Dealer Ops

Use But Don't Let Them Abuse: Protecting Your Equipment, Chemicals & Supplies from Employees.

It is costing dealerships thousands of dollars in waste and theft, and yet few have a handle on the detailing equipment, supplies and chemicals used in their detailing departments

What do you know about the detailing equipment, chemicals and supplies being used in your dealership's detailing department?

Sure, someone orders it, and you pay for it! But do you really know what you have, how it is being used/monitored and what is really needed.

Are your detail employees treating the equipment with the care the high cost demands? Or do they just use it until it wears down, or worse, just breaks?

What about chemicals? Who monitors what is really needed? The chemical supplier? Probably, if your detail dept. is like most dealerships. Who monitors what is used? No one, but the detailers. Who insures that the water-based chemicals are diluted according to manufacturer's instructions? Improper dilution of chemicals is costing dealers thousands of dollars each year. In many dealerships chemicals that call for 10 or 15 to 1 dilution are being used straight. You don't have to be a genius to figure out the math and the cost.

And supplies! Buffing pads, brushes, towels, etc. Who is taking care of the ordering and monitoring of use? Did you know that some buffing pads cost as much as $10 apiece. Yet, if you look in most shops these pads are laying around like a dirty rag, or are stashed in a detailers cabinet like a "pack-rat."

Shrinkage - a kind word for stealing. If any one thing is costing a dealer big money it is shrinkage, or theft of detail chemicals and supplies. In many cases, the detailers don't even see it as theft. It is consider "a benefit of the job. " To have access to all the detailing equipment, supplies and chemicals needed to fund their "weekend" detail business, or at the least to detail family and friends cars. In some cases, they're even doing it at the dealership with your space, electricity and water.

A Leap of Faith

Everyday, in almost every dealership across the country, a leap of faith is being taken each day when detailing equipment such as buffing tools, vacuums, heated soil extractors, ozone generators, chemicals and supplies are put in the hands of detailers without any awareness of what is being used by whom.

Preventive Safety Measures

If you want some advise on this matter, listen to what experts recommend to help you limit losses and damage with regard to equipment, chemicals and supplies.

A nationally recognized employment lawyer recommends:

  • Limit the number of workers that use and have access to the inventory of chemicals, equipment and supplies. Keep everything in a secured area.
  • Make a checklist for all equipment used in the detail department, who used it last, or who it is assigned to.
  • Have a written policy with regard to equipment, chemical and supply use and care. Ensure that employees know the policy and sign a document to that fact; along with the supervisor who discussed this policy with them.

Perception of Responsibility

There are actually no real consequences you can subject an employee to if your equipment is "lost" or damaged. But it helps to have them sign a document indicating they are responsible. It creates the perception that you are "watching or monitoring" and that there are personal ramifications if it were lost or damaged.

The signed document lets the detailer know that your dealership detail department is, different' than others they have worked in, bringing a consciousness to the employee of their responsibility.

Without question, signing an official document has a psychological impact on any employee, especially a detail employee.

Team-up for Security

Another way to help in equipment, chemical and supply use is to team up your detailing employees. Set up detailing teams to work on the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Then, if something happens to a piece of equipment, you have a better chance that one of the two will report it so as to not be held 'responsible.' Same with chemicals and supplies, if they think they are going to be held responsible, they are not going to carry another person on their back.

Other Precautions

The following are some basic things that most companies do to control equipment inventory:

  • Use an embossing or engraving device to put the dealership name on every piece of equipment.
  • Include the serial number of each piece of equipment on the checklist that employees sign.
  • Record all serial numbers in a separate log book.
  • File all daily checklists in employee personnel files.
  • Have the shop supervisor carefully watch who is using what equipment when.
  • Make the shop supervisor responsible for equipment maintenance, rather than the detail employee.
  • Have your chemical and supply company give you an estimated cost for chemicals and supplies for a used car detail and a new car make ready. Then monitor these costs vs. the number of vehicles going through your detail department. It is not perfect, but it will help control chemical and supply costs from both the employee and supplier point of view.

If damage occurs to a piece of equipment, an employee can always say, "It was an accident.” In that case, the worker cannot legally be considered responsible for the cost. However, if you can prove the damage was not accidental, but intentional or negligent, the cost of the damage can be deducted from the worker's pay as long as the costs don't bring the worker's salary below your State's minimum wage.


There is so little control over detail equipment, chemicals and supplies that even if you only "went through the motions" with regard to what is suggested in this article, most dealers would save money.

If you took a serious look at this matter and setup some serious policies or programs, you would enjoy savings you never thought possible.


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