Under the Hood: How to know if your repair shop has certified techs

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 7, 2018

Q: I saw you had recommended seeking an ASE certified technician to fix a difficult problem. Can you explain what this is and how I’d know the repair shop I might choose has one?

—Cynthia L.

A: Good question! Some states require technician licensing for general repairs, or more typically, emissions testing. This means many auto techs nationwide are either unlicensed or choose to voluntarily become certified via the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (abbreviated to ASE).

ASE has been around since 1972 and offers 50 certifications in car/light truck, collision repair, truck repair, school and transit bus, heavy truck, engine machining, service consulting, parts, among other specialties. ASE has certified more than 300,000 technicians, with each certificate being valid for five years. The car and light truck section consists of nine service areas plus general maintenance, advanced engine performance, hybrid autos and alternate fuels. Technicians may obtain certification in one or more areas, such as brakes or transmissions, or the whole lot, granting them master status. To become certified the applicant must have a minimum of two years of shop experience (or one year of experience and two years of school) and successfully pass a comprehensive written exam in a particular service area.

How difficult are the tests? They’re as good as any multiple choice test could be; however, a book-smart automotive student with coaching and no or minimal experience can typically squeeze past them, as could an experienced tech that’s fallen behind on newer technology. The best questions are the ones that require a combination of theory, diagnostic ability, repair finesse and judgment gained from experience to answer — not easy to create, or hopefully, answer! I think the L-1 advanced engine performance and L-3 light duty hybrid/electric vehicle specialist certifications are a very good measurement of a tech’s ability to get the job done in all areas of a modern vehicle, as the diagnostic skills and scan tool competency he or she would have would be key to great solutions.

Is an ASE certified tech the one to choose? I agree. While no measurement of competency is perfect, this is the best thing going, and the fact that the tech goes to the trouble and expense of becoming voluntarily certified says good things about their professionalism. To fly the banner that says "We employ ASE certified professionals" means the shop has at least two techs certified in at least one service area. Better yet is an ASE "Blue Seal of Excellence" banner. This means at least 75 percent of the shop’s techs are certified and each area of service is covered. It shouldn’t cost more for a certified tech to fix your car, but a repair shop that takes the high road with well-trained/experienced techs, tools, and information systems will likely have a higher hourly rate than one that’s just hanging in there.

If I were shelling out $180 an hour (yes, it can be that high in many places) for my car to be repaired, I’d have no problem asking, "Who will be my technician, and how are they credentialed?"