By Steve Gravelle, correspondent

CEDAR RAPIDS — Brock Staley’s out in his garage on a winter afternoon, cleaning under the hood of a Chevrolet SUV.

“You don’t want to do it with a pressure washer because there’s too much electronics,” he said, applying cleaner and protectant to the black plastic shrouds and covers that make up much of a modern vehicle’s engine bay.

It’s been his livelihood for just short of a year, but Staley’s been detailing cars since before they called it “detailing.”

“We grew up around old cars, and Saturday morning was always our time to be together,” recalled Staley, 48. Much of that quality time during his childhood in Hudson was spent washing and waxing the Corvette his father bought as a teenager for $200.

“If we breathed on it, we got spanked,” he said.

Staley continued washing and cleaning vehicles as a side gig before quitting his full-time job with an internet and cable TV provider. Staley’s Custom Detailing launched last March.

“I quit on Thursday, and Friday we went to lockdown,” he said.

Turning pro meant outfitting his garage with plumbing and commercial-grade electrical service and serious cleaning tools such as a steamer and washer. There’s also a heater.

“I started ordering stuff online,” Staley said — at first, before telling his wife, Lisa, of his plans. Fortunately, that worked out.

“She said, ‘OK, I’m behind you,’” he recalled.


Even with the improvements, Staley’s garage probably isn’t that different from yours, just remarkably well-stocked and organized.

Wall brackets hold heads and wands for the sprayer and steamer, and a rolling cabinet holds specialized products for cleaning and preserving paint, chrome, plastics, and cloth or leather interiors.

There’s an ozone generator — a device that uses high-voltage electricity to turn oxygen into ozone, eliminating interior odors from a car’s interior. It’s especially useful when a vehicle’s owner is a smoker.

“It takes all the food smells out. It takes the kids’ diaper smells,” Staley said.

A complete detailing starts with a thorough wash and dry. Staley follows with a clay bar, a resin mixture that removes invisible contaminants and pollutants from the surface of paint, glass, fiberglass and metal.

The clay removes those particles, leaving a smooth feel and preparing the car for waxing or sealing.

After the clay comes a hybrid ceramic wax product to clean and preserve a car’s finish.

“It looks like it just came off the dealership lot,” Staley said.

Ordering products direct from a distributor makes it easier to keep up on the latest.

“We talk about the new products,” Staley said.

He’ll often consult the distributor before working on a classic or vintage car — too much polishing can “burn” through older paint to bare metal.

“You have to have a paint gauge to tell you how much you have left,” Staley said. “It doesn’t take much to burn through. You can ruin someone’s car if you don’t know what you’re doing.”


Interiors are thoroughly vacuumed, and plastic and leather surfaces get a cleaner and protectant. Staley has gone so far as removing seats and carpeting from especially messy vehicles.

What’s the worst a customer can throw at him?

“Gum from kids, and crayons,” Staley said. “Crayons are the worst. All you do is spread it when you try melt it.”

Instead, Staley cut the handle off a spoon to use as a scraper to painstakingly lift smeared crayon out of carpet.

“It’s just one of the tricks you learn on your own,” he said.

Alloy wheels collect brake dust and road grime.

“The alloys take 40, 50 minutes a wheel,” Staley said. “It’s nothing but Q-tips and rags.”

A complete detail job is time-consuming, but that suits Staley’s exacting nature.

“It’s tedious, I guess,” he said. “If you like to work by yourself, it’s a good place to go.”

The Staley treatment has disrupted one customer’s plan to trade in her Jeep.

“She said, ‘That looks brand-new. I’m going to keep this one,’” he said.

Despite — or because of — pandemic and the Aug. 10 derecho, Staley was encouraged by his first year as a full-time independent business owner. The August derecho cut Staley’s electrical power for a week while he and his neighbors fed each other with backyard cookouts.

It’s a close-knit neighborhood: In 2016 Staley and Ken Blazek were feted at the University of Iowa-Nebraska football game as “citizen heroes” for rescuing another neighbor after her house exploded from a gas leak.


In the weeks after the derecho, Staley saw vehicles that had been repaired but needed a thorough cleaning to remove broken glass and other debris.

“I’ve been busy all year, right up to the first of the year,” he said. “I always wanted to be my own boss.”

Staley’s even stayed busy through the winter, when he uses a long-handled wand on rollers to blast road salt from a vehicle’s undercarriage.

“The guys that are shut down right now, I’m getting a lot of their business,” he said.

If you know about a Corridor business that might make for an intriguing “My Biz” feature, let us know, too, via [email protected].

At a glance

• Owner: Brock Staley

• Business: Staley’s Custom Detailing

• Address: 1357 20th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 389-9011

• Website:

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