the real-world value of ASE certification continues to be an on-going
debate, I found myself signing up for still another series of ASE
recertification tests scheduled for May 13th of this year. Truthfully,
I’ve lost count of the number of “recert” tests I’ve taken since 1973,
which was the first year I signed up for the first four of eight skill
areas in the auto technician’s certification tests.
For me, there’s
never been any question of the value of ASE testing. During the fall of
1972, I had just signed a contract to teach one year of auto
technicians for our local community college. Needless to say, it was a
busy year for me and, although the National Institute for Automotive
Service Excellence (NIASE) had just been founded and was offering its
first series of technician certification tests, I simply didn’t have
time to choose between NIASE and two other organizations doing
But the following year, I determined that the
NIASE was likely to be the most viable and I spent the next two years
certifying in all eight skill areas of the NIASE series. In addition, I
also began teaching NIASE refresher courses for certification. Most of
my students who were working during the day passed their tests with
flying colors. The ones going to day-time classes and who didn’t have
real-world experience struggled with the tests. This trend proved to me
that NIASE was testing real-world knowledge and thinking skills.
THE LIGHT COMES ON
the years wore on, NIASE shortened its acronym to ASE and expanded into
other areas of automotive certification such as automotive parts
specialist and the various diesel engine and heavy-duty truck
certification tests, all of which brings me back to the real-world
value of ASE testing.
When my students began studying for their ASE
tests, I found that they were taking what the educational psychologists
of the time called a “preparatory set.” In other words, these students
were studying, not to become better students, but to become “real” auto
technicians. The difference in preparatory set was that each student
developed more intellectual curiosity and each became more dedicated to
achieving professional status.
ASE had set the bar, now it was up to
the students to acquire the technical knowledge and real-world
expertise needed to pole-vault over that bar. Many did so, but with
test scores that kept them humble. But earning their ASE certificates
caused them to develop learning habits that would follow them through
the rest of their professional lives.
My teaching partner and I
reinforced that desire for professional excellence by encouraging our
automotive students to take more math, science and business courses at
the college. The more academics they learned, the more professional and
the more intellectually aware they became. That effort, coupled with
our program’s standards for personal appearance and conduct served many
of those students well in their future years.
AN INDUSTRY WITH NO STANDARDS
the real world, the automotive service industry in the United States is
an industry with no threshold professional standards. In other words,
anybody without the benefit of education or training is legally
entitled to call him or herself an auto technician. Unfortunately for
the automotive service industry, this glaring lack of professional
standards has opened the door to incompetence and fraud.
watched local television stations conduct sting operations that easily
expose the levels of incompetence and fraud that exist at all levels in
our service industry. I recall from a few years ago a well-known
television consumer affairs personality running a sting program on a
franchised brake specialty shop doing business in our major metro area.
scenario was all too familiar: an innocent young lady drives her SUV
into the service lane of the brake shop where she’s greeted by a
burly-looking service adviser who opens the hood, inspects the fluid
level of the brake master cylinder and announces to the young lady that
“she needs all-new brakes or she’s likely to have a very serious
Of course, the SUV’s brakes were brand new and looking at
the fluid level in the master cylinder is not a valid determinant of
brake wear or condition. So, regardless of the efforts of many
organizations like ASE, public opinion becomes negative and the
automotive service industry suffers as a result.
A POINT OF REFERENCE
now, we understand that in the real world, ASE certification doesn’t
make all ASE-certified technicians honest and doesn’t guarantee a good
repair job. But that caveat follows in all other credentialed
professions, whether it’s a doctor, lawyer, building contractor, or
However, in our current labor market, ASE certification
does establish a point of professional reference. First, a technician
has either taken the time and trouble to become ASE certified or he
hasn’t. For industry activists like me, achieving ASE certification
indicates that a person is striving to become a professional in his
Of course, the argument has been made against “book learning”
and paper tests. But I served on the 1999 ASE A8 test workshop
committee and I can guarantee that all of those participants had the
real-world qualifications required to write test questions, analyze the
results and re-write those questions when necessary.
technicians claim that hands-on testing is more valid than paper
testing. When I taught many years ago, I took a government-sponsored
hands-on test and the results were disastrous simply because too many
variables were involved in hands-on testing. If the person being tested
wasn’t perfectly familiar with the equipment or the vehicle being
tested, it counted heavily against him. In addition, if the test wasn’t
perfectly designed, it was very easy for different technicians to
arrive at well-founded, but completely different conclusions.
paper or computer-based skills test is like a good job interview. An
experienced interviewer knows that an experienced technician will know
the answers to a few well-chosen questions. The ASE tests similarly
look for a technician who understands how things work and who has the
logical and critical thinking skills needed to solve common problems.
Those technicians do well, whereas those who rely on technical hearsay
and diagnostic short-cuts don’t do well.
THE MINIMUM COMPETENCY
I announced I was taking the A1 through A8 auto technician’s
recertification tests, I had one friend on the International Automotive
Technician’s Network (iATN) ask me last why I was spending the money to
take tests at my age. My answer was pretty simple. First, I write many
business and technical columns like this and I think that ASE
certification should be part of my qualifications to do that. Second, I
still do mobile diagnostic work for other shops and, here again, I
think the ASE Certified Master Auto Mechanic (CMAT) and the L-1
Advanced Engine Performance certification are a vital part of my
And then there’s the purely business aspects
of being ASE certified. ASE certification has given me documented
credibility I needed when I’ve served as a professional witness in
court. Similarly, my ASE certifications have given me credibility with
auto accident insurance companies when processing claims. And, if you
haven’t noticed, some engine remanufacturers won’t warranty an engine
unless the technician is ASE certified. Credibility is becoming the
name of our game and ASE certification goes a long way for us to prove
who we are and what we know.
INTO THE FUTURE
While I don’t
think that any test can establish a level of excellence, I do think
that ASE establishes a documented minimum competency for anybody who
wishes to work in automotive mechanical, collision, and parts
distribution services. Because we have technicians repairing vehicles
that routinely exceed $40,000 in value, it’s doubly important to
establish a basic level of competency via ASE testing before that
technician is allowed to service these expensive and complicated
vehicles. To many, it’s an intellectual challenge to do that.
To me, it’s just a matter of common sense.
Goms is a former educator and shop owner who remains active in the
aftermarket service industry. Gary is an ASE-certified Master
Automobile Technician (CMAT) and has earned the L1 advanced engine
performance certification. He is also a graduate of Colorado State
University and belongs to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and
the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).