Auto Laundry News - June 2012

Certification — Finally, Independent Recognition

By Prentice St. Clair

Back in February of 2005, there appeared in these pages an article, written by yours truly, that discussed the concept of “certification” for detailers. With the advent of the International Detailing Association’s Certified Detailer Program, it’s time to re-visit this important topic.


There is an inherent lack of standardization in our industry. We are virtually free of government regulation, which has benefits and drawbacks. The main benefit is that we don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops to start and maintain a detailing business. The main drawback is that any old Joe can throw a couple of bottles of wax in the trunk and call himself a “detailer.”

Likewise, consumers of detail serv-ices do not generally demand indicators of professionalism typically associated with other professions. In fact, consumerism in our industry continues to be driven, unfortunately, by price.

Those of us who wish to position ourselves above the generic masses of “detailers” must find ways to differentiate ourselves. One way is to pursue a level of professionalism not attained by most. One indicator of professionalism is certification.


Up until last year, detailing “certification” was limited to a piece of paper provided to attendees of a detailing training event of some sort or another. At the time of the ‘05 article, there were really only three levels of certification available, and were based on the type of training program that the detailer chose to attend. Such programs include:

  • Short seminar or workshop
  • Formal training event
  • Formal training event with an evaluation of knowledge

The Short Seminar or Workshop
This is an event that lasts no more than one day. An example of a workshop might be a short educational talk
at one of the trade shows. The presenters of these workshops are typically handpicked from the industry and can provide you with some great information. You may or may not receive a “certificate of attendance,” and you definitely won’t receive extensive information that constitutes a formal education in automotive detailing. Nonetheless, if you attend several such workshops over the course of your career, you can stay abreast of new developments as well as network with other professionals.

Another example of a short seminar might be a half-day or one-day “detailing seminar” at the parking lot of a local supplier. Often these seminars are free or very low-cost. Unfortunately, the “price” is often that the seminar amounts to mostly a sales presentation on the products that the supplier is pushing. Nonetheless, you can pick up some helpful hints and techniques, as well as network with other detailers. Just go in knowing that the presentation may be biased. You will probably receive a “certificate” that shows that you attended.

Formal Training Event
By this, I mean a multiple-day event that involves both classroom education and hands-on practice. Such training can be obtained by attending one of the “detailing schools” around the country or by hiring a recognized industry expert to come to your location. Such a program typically costs several hundred to a few thousand dollars. But what
you get is a much more complete and well-rounded training experience that is great for new technicians as well as “experienced” technicians. The “certificate” from a formal training event actually has some weight to it, assuming you were paying attention in class and are ready to apply what was learned.

Formal Training with Evaluation
The third level of certification is virtually unheard of in our industry. This would be a program that is comparable to the program for training and certifying mechanics maintained by National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Up until last year, the closest thing we had was the International Carwash Association’s Express Detailing Certification Program, and even this program does not require any continuing education as is required to maintain an ASE certification.

A formal training event with evaluation includes two or more days of formal education in all of the aspects of detailing, including hands-on training and practice. It also includes a formal evaluation at the end of the training, in the form of a written test and/or skills assessment. Assuming the technician meets a pre-determined minimum number of “correct” answers, the technician would then be presented with a certification indicating that he or she not only participated in the training but also, and more importantly, “passed the test.” It’s one thing to attend a seminar, it’s another to actually understand and retain the information presented.

Of course, such a program has to incorporate generally accepted practices that are independent of certain brand names. This program should answer questions like, “What is a compound?” “What’s the difference between a random-orbital and simple-rotary polisher?” and “How do choices in chemicals and machines impact the vehicle surface?”


Enter the International Detailing Association (IDA) into the picture. One of the main purposes of the IDA is to establish standards of excellence in the industry. To that end, the board of directors of the association commissioned a committee to create the Certified Detailer Program (IDA-CD).

Last year, the committee, on which I was honored to serve, completed the arduous task of producing a written test that assesses what most industry experts would agree is basic technical knowledge of the art and science of professional detailing. The test is actually composed of 10 separate modules, each focusing on a different aspect of automotive detailing. The modules are: safety and compliance, equipment, chemicals, the prep wash, interior detailing, leather, glass, paint correction and protection, wheels, and detailing terminology.

Each module has a battery of at least 10 questions. The modules are administered and scored separately, and at least 80 percent of the answers must be correct in order to “pass.” Each test can be taken again at no charge, should the initial attempt not meet the passing level.

The cost for IDA members is $25 per test or $200 total if pre-paying for all 10 tests at once. The tests are sent to the
recipient one-at-a-time. The cost for non-members is $45 per test or $400 for all 10. Since IDA membership is only $95, it costs less to become a member and purchase the tests than it does to remain a non-member. Those who pass all 10 tests receive a free IDA-CD patch. Additional patches are available for purchase, should you have a number of uniforms.

Here is the most important piece of information in this article: The IDA Certified Detailer Program is the only independent detailing certification available in the world.

Now, in order to successfully complete the IDA-CD written tests, you will still need to attend the types of training events listed above. There is also a lot of information available on the Internet, but unfortunately that information comes with no guarantee of reliability.

Passing the IDA certification tests is a great accomplishment. One who does so should proudly acknowledge his or her certification in all marketing efforts. After all, there are very few detailers who bother to obtain training; there are even fewer who bother to obtain certification.

A recent addition to the program allows IDA-recognized trainers to administer the certification tests as part of their training program. I am proud to have been the first to do so — after a recent training event at Plymouth Station Auto Center in Plymouth, MN, the certification tests were administered, with great success, to the five detailing technicians who attended my four-day training program. If you are considering formal training for your detailing staff, please take the time to investigate the offerings of IDA-recognized training outfits that include administration of the IDA-CD tests as part of their training package.


One of the hallmarks of any quality certification program is the requirement that the certified technicians keep up their certification over the years. The IDA Certified Detailer Program has considered this and requires that the IDA-CD be re-certified every two years. Re-certification involves taking eight hours of continuing education in detailing within those two years, as well as a re-certification fee of $100.

An easy way to earn continuing education credits is to attend IDA University training events. These are currently in development. At the time of the writing of this article, there are plans to have IDA-U events at the Western Carwash Association trade show in San Diego next September, as well as at Mobile Tech Expo in Orlando next January. Additionally, we are in the early stages of planning regional training events to be held at IDA-member facilities around the country. Stay tuned to the website for announcements.


The IDA will continue to work on the Certified Detailer Program to improve the current tests as well as to add new levels of certification. For example, we are considering adding a “master” level certification that would require the demonstration of hands-on technical proficiency. This is an extensive endeavor, however, and will take some time to develop a program that is unbiased, fair, and easy to administer. Please be patient and know that we are working on it in the background.


Our industry, through the IDA’s Certified Detailer Program, finally has an option for the detailing technician to receive independent recognition of technical knowledge. This month’s column may seem like no more than a shameless plug for the program, but its importance cannot be over-emphasized. Members of our industry have begged for such a program for decades . . . here it is!

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail or call (619) 701-1100.

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