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ASE Certified Mechanics

Behind the "ASE" Star

We've 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 aren't really sure what's 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 today know only that: "you put the key in, turn it on, the car runs, you go where you gotta go."

They don't want or need to be bothered with such things as EGR's 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 isn?t 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 an 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.

Once 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 www.asecert.org on the web or call (703) 713-3800.