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Weíve all seen it. That blue starburst with the white letters "ASE" hanging from the local garage or body shop. Most of us have a vague idea of what it is, but arenít really sure whatís behind it.

For many car owners, especially those who have recently purchased a used car, the most dreaded drive one has to make is to a repair shop. On the technical side, most drivers and owners in todayís world know only that: "you put the key in, turn it on, the car runs, you go where you gotta go."

They donít want or need to be bothered with such things as EGRís being plugged up, or CV joints needing replacement. So going to an auto repair shop holds as much excitement for many as going to the dentist.

However, according to the 424,000 strong members of ASE, or National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence, one can ease their fears of turning their beloved car over to a stranger. But what is ASE, and what does it really mean to you?

The idea of the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence program was born in 1972 as a non-profit organization developed to improve the quality of automotive service and repair. Members of ASE study for specific areas of car, truck, and even school bus repairs.

Substance Behind The Star
Earning the right to wear one of the ASE blue star patches isnít just a matter of filling out some forms, sending in some money, and applying for certification. Up-to-date technological exams are administered in each specialty by American College Testing, the same independent organization that conducts scholastic tests such as the high-school SATs. Conducted at over 750 locations around the United States, the process of becoming a Master Technician with ASE certifications can take several years.

Many Specialties
There is no single, all encompassing ASE certification. A total of 36 different exams are offered. These are grouped into specialties for passenger cars and light trucks, medium to heavy duty trucks, school busses, and collision repair. Even more specialized are ASE certifications for Engine Machinists, Alternative Fuels Technicians, and Replacement Parts Specialists.

After passing a certain exam, certification is not given until two years of practical and satisfactory application of skills have been demonstrated by the technician/mechanic. To gain the rank of a Master Automotive Repair Technician, a total of eight exams must be passed. ASE is quick to point out that a candidate for this ranking can be applying his two years experience in several areas of his selected Master Technician goals at the same time.

After a person achieves their certified level, such as a Master Technician, there is continuing education on the latest features and innovations of the latest models. To make sure that this knowledge is retained, re-certification tests are given every five years.

Raising Your Comfort Level
Should you seek out an ASE Master Technician for your automotive work? According to the ASE, certification is a "valuable yardstick" that you can use to measure the background and ability of local mechanics. They have demonstrated a willingness to continue their learning and a have commitment to performing quality work.

"One of the most important things to remember is to do your homework when looking for a mechanic for your car," advises ASE spokesperson Nancy White, "Your automobile is usually your second largest purchase next to a house. Just as you would check out a day-care center for your child or a doctor for yourself, check out local automotive repair shops before you need work done."

One of the first basic rules when purchasing a previously owned car is to have it thoroughly inspected by a trusted and independent mechanic. While many dealership facilities employ ASE certified technicians, it is still best to seek out an independent ASE shop to avoid any conflict of interest.

Many major repair shops require that their technicians be ASE certified as an assurance to the customers of the qualifications of the people who will be working on their cars. Getting an ASE certificate is an accomplishment, and just as professionals in other lines of work display their degrees with pride on their office wall, so do many of those who have received certificates from ASE. At some of the ASE shops we visited in the Southern California area, we found entire walls covered with framed ASE certificates.

No Guarantees
Unfortunately, mechanical work is conducted by human beings and humans make mistakes. While ASE does not have a consumer complaint system, they will take information from a person who feels their vehicle was improperly repaired, but more often give suggestions of finding other ways to resolve the situation.

"We find that miscommunication is the biggest problem between customers and repair shops," said White, "we try to encourage shop operators and customers to come together, and nine out of ten times that seems to work."

Consumer Information Programs
While ASE was established to certify those who are responsible for working on our vehicles, they have set up several ways for the consumer to keep informed and up to date on automotive repair advancements, as well as hints for the care and well-being of their cars and trucks through their "Glove Box Tips" program. Need more info? Check on the web or call (703) 713-3800.

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Here are some other common-sense approaches to finding the right mechanic.

ē Ask! Check with friends, neighbors, relatives and anyone else on their experiences.

ē Look for neat, well-organized facilities with current diagnostic equipment. Talk, and listen, to the shop manager.

ē Check with your local Better Business Bureau and your Attorney Generalís Office (see page 96). Automotive related issues are their single largest source of complaints.

ē Look for other qualifications: state licensing, factory training, or other certification programs.



You would think that the customer should be the only person to to have a right to complain when it comes to automotive repair. We all have our horror stories of the incompetent or less-than-honest mechanic. In the interests of fairness, we thought weíd share with you a poll of mechanics across the US. Some of the results are predictable, others are surprising.

In a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), it was discovered that the average motorist is taking less care of their vehicles than they were just a few years ago. This is in light of the fact that nearly 85% of the surveyed claimed they stressed to their customers the importance of regular automotive maintenance. 

This survey also allowed the ASE technician to reveal some of the best and some of the worst traits among repair and service customers.

No Respect
Topping the list with 26% responses were the customers who didnít seem to respect a technicianís time; 19% who did not trust the technicianís diagnosis; 18% who failed to reveal pre-existing conditions when bringing a vehicle in for servicing. Other key problems noted included 17% who said their biggest hassle was with customers wanting a "freebie" or to haggle over the pre-set price; 13% who had to repair an unqualified "do-it-yourselfers" initial fix; and 7% who totally neglected any maintenance until the car was inoperable. 

On the other hand, technicians praised customers who displayed the following good habits: 19% praised customers who respected their time and energy; 16% who were courteous, and another 16% for the customers that realize that modern automobiles are a very complex machine. Also praised by mechanics were 15% for customers who established loyalty to the mechanic; 13% for those who kept up with regular vehicle maintenance; 12% for those who accept the post and estimated prices.

A common theme distilled from the survey is that customers often are not aware of where their money is going. In many shops, the per hour labor charge may seem a bit high, but when overhead items such as building rent, utilities, training, and maintenance are figured in, the initially high (from the customerís perspective) figure begins to make more sense.

Plenty of Expenses
As an individual, a mechanic may make a good amount of money on the top, but there are always ongoing expenses. The relationship between mechanic and shop can be rather unique, often taking the form of the shop owner subcontracting the work of the mechanic. The mechanic can actually get charged back for service space, use of advanced diagnostic equipment, insurance, etc. In return, the shop handles all the marketing, billing, liability and other ancillary but necessary expenses.

Of course, a mechanicís crown jewels are the stocking and maintenance of his tools. Most shops require each technician to own their own tools, a fact that not many consumers realize. A complete set of tools can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

So the next time a repair is needed, remember, the mechanic has just as many worries as you, and take a few moments to try to look at it from his (or her) side.


A MUST When Buying A Used Car