What You Need to Know About Detailing

Posted on February 1, 2005 by R.L. “Bud” Abraham

Properly detailing for your vehicles requires a complete knowledge of auto detailing, whether the job is done in-house or by contract shops.


For most limousine companies, auto detailing is a necessary part of the business. But it can be a problem. If you wash cars and clean out engines, the Environmental Protection Agency requires proper water disposal. Water must be either collected and transported to a disposal site or you must have a grease trap that separates water and oil and is connected to the sanitary sewer. If you don’t have this system, you’re violating the law and are subject to fines that could bankrupt you.


Proper Supplies

An important thing to know is buffing pad technology. Why? Because this is the major reason so many of your vehicles have swirls in them.


Detailers often use a combination of the wrong chemical and the wrong cleaning pad. If they are using an old, white 100-percent-wool buffing pad, this pad was designed for old lacquer paint finishes that sprayed dull and had to be buffed with heavy compounds and wool pads.


Even today in body and paint shops, workers will spray a thick coat of clear and then wet sand to remove imperfections, finally buffing with a wool pad and heavy compound. In detailing, especially on clear-coat paint finishes, you don’t want anything too aggressive, such as a wool pad, because you create more damage than you correct. Therefore, you must be sure your detailer is using polywool-cutting pads, foam cutting and foam polishing pads exclusively, if you want to eliminate paint damage and swirls.


There are many other brushes and supplies that can be used to reduce detailing time and increase quality that even experienced detailers don't know about, which leads to the next production principle – people.



In my 20-plus years in the detailing business, as an operator of two detail centers and as a manufacturer who has set up detail shops all over the world, I’ve found I prefer to train my own detailers rather than hire “experienced” personnel. Why? You need to be the one in charge. Many “experienced” detailers are unemployable, which is why they find work in detail shops and discount gas stations. Typically these jobs don’t require references and pay low wages.


These people often drift between jobs, are undependable, have bad driving records, are uninsurable to drive your cars and, many times, suffer from alcohol or drug problems. As harsh as this may sound, I can only relate my personal experience as an operator and the experience I’ve had with customers who have hired “experienced” detailers.


For the most part, many of the problems you have at an in-house detail operation are caused by hiring the wrong people. Even with the best resources at your fingertips, if you hire the type of person described above, you will have problems.


You’re probably saying, “If I don’t hire someone with experience, what do I do? I certainly can’t train them.” That is a legitimate concern. What you need is to hire a quality person you can depend on and then contact a chemical supplier or consultant in the industry to train that person.


I have personally trained novices and made them into excellent detailers in three or four days. Some of these people were in overseas locations and did not speak English. With an interpreter and show-and-tell methods, I provided the necessary training. This simply says that detailing is not hard to learn if you have a good person to train and a good trainer.



Last but not least is the issue of management. If your operation is small, you may not need a detail manager, but you will need to have someone at the management level of your business overseeing your detail operation.


If you do not do this, the workers will be in charge. If you have a larger operation, maybe even selling detailing to the public, then you need to have a very competent manager. Note: I said manager, not detailer. This person might detail, but first and foremost, he must be a manager. He must know how to motivate people and understand profit and loss, production, labor versus work hours, etc. Without this manager, your detail operation is like a military platoon without a sergeant.


Even with the right manager, you also need to have someone manage this person. Set standards and review the operation’s performance to meet standards. Give incentives for exceeding standards and hand out sanctions if they are not met.


The issue of management is at the base the pyramid of production. It’s at the base because it’s the most important thing.


R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of DETAIL PLUS Car Appearance Systems in Portland, a manufacturer of auto detailing equipment. He may be reached 800-284-0123 or For more on Detailing, see the February issue of LCT.


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