Having provided consulting, training, and operational assessments at detail shops around the country, I’ve seen it all: standalone detail shops, detail centers at car washes, detail departments at dealerships.

            The most frustrating scenario for me is to go into an operation in which the owner has invested heavily in the shop setup without consulting with someone about the facility elements that can be included to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the detail operation. 

             I’ve examined already-drawn-up plans that map out such small detail workspaces that the technicians cannot move around the vehicle if the doors are open.

            These are but a few of the many examples that prompted me to sit down and write out all of the questions that need to be answered before designing or refurbishing a detail shop.

            If you run a car wash or other operation and are considering adding detailing, here are the questions that you must answer. I encourage anyone to contact a consultant in the detail industry before designing, building, outfitting, or purchasing supplies for a detail center. I can guarantee that such a consultation will end up saving you countless dollars of misspent money, as well as the unknown cost of years of unnecessarily inefficient operation.

Services Provided

            The types of services that will be provided has a major impact on the design of the facility. Candid conversations must be had to determine the list of services that best fit the community.

•          What kind of services will be provided by the detail center?

o          Hand washing

o          Express detailing

o          Full-service detailing

o          Ceramic coating

o          Headlight restoration

o          Extensive paint correction or just enhancement

o          Wholesale, dealership, or fleet detailing

o          Additional reconditioning services (dings, windshield chips, interior repair, etc.)

o          Cosmetic enhancement and customization services (tint, wraps, aftermarket installations)

•          Is it possible that any of the listed services could be added in the future even though they are not currently offered?

•          Will you need a “clean” bay for specialized application services?

Washing Cars

            The “prep wash,” which is a thorough bathing of the vehicle in preparation for detailing, is far more extensive than a simple maintenance wash provided by an automatic car wash. Since washing is such an important part of the detailing process, it is important to figure out how and where this activity will occur. And, providing full-service hand-washing adds a new twist to the space considerations.

•          What’s the best way to have cars washed?

•          Do we need a separate wash bay for the detailers?

•          Will we offer customer hand washing?

•          Does an automatic car wash make sense?

•          Why can’t we just let the detailers wash their cars in the automatic car wash?

•          How do we ensure spot-free rinsing? Is it even important?

•          What’s to be done with the runoff?


            How much space is needed with respect to the expected number of vehicles processed per day and the types of services to be provided? Not enough workspace is a common mistake in designing buildings intended to be used for detailing.

•          Is it possible in the future to have an increased number of vehicles processed per day?

•          How many bays do we need?

•          How large should the bays be?

•          What types of vehicles will be serviced? Passenger, RV, truck, boat?

Vehicle Flow

            Unimpaired movement of vehicles is critical to reducing wasted time. Getting cars in and out of detail bays, moving from the wash bay to the detail bay, and incoming customer vehicle movement — are all things that must be considered when laying out the overall footprint of the facility.

•          How will vehicles move in and out of the detail center?

•          Are there any vehicle flow bottlenecks in the detail center layout?

•          Where will finished vehicles be parked?

•          Are finished vehicles likely to be soiled while parked after completion?

•          Where will keys be housed?

•          How many times do the vehicles need to be moved during the detail process?

•          Will detail bay entrances be blocked by other activities occurring on the property?

•          What direction do the bay entrances face, and can this have an impact on production?

•          What kind of bay doors will be used?

•          How will they be opened/closed?

Manager and Employee Space

            Employees may need to have dedicated space for breaks. The manager of a high-volume shop will likely need office space or a desktop area for all the administrative tasks.

•          What facilities are needed for the manager to work during the day?

•          Will employees be changing on-site?

•          Where will employees lunch and break?

•          Where will employees keep their personal belongings?


            How will your customers interface with your operation? It’s one thing to have a state-of-the-art working area, but we must also seriously consider the facilities that are necessary to foster hospitality toward our customers.

•          How will the vehicles arrive to the shop?

•          Do you expect to have customers dropping off vehicles?

•          Do you expect to have off-the-street drop-in customers?

•          Are you offering while-you-wait services?

•          Does it make sense to create a “destination” atmosphere?

•          Will customer refreshments be needed?

•          Will it be necessary to have a separate customer restroom facility?

•          Will you offer customer pick-up and drop-off services?

Customer Parking and Vehicle Storage

            What will be done with vehicles that are in transition or completed? We want customers to feel like they have a clear place to arrive.

•          How many customers do you expect to entertain in person at any one time?

•          Will drop-off customers need a space to park their vehicles? How many?

•          What will you do with completed vehicles?

•          Will you be keeping vehicles overnight?

•          Is a pick-up and drop-off lane or area needed?


            Chemicals are such a critical piece in the detail process. Proper management of detailing chemicals can save a lot of money and downtime.

•          How will concentrates be diluted?

•          How will chemicals be dispensed?

•          Where will back-up chemical supply be stored?

•          How much storage will we need or how much chemical will we need to have on hand to prevent running out between orders?

•          Is there space to temporarily store a pallet full of supplies without blocking production?

•          Do we need treated water for dilution?


            It is common to see less than adequate electrical supply both in existing and planned facilities. You simply must determine the expected and unexpected electrical demands of a bustling, machine-dependent detail operation.

•          How many outlets do we need?

•          Where should they be placed?

•          How many circuits and what amperage per circuit?

•          How do we reduce hazards created by too many cords on the floor?

•          Will we need any high-voltage circuits?


            This is one of my biggest frustrations walking into old and new detail shops. There simply is not enough light, and existing fixtures are incorrectly placed so that technicians are constantly struggling to be able to see what they are doing. Detailing is an activity that is highly reliant on visual feedback while working, as well as visual inspection.

•          Why is lighting important for best results?

•          What kind of lights provide best illumination for vehicle paint correction?

•          Are overhead lights enough?

•          Where should lights be placed to ensure proper illumination of the vehicle?

•          Is it possible to bring in natural light?

•          Will the heat or brightness of the sun hinder results during different times of the day?


            I have yet to walk into a detail facility that has enough towels. And it seems that very few detail operators know how to correctly care for the towels they have.

•          Where will we get towels from?

•          How do we store soiled towels?

•          How will they be washed?

•          How many different types of towels do we need and how many of each?

•          How do we keep from running out of clean towels during the workweek?


            Getting the excess dirt and debris out of the inside of the car before starting the detail work is just as important as a good exterior wash before detailing the outside. Inadequate vacuuming equipment wastes time.

•          How will we vacuum vehicles?

•          Should we have a central vac system?

•          Aren’t store-bought shop vacuums sufficient?

•          Where do we store vacuums when not in use?

•          What size vacuum hose is best and how long should the hose be?

•          What about vacuum attachments?

Water and Air

            Water is as critical to a detail opera-tion as electrical power. Compressed air can also be important.

•          Do we need a wash basin?

•          Do we need spigots and where?

•          Will compressed air be used as a detailing tool?

•          Will we be using pneumatic polishers?

•          Where should the compressor be housed?

•          How do we supply air to the detail bays?

•          How many air outlets and hoses are needed?

Carpet and Fabric Cleaning Equipment

            A sizeable portion of the interior detail deals with carpeting, not to mention fabric seats. There are several options for completing this task.

•          How will we clean carpets and fabric seats?

•          What’s the best equipment for this?

•          Do we need built-in equipment for this?

•          Where will portable equipment be stored when not in use?

•          How do we reduce damage exposure to equipment in the shop?

Other Important Considerations

            It seems like there are always more questions to answer, and here are some of the leftovers that are also very important.

•          Is temperature and humidity control in the detail area really necessary?

•          What will we do to manage this?

•          Do we need a “clean room” bay that is separate from the rest of the shop?

•          What type of flooring is going to be best?

•          What are the concerns when considering what type of flooring to install?

•          Where will detail technicians store required small tools, supplies, and towels?

•          How do we deal with trash?


            If you take an honest and thorough read of this article, you will realize there are almost too many questions to answer before designing or improving a detail operation. Doing it alone, especially with little or no actual hands-on detailing experience, can lead to many avoidable mistakes that lead to lost efficiency, frustration, and having to buy things twice — making an incorrect, inadequate initial purchase followed by the correct purchase (hopefully) the second time. Talk with an expert!

Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or prentice@detailinprogress.com.