How to Train in Auto Detailing

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This is a step-by-step guide for training to become an auto detailer. By following these steps, you will learn how to gain sufficient detailing knowledge in a short period of time, with the eventual goal of operating an independent auto detailing business.

Things You'll Need

  • Car vacuum
  • Car wash detergent
  • Sponges
  • Wax
  • Polishing compound
  • Orbital polisher
  • Rotary buffer
  • Paint thickness gauge
  • Towels
  • Detailing rags
  • Wheel cleaner
  • Tire polish
  • Upholstery shampoo
  • Leather conditioner
  • Detailing brushes
  • Window cleaner
  • cotton-tipped swabs for cleaning vents

How to Train in Auto Detailing

Your first step to train in auto detailing is to take advantage of the free and low-cost training opportunities available. First, check with your local community college or career training center as they are likely to offer courses in detailing. There are several trade magazines that offer information on the detailing trade, and you can usually get a free trial subscription. Those publications include "Professional Carwashing & Detailing," "Auto Laundry News," "Modern Car Care" and others. Use these publications to get a free education in detailing. Many auto-care publications even have websites with free archives, so you can read several years' worth of back issues.

Look to join a trade association where you can take advantage of training and networking opportunities. The national association with the most detailers is the International Carwash Association, which hosts a major trade show each year with training seminars for detailers. There are also several state and regional associations, such as the Western Carwash Association, the Southeast Carwash Association, the Connecticut Carwash Association and many others. Membership fees are minimal, and there are ample opportunities for training and networking.

While trade publications and association membership are important, you need to get as much hands-on training as possible. You should look to spend a period of time working for a more experienced detailer, learning the trade. You can approach successful detailers in your market and ask for a job, although they may be wary if your eventual goal is to compete with them. Many car washes have full-service detailing operations, and employee turnover at these car washes tends to be high. Also, some automobile dealerships have in-house detailing in order to get used cars ready for sale. The benefit of working at a car wash or dealership is that you will master the basics of detailing while also learning to be productive. For these businesses, time is money. You will learn to perform basic detailing skills methodically and efficiently, such as hand washing cars, applying wax, and interior vacuum, shampoo and upholstery care.

Once you've acquired basic skills, you may want to start detailing vehicles on your own. Successful detailers rely on word of mouth advertising, so you want your first customers to have good experiences. Don't offer or promise services that exceed your level of skill, even if it means losing the sale. For example, if you are only trained to offer basic exterior and interior care, do not offer to repair scratches or paint chips. New detailers sometimes promise more than they can deliver, and they end up performing a poor-quality detail or even causing damage to a customer's car. Once your reputation is impaired in your market, it's difficult to repair it.

Once you are offering basic detailing services, you should look to increase your set of skills. You will receive training opportunities from the trade associations you have joined. You should look to your equipment and chemical suppliers as well. Many detailers start in business by purchasing their initial supplies from the big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot. After a time, however, you may start buying more professional-grade products from local distributors. These distributors often can provide training on how to use their products and may even have suggestions on what to charge for the services. You should look to add paint correction and chip repair early on in your business. You may even branch out into paintless dent removal, gold plating or windshield repair. At any rate, as you add these services, look for suppliers that can provide training and ongoing support.

Tips & Warnings

  • When adding a new service, practice on your own car or look to purchase junk car parts, such as a hood or door. Start out small. You can purchase your initial supplies for a few hundred dollars. Master your basic skills, and then expand. If people are happy with your work, encourage them to tell others. Consider offering a discount on future details if they refer new customers to you. Many auto dealerships subcontract their detailing operations. This may be a place to find work, although it is price competitive.
  • Do not do anything that removes paint from a customer's vehicle--such as using a compound and/or a rotary buffer--until you are fully trained. Many new detailers use compounds and buffers too aggressively. Once you have removed paint from a customer's vehicle, you cannot put it back.

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