I get this question all the time. Apparently, it's a monetary concern for many people. They are under the misconception that anyone who is "handy" and somewhat schooled can fix a car. So why pay more for the technician with "the shingle?" The best way I can answer this question is by outlining the test lineup and mission statements of ASE (The Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) and I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair). These are the two "biggies" when it comes to certifying auto service technicians through testing. First, I will give you sufficient background on each organization, then their respective mission statements, and finally the test line-up for each.

ASE (The Institute for Automotive Service Excellence)

Until the early 1970's, consumers had no way to distinguish between incompetent and competent auto technicians. In response to this need, the independent, non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was established in 1972. At present there are about 420,000 professionals with current certifications. They work in every segment of the automotive service industry: car and truck dealerships, independent garages, fleets, service stations, franchises, and more.

Here's how ASE certification works: Prospective candidates register for (and take) one or more of ASE's 40-plus exams. The tests are grouped into specialties for automobile, medium/heavy truck, truck equipment, school bus, and collision repair technicians as well as engine machinists, alternate fuels technicians, parts specialists, and collision damage estimators. Upon passing at least one exam and after providing proof of two years of relevant work experience, the test taker becomes ASE certified. Certification, however, is not for life. To remain certified, those with ASE credentials must be retested every five years. ACT, known for its academic and occupational testing programs, administers the tests. They are conducted twice a year at over 800 locations around the country. The exams stress knowledge of job-related skills. They're not easy to pass; approximately one out of three test takers fails.

You, the consumer, benefits from ASE certification. How? Two ways: 1)It is a valuable yard stick by which to measure the knowledge and skills of individual technicians; 2) It is a valuable yardstick by which to measure a repair facility's commitment to quality (by employing ASE certified technicians). Consumers should look for facilities that display the "ASE Blue Seal of Excellence" logo on outdoor signs, in customer waiting areas, in the Yellow Pages, and in other advertisements.

ASE's mission: To improve the quality of vehicle repair and service through the testing and certification of repair and service professionals in the Automotive Industry.

To better understand ASE certification and testing, here are the tests as outlined at the ASE website (www.ase.com)

Auto/Light Truck:

A1 Engine Repair; A2 Automatic Transmission/Transaxle; A3 Manual Drive Train and Axles; A4 Suspension and Steering; A5 Brakes; A6 Electrical/Electronics Systems

A7 Heating and Air Conditioning; A8 Engine Performance

Alternate Fuels:

F1 Light Vehicles-Compressed Natural Gas

Medium Heavy Duty Truck:

T1 Gasoline Engines; T2 Diesel Engines; T3 Drive Train; T4 Brakes; T5 Suspension and Steering; T6 Electrical/Electronic Systems; T7 Heating, Ventilation, & A/C; T8 Preventive Maintenance Inspection

Parts Specialist:

P1 Med/Hvy Truck Dealership Parts Specialist; P2 Automobile Parts Specialist;

P3B Med/Hvy Truck Aftermarket Parts Specialist (Brakes); P3S Med/Hvy Truck Aftermarket Parts Specialist (Suspension and Steering); P4 General Motors Parts Consultant

Advanced Series:

L1 Automobile Adv'd Engine Performance Specialist; L2 Truck Adv'd Elec. Diesel Engine Diagnosis

Collision Repair and Refinishing:

B2 Painting and Refinishing; B3 Non-Structural Analysis and Damage Repair;

B4 Structural Analysis and Damage Repair; B5 Mechanical and Electrical Components

B6 Damage Analysis and Estimating

School Bus:

S1 Body Systems and Special Equipment; S2 Diesel Engines; S3 Drive Train; S4 Brakes;

S5 Suspension and Steering; S6 Electrical/Electronic Systems; S7 Air Conditioning Systems and Controls

Engine Machinist:

M1 Cylinder Head Specialist (Gas or Diesel); M2 Cylinder Block Specialist (Gas or Diesel); M3 Assembly Specialist (Gas or Diesel)

Truck Equipment:

E1 Installation and Repair Specialist; E2 Electrical/Electronic Systems; E3 Auxiliary Power Systems

Specialty Test:

X1 Exhaust Systems

Now let's take a look at I-CAR

Founded in 1979, I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) is an international, not-for-profit training organization dedicated to improving the quality, safety, and efficiency of auto collision repair for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.

I-CAR has adopted a concept we call "Outward Vision". This concept is driven by the need to define the "Ideal State" of the Collision Industry relative to technical training. I-CAR's definition of the Industry's "Ideal State" is:

That every person in the Collision Industry has the necessary technical knowledge and skills relevant to their position to ensure a complete and safe repair. I-CAR continues to develop and deliver technical training programs to professionals in all areas of the Collision Industry. Furthermore, I-CAR provides a communication forum for anyone interested in proper collision repair. Finally, that I-CAR's primary funding is derived from student tuition and services, insuring that I-CAR can remain unbiased in developing courses and services on an industry-wide basis.

I-CAR Mission Statement:

To research, develop, and deliver quality technical educational programs related to collision repair; to raise the level of available knowledge and recognize professional achievement; thereby improving communication throughout the Collision Repair, Insurance, and related Industries for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.

Here are some examples of training courses offered through I-CAR for collision repair technicians:

Identification and Repair Decisions; Adhesive Repair; Welding Repair; Repair of Padded Dashes; Refinishing of Plastics; Analyzing Damage; Creating a Damage Report Manually; Creating a Computerized Damage Report; Safety & Environmental Practices

Understanding Automotive Finishes; Preparing the Surface for Refinishing; Preparing the Equipment, Paint Area & Refinish Materials; Tinting; Applying the Finish; Blending;

Solving Paint Application Problems; Finish Defects, Causes & Cures; Detailing; MIG (GMAW) Welding Cutting & Heating Processes Advanced Welding Methods; Damage Analysis; Straightening Structural Parts; Full & Partial Panel Replacement; Stationary Glass Replacement; Restoring Corrosion Protection; Preparation Panel Replacement and Alignment; Working with Trim and Hardware; Metal Straightening; Using Body Fillers; Door Skin & Intrusion Beam Replacement; Quarter Panel Placement; Moveable Glass and Hardware.

Have I made my case? Now do you understand the significance of certifications when choosing a technician to work on your car? As in all fields of expertise, there is "more than meets the eye." Working on today's vehicles requires intense training and continual education to keep up with industry changes. Go do your homework! Save yourself money and hassle over the long haul. Take your valuable "second-largest-purchase-you'll-make-in-a-lifetime" vehicle to a qualified professional.

'Till next time ... Keep Rollin'

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