Professional Carwashing & Detailing

All about tools and technology

A successful detail business has to incorporate the latest technology in order to succeed.

May 23, 2013

Successful entrepreneurs will pursue a focused strategy that involves building the company with a commitment to operational efficiency. This requires the right systems, accompanied by recruiting and training the right personnel.

What is needed is pragmatic business knowledge, assessing consumer behavior accurately, and finding customers.

Integrating new technology

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Rather than using the typical primitive “squeeze and spray bottle” technology found in a lot of operations, a successful entrepreneur seeks to integrate the latest and most efficient technology into their new detail business.

By eliminating manual handling of chemicals and use of plastic bottles, this will eliminate the largest problem in detail operations today.

In addition, by eliminating portable shop vacuums and portable extractors, a detail business can be on the road to efficiency and profit.

Employees are taught what to do, what to use, and are given time standards to meet. No more moving around the shop looking for this and that. They stay at their workstation until the work/job is completed.

Without new technology, this can never happen in a typical detail operation.

Instead of doing one or two cars per man, the technologically advanced shop can achieve three and four cars per day, per man. In addition, working in two-person teams, the turnover is even faster. More cars per man-hour paid. This is only possible in a business based on modern technology.

Some say they cannot afford the technology or they do not need it. That is a “head-in-the-sand” attitude. They are paying for the new technology and not owning it. How? Lower production (fewer vehicles detailed per day) and higher labor costs. Not to mention savings on chemical waste and theft.

If a potential employee rebels against learning something new and challenging, advise them politely to seek employment elsewhere.

Please note, the emphasis should not be on technology as such, rather, the focus falls on what technology helps you accomplish ― far greater efficiency and a more economical use of your resources. It will always be about providing superior service. The technology helps you provide that.

The detail industry is an exciting industry, full of potential. If one is willing to learn, they can benefit.

Choosing detail technology

To assist you in choosing the best equipment for your operation, here is a list of the most modern technology available today that will increase your productivity and decrease labor.

Wash bay

  • Pressure washers: A professional operation cannot operate efficiently without a pressure washer. You can choose either a portable unit or a remote-mounted unit (similar to the set-up in a self-serve wash). A remote-mounted unit is best and all you just need to flip a switch and grab the spray gun. Pulling a portable unit in and out each night is not efficient. From my point of view, it does not matter if it is hot or cold water. Certainly, hot water will help, but with today's chemicals, you can use cold water. The unit should put out at least 4 GPM at 1000 to 1200 psi maximum.
  • Wash bay chemical dispensers: Nothing is more inefficient than applying chemicals to the engine, wheels, jambs, vinyl, and convertible tops with a spray bottle. A two or three gallon garden sprayer is an improvement over a 32 oz. spray bottle, but the best choice is a remote-mounted pressure tank that is piped to an application hose and nozzle in the bay. The attendant simply grabs the gun and applies the chemical. This can be done quickly and effortlessly.
  • Wash bay sinks or 55 gallon drums: The most inefficient thing you will see in wash bays is a myriad of 5-gallon buckets being used. A better and more efficient alternative is to mount sinks, on or against the walls, which can be equipped with a "hydro-minder" system, which automatically adds both water and shampoo when the water gets to a certain level. If this is not feasible, you should at least have strategically located 55-gallon barrels filled with water. You should add a few ounces of shampoo each day and replace any lost water. During the night, the dirt settles to the bottom like a carwash reclaim pit. From time to time, you can empty and clean the barrels. This simple approach saves a lot of time in the bay.

Workshop

Before considering what equipment you need, consider what you really need to accomplish. This is based on the detail jobs you will perform. Various jobs include vacuuming interiors, shampooing and cleaning interiors, polishing and waxing paint. For these tasks, you will need a variety of equipment. What is suggested here is not the traditional equipment used in a detail shop; but what a professional detail shop needs to compete in today's auto service industry.

  • Air compressor: This should be an obvious piece of equipment for any detail shop, but it is not in most. The compressor is used for blowing water off a wet car, drying out engines, and blowing out the interior of a vehicle, just to name a few functions. In addition, power pneumatic tools, which are more versatile to use than electric.Consider every other auto service business exclusively uses air powered tools to perform their jobs? The detail business is the only auto service business that still uses electric tools. Why is this? It is simple. Most detailers cannot afford an air compressor.
  • Air tools: With air, you have a choice of tools that can help you be efficient. Rotary buffers are lightweight and easier to handle. These buffers have variable speeds and the on/off trigger can be "feathered" when buffing over cracks and ridges to avoid burning. The buffers also last longer and require less maintenance.

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With air, you can use Rotary Shampooers, smaller vertical air tools equipped with a round, nylon shampoo brush. With these units, you can shampoo carpets, upholstery, vinyl, and convertible tops quickly, effortlessly, and with improved quality. They are variable speed, and the trigger can be “feathered" to avoid damage.

You can also use Mini-Orbital Waxers to apply and remove waxes and sealants. The waxers only weigh two pounds, allowing the detailer to wax an entire car in less than 10 minutes without fatigue.

And, there are now Dual-Action air tools that equal the performance of electric dual-action tools.

  • Vacuums: This is an obvious piece of equipment for a detail shop, but most shops still use the inefficient portable wet/dry shop vacuums that can be purchased at discount stores. The most efficient vacuum for a detail shop would be a powerful central vacuum system that is mounted in an equipment room where a pipe manifold delivering vacuum drops (hoses) to each work station. This puts vacuum capabilities at the fingertips of each detailer. It also reduces the noise level in the shop for both employees and customers. The central vacuum can also be adapted to perform as a heated extractor, putting an extractor hose in every bay.
  • Soil extractors: No detail shop, professional or not, should be without a soil extraction system. The system is used for shampooing carpets, fabric upholstery, floor and trunk mats. There are a number of units on the market, so you have to do a little research before making a purchase.

For your information, let me make a few suggestions. The solution/recovery tanks should be large enough to handle your daily capacity; the vacuum lift should be over at least 130”. It should be heated, and the price range should be between $1,100 to $1,600. There are lower and higher cost units. You will have to decide which direction you want to take. There are smaller units (two to three gallon) that are quite effective and may be the answer for the detailer who just cannot afford an expensive unit. These are priced less than $650 to $700.

  • Vapor steamers:A relatively new unit, vapor steamers remove stains in carpets/upholstery, clean door hinges, wheels, interior leather/vinyl, and even slightly dirty carpets. They range in price from $100 to $2,000. Suffice it to say, you get what you pay for.

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  • Chemical dilution stations: With the number of water-based chemicals that are used in a detail shop, it is absolutely critical to have a chemical dilution station. There is no excuse for not having such a system. They are inexpensive and "idiot-proof" to install.

To install, you simply mount it on a wall, connect a water supply or hose (to one end and select the dilution ratio you want). Each station has a plastic fill hose and another hose that goes into the chemical container. The water pressure draws the chemicals out of the container and through the orifice that determines the mixing ratio. The water and chemical are then delivered into your container, bottle, or tank. The cost for a single station should be less than $100.

  • Ozone generators: These generate ozone gas that kills the bacteria that cause interior odors, including mold spores in the air conditioning system.
  • Detail work carts/table: As obvious as this may seem, many shops do not have a place to put clean and dirty towels, buffing pads, tools, brushes, garbage, and miscellaneous items. As a result, detailers are constantly running around looking for their equipment and supplies. What you need is a moveable cart that will hold all these items and be placed between each vehicle and moved to avoid hitting doors, etc. A simple item like this can save you hours of time.

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  • Dispensing workstations: These stations are probably the most expensive, but most efficient items introduced to the detail industry. These systems are the ultimate in efficiency, function, and professionalism. A shop equipped with these systems makes a statement to both the customer and employee that it truly is a professional business.

The function of the workstation is to hold literally everything the detailer needs when working on a vehicle. Typically, a workstation will dispense from eight to twelve chemicals through application hoses and guns, and, it offers two airlines for tools. The station also includes a built-in vacuum and/or soil extractor with two vacuum/extractor hoses and nozzles, and, provides for electric power outlets.

Chemicals are usually stored in a central distribution system that automatically dilutes and delivers the chemicals to the Workstations placed in the equipment room. With these stations, you have the best in professionalism and management. The expense is justified by increased productivity and more efficient use of labor.

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  • Chemicals: If you purchase from a legitimate supplier you will get good chemicals. There is no need to pay top dollar for boutique chemicals, especially waxes and sealants. You are buying nothing but marketing hype. The key chemical technology today is the clay bar, clay towel and clay glove to remove surface contaminants and paint overspray.

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There you have it, my professional equipment recommendations. You need to objectively consider these equipment recommendations and how they can help your business. Do not jump to a conclusion that you cannot afford the equipment. In a sense, you are already paying for the equipment by higher labor and chemical costs and lower productivity.