Detailing Certification: You Don’t Need It, But Get It Anyway

Detailing Certification: You Don’t Need It, But Get It Anyway

One of the best things about car detailing as a business idea is the lack of barriers to entry. Where many jobs are bottlenecked by special interest groups making it hard for newcomers to gain entry without thousands of hours of training and special licenses gained from the city or other recognized authority, auto detailing has remained open.

While this is the case, there are actually good reasons that you should still look into getting yourself an auto detailing certification. In today’s blog, we are going to be exploring the main reasons for and benefits of getting your detailing certification, even though there’s no legal requirement that you have it.

What is an Auto Detailing Certification?

In this context, an auto detailing certification is a recognized qualification that tells others that you have the skills and knowledge to operate as an effective auto detailer that customers can trust. The skills and knowledge you possess is recognized by some kind of overseeing body, such as the International Detailing Association (IDA – with some measure of authoritative standard that others can use to measure detailers against.

An auto detailing certification further shows that you have completed a certain number of hours of training with an awarding body. Upon completion of that training, whichever awarding body you have worked with have seen fit to recognize and certify your knowledge and skill level to meet or exceed whatever standard it is they have set.

Though not on the same level as something like a bachelor’s or master’s degree, such a certification places you in a peer-recognized group. Customers frequently look to such groups to provide guidance on standards and practices in areas of commerce that are otherwise fairly unfamiliar to them. To see a certified detailer is to know that they have credibility and sufficient recognition from within their field. It works as a kind of safety net, so that the consumers know that you at least know all that you need to do this job properly. 

How Do You Get It?

Currently there are three big and well-known suppliers of training and certification in the US, namely:

These offer single- and multi-day training options in different locations around the US. All you have to do is register your interest and then attend the courses on the given dates. If you can meet or surpass the course requirements, typically demonstrated through practical skills, then you can receive the certification upon completion.

Example: IDA Certification

Among the three that we mentioned above, the certification offered by the International Detailing Association (IDA) is arguably the most developed and comprehensive in its ability to properly assess and offer tangible benefits to those who take it. The IDA is based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

To become an IDA-certified detailer, you have to complete two main phases.

Phase I: Written Exams

The first phase is a knowledge-based assessment that tests how much detailers know about the work they have to do. There are 10 tests in all covering a number of areas:

  • Equipment
  • Chemicals
  • Glass
  • Interior Detailing
  • Leather
  • Paint Correction and Protection
  • Wheels and Tires
  • Prep Wash / Wash Bay
  • Detailing Terminology
  • Safety and Compliance

Each test is made up to about 10-20 questions and you need to score 80 percent or better on each one to pass. The tests are $25 each for IDA members, but you can prepay for all 10 tests for $200, which is a neat saving of $50 overall. For non-members the tests are $45 each or $400 for all 10. If you fail any of the papers, you can purchase retake papers for $10 each.

The tests are done online. Once you have registered with the IDA, you will get instructions on how to access the tests. The same goes for retakes. Once you have registered and paid for a retake, you will gain login information to access your test retake.

Phase II: Skills Validated Testing – The “Bring It” Phase

When participants can prove the level of their skill in theory, they move on to what the IDA calls its “bring it” phase. The Phase II Skills Validated tests are split into four primary categories that represent different stages of detailing. The tester will give the candidate various scenarios in which to demonstrate their physical skills in detailing. The goal is to determine whether or not the candidate can demonstrate their ability in detailing to a strong enough degree to be called IDA-certified.

The requirements for the Phase II part of the test are first that the candidate must have satisfactorily completed the first phase and then be available to receive the phase II assessment in person. The test is carried out by a IDA Recognized Trainer (RT) and the main content is a practical manifestation of the theory they were tested on in phase I. it covers four main areas:

  • Wash Bay / Prep
  • Interior
  • Exterior Correction
  • Finishing Steps

Each portion of the test is carried out 1 on 1. The phase II test is $200 for IDA members, or $400 for non-members. The IDA offers a combed price for all parts of the test to be bought and registered in one go, $350 for members and $700 for non-members.

Now we are ready to get into the meat of today’s blog article, and that is the list of reasons that you should get such a certification as we describe above.

Reasons to Get Your Auto Detailing Certification

1. Auto Detailing Perceived as Specialized

When auto detailing was starting to take off as an industry, many viewed it as simply a form of “premium car wash” type of service. Over time, however, the perception of auto detailing as a profession has changed. It is now viewed as a much more specialized form of cleaning combined with a restorative effect that has many additional and practical benefits for drivers.

A car washer uses buckets and sponges to get dirt off the surface of a car. At a stretch, they may also apply some wax or polish to get the paint to look nicer. On the inside they’ll run the vacuum around and shake out the floor mats. That’s a basic service. Detailers get into so much more than that. Besides using special detergents and tools to get the car clean, they also work on the paint and interior in a way that isn’t just cleansing, but restorative. A washed car needs re-washing every week, but a detailed car is like something brand-new that just rolled off the showroom floor. The protections given to the car mean that future detailing won’t be needed in a hurry.

This being the case, having an official certification is an extremely useful tool to better prove your ability and experience in this field. If you get the certification early in your practice, then you can easily claim to have both the qualifications and subsequent experience to satisfy the requirements of doing this job with competence.

2. A Small Investment for Potentially Big Returns

We mentioned above the cost of the IDA certification. Taking a conservative estimate and imagining that you take the combined phase I and phase II tests for the $700 fee. You can be certified very quickly and a fee of $700 plus expenses to visit the IDA for your in-person phase II test wherever that might take place is pretty limited expense when you consider that as a detailer you could be pulling in anywhere from $90,000-120,000 per year.

Setup costs for your detailing business are already relatively low, and getting a certification is hardly adding more to that burden. This is especially true when you factor in the many benefits that can come from having the certification from as early as possible. You’ll be able to speak on detailing with more authority, charge more for your services (see more below for more on these), as well as ensure that you also really do have the skills you need to do the job well.

Even if you only make this investment for IDA or other certification purely for the reassurance that detailing is something you can do and other detailers recognize your abilities, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

3. You’ll Probably Learn Something

However much you think you know about something that you do, there is always room to improve and grow. If you take the certification, you can find gaps in your own knowledge. You can then fill these gaps and proceed in your business with far greater confidence and competence.

Tests for a certification will typically feature the latest knowledge within this field. It’s always a good idea to be up on your industry knowledge regardless of whether you would even publicize the fact that you had the certification in question. Completing something like the IDA tests is a neat way to brush up on all areas of knowledge and discover where the potential weaknesses in your own business model are.

With greater knowledge, you’ll be able to expand your services, as well as create interesting and effective marketing materials in which you can share this knowledge and insight with other people. In this way, you can quickly establish yourself as a real authority within your field. This brings us neatly to the next benefit.

4. Helps You to Present with Authority

When you’re creating your marketing materials, like “how to” videos, or demonstrations on how you get certain aspects of your job done to a certain standards (without giving away too many trade secrets, of course), you start to become perceived by the public not just as an effective detailer, but a real “authority” on the subject.

When you can do that in your community and beyond, your name as a detailer starts to mean more than just someone who is good at detailing. Your online and marketing activities could turn into a revenue stream as you become an “influencer” in your professional world of detailing. You could answer the questions of other detailers, and become a “go-to” or even gain guru-like status. Detailing product manufacturers and big automotive brands may seek you out and pay you to feature their products in your work.

Purely from a business perspective, there’s no better way to attract new business than that. When others see you as the authority in your field, you will always be at the forefront of their mind when they are seeking automotive detailing business. With the addition of the social media influencer element, too, your detailing business can grow financially in directions and scope you’d not previously imagined.

5. Set Your Business Apart

Having the certification is certainly a neat way to help set your business apart from any competition you might have in your area. The fact is that many detailers will likely opt not to invest in such a certification. Why? Most will see it as an “unnecessary expense” given that there is no legal requirement for them to have any certification to be a detailer.

The ones who don’t get the certification early on, however, will likely regret it in the long term when they’re trying to compete against you and are not able to present with the same authority as you because you got the certification early and then backed it up with your years of experience. Such things are very visible to consumers and have a great impact on their decisions on who to hire.

6. Adds a Sense of Credibility

When people are hiring you as a detailer, they are trusting you with one of their prized possessions: their car. Given that high-end detailing is often done on luxury-brand and cars, whose owners can easily afford regular detailing fees, there is a great deal of trust being transferred. As a consumer, it is much easier to transfer that trust when you can have more confidence that the person you are hiring to do the work for you is qualified, certified and has a skill level recognized by his peers and other “masters” of this craft.

There is quite a lot that can go wrong in detailing if it is done badly. If the detailer is sloppy in their work, they can leave swirl marks and water marks on the paint. They can miss hidden nooks and crannies in your car’s interior when they get to the vacuuming. They can use the wrong detergents on the exterior that risk damaging the paint, and on the interior that risk damaging the infotainment screen or other on-board electronics. They may leave chemicals and other substances on too long, or not long enough; use the wrong type of brushes or sponges, and many other possible mistakes.

When you have the certification, high-quality buyers will recognize that you are a credible and competent detailer who can be left to get the job done without additional supervision. This kind of peace of mind is worth a lot to customers, which now brings us to the final piece of the puzzle.

7. You Can Charge More

A final reason to get a detailing certification — you can raise your detailing fees. Auto detailing is a world in which professional standards and quality results garner more customers who are willing to pay top dollar for the service. They don’t pay anything in the league of professional detailing for a typical neighborhood car wash because the results of that car wash are typically gone within a week or so.

Detailing has that all-important restorative effect, which works as a “Wow!” factor and ensures customers keep your contact details close by and start recommending you to everyone. When you are busy and in demand, armed with a detailing certification that many of your competitors likely didn’t bother to get, you are in a position to charge more. You may even reach the stage where you have new customers on some kind of waiting list. That’s one way to know for sure that you’ve made it in business, when others are literally waiting in line to get access to your services.

Conclusion: Can I Still Get By Without a Detailing Certification?

In short, the answer to this question is of course you can. As we stated in the blog introduction, there is currently no legal obligation for an auto detailer to hold any sort of certification before starting detailing work. As the market grows, however, and things become increasingly competitive for you, you might be glad to have held that certification for a number of years. You don’t want to fall into the trap of being certified late and then looking like a rookie on paper even when you have years of experience already under your belt.

It should be noted, however, that while you don’t need any kind of certification to be an auto detailer, you will likely still need a business license to operate in a certain city. Depending on where you live, that can be a bit of a pain in terms of paperwork and waiting times, but in general it’s easy to get done and requires no additional work on your part. Unlike your detailing certification, having a business license is typically a matter of law.

Those paper qualifications are sometimes like a passport to greater things. It can just be a clincher that helps to secure that regular business that keeps your enterprise and your dream of economic and business freedom alive. Therefore, consider investing in a certification in the early days of your business. At the end of the day, it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.

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