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 today 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.
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.
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
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.
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
"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.
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."
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.
How About Your
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
This survey also allowed the ASE
technician to reveal some of the best and some of the worst
traits among repair and service customers.
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
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.
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)