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  • Extracting More Success
    If you are a true professional detail shop, you have an extractor machine. If you don’t, you need to get one. This tool of the trade is an invaluable piece of equipment. You simply cannot get the same results by performing an interior detail by hand with a bucket, brush, and wet/dry vac. Extraction machines, a good quality one, will supply the heat, water pressure, and vacuum lift to do a professional job and satisfy or exceed your customer’s expectations. Making the Investment What features should you look for and who do you purchase a unit from? First off, buy a good quality machine. The “Little Green” unit is for your mother, not your shop. You and your customer deserve more. A few extra dollars now will provide better performance every time you turn your extractor on. You can expect years of solid performance from a good machine. Check out local distributors as they will offer better pricing than direct factory pricing in most cases. They will also be there should you need them for training or support. Many times your local distributor will also have parts for immediate repair so you do not need to ship the machine across the country to have it fixed. This will also save down time. Price is important and in these days of internet shopping you may be able to save a few dollars but in the long run a loyal relationship with a local distributor can prove to be very valuable. Features Heated machines will always out perform cold water machines. Heat will allow maximum performance of the extractor as well as the chemicals you use. The most common temperature is approximately 185 degrees. Too much heat could be a bad thing, destroying carpet fibers and warping rubber backing. With heat comes choices: In Line Heaters This will produce vibrant heat immediately. No need to warm up or pre-heat the cleaning solution. While instant heat is a nice feature on a machine, it also has its drawbacks. It usually dictates using two power cords due to the high amperage draw. Many times you will need to plug into two separate shop circuits. This can be cumbersome as one power cord goes in one direction and the other goes across the shop to an independent circuit. In Tank Heaters Here you have the need to turn the machine on to “preheat” the cleaning solution. However, once warm and if the machine has a stainless steel tank you should be fine throughout the day using only the preheat setting between details. The in tank heaters also draw considerably less power and require only one cord to operate. It is important to consider which system is best for your application as you can see they both have advantages and disadvantages. Chemical Usage You will always use less chemical products than when manually cleaning. If trouble spots such as grease or heavy “traffic areas” need more attention, spot spray there with a solution in a spray bottle. This way you are not putting a more aggressive cleaner through the extractor pump. Keep the pump clean by running a solution of white vinegar and water 3:1 through the machine once a month. This will add longer life and better performance. Show the Results A carpet cleaned by extraction will be cleaner and stay cleaner longer. By deep cleaning, not just surface cleaning, you are removing much more dirt. You are also removing more of the cleaning solution as well. Deposits of cleaning material left behind will make the carpet get dirtier much faster. When you empty your waste solution tank, save a gallon of this waste. Put it in a clear glass jug such as an orange juice container. Put this disgusting bottle on your showroom sales counter. Use it as a tool for interior cleaning sales. When customers see what is actually removed from the floors and seats they are amazed and see the true value in an interior cleaned by the extraction process. Simplicity of Use Cleaning with an extraction machine is actually easier and more efficient than by hand with a bucket and brush. You simply vac the interior to remove the heavier debris. No need to get the small, lint type dirt as the extractor will be removing that as well as the deep down buried dirt. After vacuuming, spray the solution over the area to be cleaned. If heavily soiled, the use of a pre-spotter will help lift the more severe stains. Allow solution to penetrate. Occasionally the use of a small, short bristle brush will help dislodge even the toughest stains and ground in dirt. At this point you will use the solution/vac to remove the dirt. Drying time is also sped up as you are removing more of the solution than you can by hand vacuuming. There are several styles of tools available to make your job go fast and efficient. They are available in stainless steel and plastic. The most popular is the standard upholstery wand. This tool will do 95% of the work for an average car interior. A crevice tool is a good option as it will get in between seats and into areas that cannot be reached with the standard upholstery tool. The final tool is a floor wand. This tool is great for vans or even your showroom. Some shops even go on the road and clean carpets in restaurants, offices, etc. Jeffrey Stevens is the owner and founder of Stevens Auto Glaze and Security, Inc., a two-store retail chain that details, rustproofs, and installs 12-volt products and bolt ons. He is also the owner and founder of Stevens Car Care Products, Inc. which manufactures detailing products and supplies, auto alarms, and electronic rust control systems.
  • Adding 12 Volt Electronics
    Electronic aftermarket products can be a tremendous boost to sales. You can easily double, triple, or even quadruple your current daily gross sales. Sales of car audio, video, alarms, keyless entry, remote starters, neons and more are growing at a fast pace for stores who will commit and focus on this industry. A strong consumer demand for such products exists from the 16 year old to 66 year old! Security systems can fetch $250-$350 and up. A simple AM/FM CD player with installation can easily generate an extra $250 or more while a full featured AM/FM CD player with an amp and 2 pairs of speakers can easily hit the $700 - $800 mark. Full blow custom competition audio systems can go over $10,000! Can you see the benefits in adding electronics to your product mix? Let me state again, the key here though is commitment. Don't even consider the 12-volt industry unless you are ready to hire, train, and continually educate your 12-volt technicians. With detailing, your exposure to risk is pretty much limited to a sloppy job, a missed area, or in the worst-case scenario, a paint burn. Time and hard work can usually make up for a detailers lack of experience. With 12-volt installations however, you can short out a $1200 computer, blow an air bag, or spend 4 hours trying to figure out why the darn service engine light is on in the dash after you finish an install! There is no compromise for experience and education. The good news is there is assistance from many sources. There are several good trade publications to subscribe to including 12 Volt News at or phone 318-425-2525 and Mobile Electronics Retailer at or phone 310-533-2577. For additional sales advice, contact Eddie Kay at He has been involved with 12-volt electronics for years. We have found his tapes and seminars are well worth the minimal cost, especially for those just starting in this industry or even the seasoned pro. What to sell is an important first step. Pick a product that you would enjoy selling and installing. Something you would want on your own car because chances are, that's where it's going first. It's usually that your car is the "guinea pig." From there, move on to your brother, sister, mother, etc. After you gain a little experience, knowledge, and confidence, it's time for a sale where you actually start to make money… bring on the consumer! Get your store ready! Think as if you were inviting customers to your home to entertain them. Your customers are your guests and should be treated as such. A friendly, inviting atmosphere is essential. An investment in an eye-catching display will go a long way to generate excitement and maximize sales. When the customer can hear the sound sales will ROCK! Make sure you play their favorite station or better yet, have them bring in their favorite CD. Make sure it has a good-looking, professional installation. Take them out to your car but be sure it is well put together and can shake the mirrors! Auto security systems sell best when you have one on your own vehicle. This allows you to not only use your vehicle as a demo, but also get you completely familiar with the alarm features as you will be using it everyday. Don't be afraid to put the transmitter in the customer's hand. Let them see how easy it is to use. Let them arm, disarm, pop the trunk, etc. When selling security, be sure to include all the benefits. Obviously, security and protection of their vehicle is important, but be sure to explain and demonstrate the convenience features (trunk pop, keyless entry) and remote panic for personal safety. When selecting a 12-volt supplier be sure they can help you after the sale. Many "distributor houses" merely sell boxes. They lack any expertise in actual installations. You want someone who can help you with wire colors, locations, how to remove a panel, etc. Basically, someone who has been "in the trenches" and preferably is a certified MECP installer. MECP certification is something we recommend strongly. In our company, it is a must to be MECP certified. This insures a higher degree of quality as well as bragging rights to your customer. It also shows a higher level of commitment. There's that word again! You may contact MECP, Mobile Electronics Certification Program at 703-907-7689 or at Automotive electronics also offer one of the best and easiest opportunities to sell "add ons" or upgrades. A car owner who invest three or four hundred dollars on a CD player is an easy upgrade to a new set of speakers… from there an amp… then to a subwoofer… to surface mount tweeters. Once the car owner realizes the investment, an auto alarm is the next logical step. Once they decide on the alarm, you can add keyless entry… trunk pop… remote car starter. See what I mean? There's no end to the opportunities available with automotive electronics! (once you make the commitment of course)
  • Making a Case for Clay
    Product can have tremendous results when used sensibly. While it should not be used as a cure-all for every paint problem, experts say clay can be an effective detailing tool as long as a quality product is purchased and it is used sensibly. By Denise L. Papa, Assistant Editor Now seven years after it first entered the US market, clay has changed the way many detailers clean vehicle finishes. Detailers say this soft, pliable material can be used to effectively remove difficult overspray, rail-dust fallout, pollution and surface-rust problems from clear-coat surfaces. However, as clay has increased in popularity some experts warn that detailers have come to rely on it as a cure-all for paint problems clay cannot reasonably be expected to fix. Experts say clay can be an effective tool only when a quality product is purchased and used sensibly. The benefits of clay Clay was first used as part of the surface-repair process by the Japanese auto-body industry. According to David Miller, president of Auto Wax, Dallas, clay entered the US market in 1993. At first, it caught on slowly among detailers. "Everyone is generally skeptical of new things and when clay was first brought to the US, it was difficult to sell that first time," he says. Miller says clay has become Auto Wax's top-selling product. The flexible, tacky material is used to remove surface contaminants before a wax or sealant is applied. In short, it keeps detailers from creating an uneven vehicle surface by waxing over dirt. According to Jeff Stevens, president of Stevens Car Care Products, Eastlake, OH, clay should be used only after a vehicle has been completely washed and dried. After giving the vehicle a thorough cleaning, detailers should follow three simple steps: 1.) Wet a section of the vehicle with clay lubricant. 2.) Rub the clay bar over the lubricated section. The natural tack of the clay will remove contaminants from vehicle finishes. 3.) Repeat this process in small sections until the vehicle is complete. Naturally, the clay will accumulate contaminants the longer it is used. When the clay becomes soiled, simply stretch and fold it to expose a clean surface. Stevens says detailers should always discard a clay bar that has been dropped on the ground, as the bar may pick up dirt particles that could scratch clear-coat finishes. Get the most out of clay Detailers say clay provides easy solutions for some tough vehicle-care jobs. Gary Bean, operator of Every Detail, Lodi, CA, uses clay to remove industrial fallout and overspray. "It's the most incredible process of eliminating contaminants," he says. Rick White, operator of White's Detail, Bothell, WA, has had success using clay for surface preparation on premium and high-end details. The smooth surface the clay creates allows for a better wax application. In fact, Stevens says clay has become the surface-preparation method of choice for many detailers. He points out that, in the past, more aggressive methods of removing surface contaminants, such as wet sanding and buffing, were used. "When attempting to use abrasive compounding methods… the microscopic layers of the clear coat and/ or paint finish are being diminished," he says. "This is, in fact, weakening the strength and protective properties of the finish." Although clay can save precious mils of clear-coat finish, Stevens is quick to point out that it will not fix all surface problems. He says detailers need to develop a sensible approach to what clay can and can not accomplish. "The clay bar is not 'snake oil' and it's not the miracle 'solve-all product,'" he says. "It is designed to remove surface contaminants, and will not repair surface defects. Surface defects such as oxidation, acid-rain etchings, orange peel and low gloss will require additional treatment." Get the most from your supplier Both White and Bean know the importance of locating a reliable and affordable clay supplier. White purchases his clay from Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, for $9.95 per bar. A typical bar lasts him five overspray jobs. Bean uses Turtle Wax clay, which costs $20 per bar. One bar typically allows him to do surface preparation for 20 cars. Auto Wax's Miller says the price of clay has changed little over the past five years and the material should remain an inexpensive, effective tool for detailers. However, as clay has increased in popularity, wide fluctuations in quality have developed in the market. Miller says detailers should examine the pliability of a clay before purchasing it. The product should form and reshape easily in your hand, like putty. Substandard clay has the tendency to be brittle, with a consistency like window caulk. It often breaks when refolded. Stevens says clay that sticks to paint finishes or causes skid marks also should be avoided. He also warns that there are several different grades of clay, and some of the more aggressive grades can be abrasive to vehicle finishes. As with any process in detailing, Stevens recommends detailers start with the least aggressive product. Experts say detailers should experiment until they find the right clay for them. A quality clay, used correctly, can eliminate hours from difficult surface-cleaning jobs and enhance the overall look of a waxed or sealed vehicle. "It just makes your vehicle look better," says Miller.
  • Engine Degreasing
    The subject of engine degreasing can create quite a stir within the detailing industry. There are numerous theories, pitfalls, precautions and warnings about how to or, for that matter, if you even should degrease an engine. But, the fact remains that if you're a detail shop these concerns are inherent to the business and you pretty much have to perform this task. This is especially true if you do any type of volume with used car lots. Tell them you won't degrease their engines and you can forget about their detail business and possibly any other business you may be performing for them. Simply put, more often than not, a complete detail includes the engine! While there may not be a totally fail safe, guaranteed, no problem ever solution, you can put the odds in your favor by following a few guidelines. First, let the customer know that their decision to clean the engine is a very good one and usually will not cause any problems or damage and will actually give them an engine that appears well maintained and looks great! This can also add to the value of their vehicle at sales time. Also, if they have an oil leak, once cleaned it will allow them or their mechanic to easily diagnose or locate the problem. Next explain the procedure you use and precautions you take to do a professional job. Then, again as a professional, let them also know that there is a remote possibility of damage or exposing damage that already exists due to the cleaning process. At that point, we recommend a signed disclaimer form from the customer holding you harmless. Without this disclaimer, the entire burden is on you should something happen. It is better to lose $39.95 from the sale than $600 or more on repairs that you pay for! Most often, your customer, even the dealer understands and agrees. Communicate and be honest! Now to the cleaning procedure. The first thing to do is a visual inspection of the engine compartment for loose or bare wires, sockets or plugs not fully connected or anything that would throw up a red flag. Also, look for aftermarket products, especially remote alarms. If the siren is pointed up, it will act like a cup retaining the water are surely destroy the siren and possibly the alarm module. If any problems do exist, stop and show the customer BEFORE you begin. Assuming the inspection checks out OK, cover any critical components such as distributor caps, computer modules, fuse boxes, etc. Do not use aluminum foil as this can conduct a short or power across components. Plastic "Saran Wrap" usually works the best. "Soap up" the sides of the vehicle or anywhere chemical overspray may land or settle on with a good quality, high sudsing car wash. This will eliminate any cleaning agents from causing damage to painted surfaces that may drift when spraying. For the degreasing, we recommend using a "surfactant" type water-soluble cleaner rather than a solvent based product such as kerosene or mineral spirits. The surfactant "soap" solution can be less harmful to complex electrical components and is usually non-flammable as well. It will also rinse cleaner and faster. Plus, it will break down faster from a biodegradable standpoint, which helps keep the EPA and local city inspectors happy. Spray liberally over the engine and engine compartment taking special car not to spray directly into connections, electrical boxes, etc. Be sure to also spray hinges and underside of hood. Heavy grease areas may need more attention or even the use of a good quality brush. Allow the cleaner to penetrate for several minutes then avoiding the problem areas as mentioned above, "blast" the grease and grime away. A garden hose with an adjustable nozzle works fine but the professional detail shop will normally have a pressure washer of approximately 800-900 PSI. A pressure washer with heat will dramatically increase the quality of the job. The heat range should be in the area of 180 degrees to maximize grime breakdown and efficient rinsing. Be careful to stay away from heat in the 212-degree range as this is where water boils and turns to steam. Steam will not "blast" the grease away and may be more susceptible to problems in electrical systems. It also impairs vision while cleaning. Keep away from the "fiber" style hood insulation as it will easily fall apart if saturated with water and chemicals. Be careful if you are using a pressure washer with a high psi as it can actually peel the paint away. Another way to gauge washer performance beyond the PSI specification is gallons per minute. A good pressure washer will have a rating of 3 gallons per minute or better. You can "air dry" the vehicle by simply keeping the hood open. This works great on a sunny day. Another drying method or if the sun isn't out is to use an air hose to blow the water away. Afterwards, run the engine for several minutes with the hood open to dry out any remaining water or moisture. Dressing procedures. Once the engine is clean and reasonably dry, it's time to finish off the process for your customer. While the cleaning removes the dirt, grime, and grease, it's the dressing that truly makes the job shine, literally! Start with a cool engine that is not running when applying dressing. Since most dressings are solvent based, and solvents are subject to flames and combustion, a spark from an engine with the ignition on or with the vehicle running could be dangerous. Also, since you are spraying a "mist" of the dressing (solvent) into the air, it can increase the flammability. Common sense will go a long way here. While it is important for you to observe these precautions, it is very rare that something like this can happen. Our two company stores have degreased and dressed thousands of engines over the past 17 years without any such damage nor have we ever had any detailers report such an incident. But it is important to be aware of this situation and always remember safety first! Spray dressing liberally to a fine even coat or layer across the engine and engine compartment. Be sure to spray from several angles to gain complete coverage. Take special care around vehicle oxygen sensors as these can be damages by oils and silicone sprays. Most detailers will use a silicone dressing for a true, more professional appearance rather than a "clear paint." Clear paint will give the appearance of a cosmetic make over or "glazed donut" effect while the silicone dressing will give it a much more well maintained look. It even helps to keep the belts and hoses more pliable. Now, wipe off any excess dressing that may have drifted into any other areas to complete the job. It's always a good idea to keep a can or two of wire dry and starting fluid around. These may not always cure a problem, but they can definitely get you through a few temperamental engines. To summarize, engine degreasing is a popular service to the public and wholesale trade. It can produce excellent profits as very little cost is involved with supplies or labor. Average cost should be $39.95 to $59.95. Don't cheat yourself by offering it free or at a low cost of $19.95. You're entitled to a profit for your services and you need to cover your exposure to the risk of damage. When using any chemicals or compressed air and hot water, ALWAYS THINK SAFETY FIRST. Read the chemical and product labels, including MSDS sheets, for use of gloves, eye goggles, ventilation or other protective procedures. This is an overview of our observations and experience with degreasing and detailing. It is not meant to be inclusive of all procedures and cautions, but rather a guide. Check with car manufacturers on specific vehicles that may not lend themselves to the degreasing process. We hope that it helps you in your pursuit of building a more professional and profitable detailing business. If you have any questions or would like to comment on these procedures or add a suggestion please email us at Jeffrey Stevens is the owner and founder of Stevens Auto Glaze and Security, Inc., a two-store retail chain that details, rustproofs, and installs 12-volt products and bolt ons. He is also the owner and founder of Stevens Car Care Products, Inc. which manufactures detailing products and supplies, auto alarms, and electronic rust control systems.
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