Technician Certification

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If you are interested in autos and how they work, and you must be if you are reading this, you have probably been asked more than once, "Where can I find a good mechanic?"

Whom can a person trust? Who has the proper skills and knowledge? It is very difficult to tell. There has been much talk lately regarding the licensing of automobile repair people, but is that the way things should be? Is that how they will be?

Perhaps licensing will be a fact of life for the technician of the future all across the nation. Canada licenses its motor vehicle mechanics in a program supervised by provincial governments. The state of Michigan has already adopted an automotive technician licensing program. It may be the only solution to a bad situation, or at least the most palatable of alternatives.

National Institute For Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)

At present the best solution is voluntary certification of those in the automotive trade. There is only one certification program in the nation that is recognized by everyone in the industry. It is called the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

Before 1972 there was no such organization as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Initially it was funded by the "Big Four" automakers in the United States: General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors. The new car dealers' association also helped get the program started. Since that time, independent garage owners, service station operators, after-market wholesalers, manufacturers, and distributors have joined the band-wagon. Pick up any trade publication in this industry, and you will probably find an endorsement at the bottom of most advertisements for ASE.

The institute no longer needs the financial assistance once provided by the automakers. It is entirely self-supporting, with all of its funds coming from the modest test fees charged.

The institute's goal is to organize and promote the highest standards of automotive service in the public interest. It conducts continuing research to determine the best methods for training automotive technicians, encourages the development of effective training programs, and evaluates the competence of technicians through a testing and certification program.

In May and November of every year the tests for mechanic certification are administered simultaneously to applicants all over the country in more than 650 locations. The tests are usually administered at a high school, community college, or technical institute in the area. This arrangement, coupled with the fact that the tests are changed each time they are administered, ensures tight security. They are probably the most closely controlled tests conducted in the country. In some cases a special test center may be established. If there is no test center within fifty miles, a group of at least twenty persons may get together and request a special test center. Once the special center is established, others in the area may register to take the tests there.

The tests are written by automotive engineers, working technicians, vocational instructors, and automotive trade press editors who are brought together by the institute. The "raw" questions are then rewritten and put into professionally acceptable format by the American College Testing Program (ACT) of Iowa City, Iowa.

After the questions are assembled, they are tried out on panels of working technicians, engineers, and other experts who critique the questions and eliminate those that are ambiguous, tricky, or not "real world." Then, and only then, are the questions approved and made a part of the forthcoming tests.

Although anyone who pays the test fees may take the tests, only those individuals with two or more years of experience as a working technician will receive ASE certification. There is one exception up to one year's credit can be given for specific vocational schooling, where sufficient shop time work can be documented.

No special training is necessary, however, since the tests are designed for working technicians. The tests reflect the technicians' expertise in the areas that they work on every day.

For example, if a technician principally does brake and front end work, in two or three years he or she should have little trouble with those two tests. However, if the person has not done much engine work for two or three years and wishes to take the engine test, it would be a good idea to take a refresher course in engines.

The Tests

There are eight tests for the general automotive technician: engine repair, automatic transmission/transaxle, manual drive train and axles, suspension and steering, brakes, electrical systems, heating and air-conditioning, and engine performance (which was previously called engine tune-up).

In addition, there are eight tests for heavy-duty truck mechanics and five tests for auto body repairers and painters.

All tests are multiple choices and are problem oriented. For example, a test question might be, "A vehicle with a computer-controlled (feedback) engine has poor gas mileage. Engine tests show a rich mixture. Technician A says that a bad oxygen sensor could be the cause. Technician B says that a bad intake air temperature sensor could be the cause. Who is right?"
  1. A only

  2. B only

  3. Both A and B

  4. Neither A nor B
For anyone who is very familiar with the particular area being tested, the tests may seem rather easy. Other tests may seem extremely difficult. This simply points out the technician's weakness in one area and confirms expertise in another. The tests can be taken any number of times as long as the applicant pays the test fee. It is a good barometer of how well he or she knows his or her stuff. It is also a great way to force oneself to learn what is needed to pass a particular test.

The duty task lists given here are only in outline form. Some categories are expanded to show more detail.

Automobile Technician

Engine Repair (Test Al)
  1. General engine diagnosis

  2. Cylinder head and valve train diagnosis and repair

  3. Engine block diagnosis and repair

  4. Lubrication and cooling system diagnosis and repair

  5. Fuel, electrical, ignition, and exhaust systems inspection and service Engine Performance (Test A8)

  6. General engine diagnosis

  7. Ignition system diagnosis and repair

  8. Fuel, air induction, and exhaust systems diagnosis and repair

  9. Emissions control systems diagnosis and repair
Computerized engine controls diagnosis and repair
  1. Diagnose the causes of emissions problems resulting from failure of computerized engine controls.

  2. Perform analytic/diagnostic procedures on vehicles with on-board diagnostic computer systems, determine needed action.

  3. Inspect, test, adjust, and replace sensor, control, and actuator components and circuits of computerized engine control systems.

  4. Use and interpret digital multimeter (DMM) readings.

  5. Read and interpret technical literature (service publications and information).

  6. Test, remove, inspect, clean, service, and repair or replace power distribution circuits and connections.

  7. Practice recommended precautions when handling static sensitive devices.

  8. Diagnose drivability and emissions problems resulting from failures of inter-dependent systems (security alarms, torque controls, suspension controls, traction controls, torque management, A/C, and similar systems).
Medium/Heavy Truck Technician

Diesel Engine (Test T2)
  1. General engine diagnosis

  2. Cylinder head and valve train diagnosis and repair

  3. Engine block diagnosis and repair

  4. Lubrication and cooling system diagnosis and repair

  5. Air induction and exhaust systems diagnosis and repair

  6. Fuel system diagnosis and repair

  7. Starting system diagnosis and repair

  8. Engine brakes
Collision Repair and Refinishing

Painting and Refinishing (Test B2)
  1. Surface preparation

  2. Spray gun operation and related equipment

  3. Paint mixing, matching, and applying

  4. Solving paint application problems

  5. Finish defects, causes, and cures
Safety precautions and miscellaneous Structural Analysis and Damage Repair (Test B4)
  1. Frame inspection and repair

  2. Unibody inspection, measurement, and repair

  3. Stationary glass

  4. Metal welding and cutting

The institute strongly believes that certification helps everyone. The technicians gain prestige and recognition, and their value to their employers is definitely increased. The test results let technicians know areas of strength as well as weaknesses, so they can decide where additional training is needed.

Employers benefit because they can market certified technicians to customers. The institute provides signs advertising that an employer hires technicians who are certified by the ASE. The employer also uses this to advantage in media advertising. But the most important benefit is to the consumer, the motoring public. The motorists benefit because they now can look for and choose a mechanic who has proven skills, as opposed to one who just claims to be a mechanic. The motorist can tell at a glance who is a bona fide technician.


Recognition of a certified technician comes in two ways. The first is the recognition from fellow technicians in the trade. The second is from the public. It is easy to spot a certified technician. He or she wears a blue and white shoulder patch on his or her work uniform. Persons who have passed all eight tests are awarded certified master automobile technician status. A gold bar on their patch states so.

The motorist need not walk (or drive) right up to the technician but only needs to look for a sign outside the shop that proclaims: "We employ technicians certified by ASE-let us show you their credentials."

To Become Certified

Today there are more than 425,000 technicians who have been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. ASE has become the major voluntary automotive technician certification program throughout the nation and has been increasingly accepted by legislators and the public alike. Recertification (every five years) ensures the continued integrity and validity of ASE credentials.

Test Aids

There are a number of very good aids for persons interested in taking the ASE tests. Check the ASE website for links to preparation and training materials.

One package is available from Chek Chart, which offers a complete automobile technician's refresher course. The complete set is designed as a self-instruction course in theory and practical application for all of the auto-motive systems.
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