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IDA Certification Program Overview

IDA Certification Program Overview

The International Detailing Association (IDA) offers a Certification Program to both members and non-members of the Association. The program currently consists two phases or levels of auto detailing certification:

  • Phase I, called Certified Detailer is a written exam of standard detailing knowledge and consists of ten exams that assess the taker's background knowledge of detailing. 
  • Phase II is called Skills Validation and does just that—validates that the detailer has the skills necessary to complete standard detailing.

The purpose of the IDA Certification Program is to create a baseline benchmark by which consumers and employers can evaluate prospective detailing technicians.  The technicians can also evaluate themselves.  Once certified, the technician has the privilege of wearing the “Certified Detailer” patches on his or her uniforms, and the business owner can utilize the Certified Detailer logo in all marketing efforts.  All certified detailing technicians are also listed on the IDA website.

As the IDA ramps up its efforts to educate the motoring public on professional detailing, the IDA Certified Detailer will increasingly be sought out by consumers.  More information about the IDA Certified Detailer Program can be found on the organization’s website at

How do I Study?

The IDA has a longstanding policy of not providing detailing training.  The Phase I exams were written originally by a set of leading industry experts who volunteered their time.  The exams continue to be tweaked and improved almost yearly by the volunteers of the IDA Certification Committee.  The exams will never be perfect because there are so many opinions and regional differences in detailing technique.  This is one reason why the passing requirement was set at 80%.

It is believed that the information needed to pass the exams is widely available through the existing myriad of detailing seminars, books, DVDs, formal training and schools, as well as published internet materials.  Nonetheless, the IDA sponsors a number of educational offerings throughout the year at various tradeshows and other industry events.

Moreover, there are several “Certification-in-a-day” events held at various times throughout the year at various locations, including conventions and detailing distributor locations.  At these events, an IDA Recognized Trainer provides a several hour seminar during which is shared all of the information needed to pass the exams.  The exams are administered and checked on-site, and incorrect responses are discussed and corrected.  Check out the IDA website for upcoming events in your area. 

Tell me More About the Exams

As mentioned, there are ten exams, each of which focusses on one or two aspects of automotive detailing.  The exams range from 10-25 questions each, with most of them hovering closer to 10 questions.  Online, each exam is taken one-at-a-time and must be passed by answering at least 80% of the questions before the next exam is supplied.

Exam 1 focuses on Detailing Equipment, assessing knowledge of the proper use and maintenance of such key detailing machines like hot water extractors, dry vapor steam machines, pressure washers, and polishers.

Exam 2 assesses knowledge of Detailing Chemicals, and asks about such subjects as the pH, water-based versus solvent-based chemicals, and proper dilution.  Specific questions cover some of the most common chemicals that we use on painted surfaces and interior surfaces.

Exam 3 focuses on two aspects of detailing—Glass and Trim.  The glass questions assess the technician’s understanding of the elements that go into successful glass cleaning, including towel care, chemicals, and technique.  The trim section covers appropriate treatments for materials like chrome, aluminum, tires, wheels, and rubber.

Exam 4 dives into the world of Interior Detailing, including the materials used on the vehicle interior, the machines used to clean and deodorize the interior, and the chemicals used.  The various types of stains are also included here.

Exam 5 specifically covers the care of Leather and Seats, including materials, chemicals for cleaning and protection, and equipment.

Exam 6 has us stepping to the outside of the vehicle to discuss Paint Correction and Protection.  Knowledge that is needed for this exam includes an understanding of common types of paint systems, common paint problems and damage, the main categories of paint correction chemicals and protective chemicals, and polishing equipment and pads.

Exam 7 focuses specifically on Wheels and Tires.  Here, it is important to have an understanding of the common OEM wheel types and how they are typically coated.  It is also important to have knowledge of the types of shiny aluminum wheels and how to care for them.  Moreover, the exam assesses knowledge of best practices for brake dust removal and prevention, as well as application of tire shine.

Exam 8 assesses knowledge of best practices involved in the prep-wash process as well as engine compartment cleaning.  The exam taker should know the types of chemicals, equipment, and tools used for washing the exterior, as well as the purpose of the prep wash and the steps involved.  Also, how to avoid the problems that are typically caused by inappropriate prep wash techniques.

Exam 9 asks the exam taker to match a couple-dozen common detailing terms with their proper definitions.  Most of these terms are used in the other exams, so the knowledge needed to perform well on the other exams should be sufficient to perform well on Exam 9.  A recommendation for Exam 9: it is important to read through all the information and take preliminary notes on your initial answers, as the definitions are very precise, and the language can be tricky to the casual reader.

Exam 10 covers the all-important subjects of Safety and Compliance.  (“Compliance” refers to the very necessary subject of complying with all local, state, and federal regulations for safety in the workplace.)  Knowledge assessed here includes understanding the content and keeping of Safety Data Sheets, proper bottle labeling, safety equipment and personal protection in the workplace, and employee safety education.

Tips for Success

Don’t over-think the questions.  There are some terminology differences across the country and, indeed, the world.  Use your common detailing knowledge to get past the exact term being used within each question, and instead, focus on the main idea that the question is trying to tap.

There are several questions that utilize “double-negatives”.  For example, “Which of the following is NOT the best way to . . . “.  It is very important to fully read each question slowly and carefully, then read EVERY multiple-choice answer for that question before choosing what you believe to be the correct answer.

There may be some question-answer combinations that you disagree with, from a personal opinion perspective.  Those of us who have been in the detailing industry for a while understand that there are multiple ways to detail a car.  I suggest that if you know that your particular way of performing a specific detailing activity differs from what most detailers might do, don’t let this trip you up on selecting the answer that is “correct” based on the most common practices.

Some of the incorrect answer choices are so obviously incorrect that the speedy exam-taker will get tripped up by them.  Again, that’s why it’s important to carefully and slowly read each question and answer before making a choice.

This very brief summary of the IDA Certified Detailer Exam content will hopefully help you with search terms for educating yourself on the various subjects covered by the exams.  One of the purposes of the development of the Certified Detailer Program was to encourage detailing technicians to educate themselves in our profession, thus raising the standards and knowledge levels across the board.  I encourage you to spend some time studying the multitude of online information before tackling the exams. 

by Prentice St. Clair

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