, when the subject of vehicle appearance comes up, and a church member is present, you can bet that my name will be mentioned.

As we would any passenger car, we started by vacuuming the entire interior. Then we worked top-to-bottom. The ceiling and side panels were composed of panels of shiny plastic, so we used spray-wax to clean off the layer of grime and fingerprints. The seats and seatbelts were cleaned using dry-vapor steam.

The vinyl floor was the dirtiest surface in the van, as would be expected. And because of the seat legs, access to much of the floor was on hands and knees. Nonetheless, cleaning the floor was accomplished with interior all-purpose cleaning, scrub brushes, and lots of towels. After removing the bulk of the floor grime, we went back over it with the steam machine to “rinse” the floor and pick up any remaining residue.

The last thing cleaned was the windows. The cab of the shuttle van looked like any other truck or van interior, and we used our normal interior detailing process to clean this area.

Notes on the job:

Because of the size of such a vehicle, how to tackle the job can be initially overwhelming. But as I have mentioned in the other examples, it’s simply a matter of picking a spot at one extreme end of the vehicle and slowly working to the other end.

In this case, we started each step in the process at the back of the van and worked forward. We chose this work motion because we figured that working from front-to-back would cause us to “walk all over” our clean front areas as we enter and exit the van to get supplies. So we first cleaned the ceiling form back-to-front; then the walls, from back-to-front; then the seats — you get the idea.

You will also notice that we chose to work top-to-bottom. For example, as we cleaned the ceiling and walls, it didn’t matter if we dripped on the seats or floor because we saved these for later. Of course, the floor was last. (Well, truth is windows are really last because you want to make sure all potential sources of spraying and touching are complete before the windows are cleaned.)

Last note: kneepads and disposable gloves were a must on this job, as well as a battery charger so we could keep the interior lights on.


Cleaning non-car-shaped vehicles can be a great way to book out your schedule. Don’t be intimidated if you are asked to do so. Just use the stuff you’ve always used, take your time, and work systematically.

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