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Why an ASE certification can be meaningless, but not worthless

Published on January 26, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

Before I start coming off like I am hating on the A.S.E certification program, I need to tell you that I am an A.S.E certified mechanic. πŸ™‚ That stands for Automotive Service Excellence!

The A.S.E certification program is designed to test mechanics and show they are knowledgeable about fixing cars. Β The way it works is, a mechanic has to pass a series of tests, and work in the automotive field for 2 years. Now based on that, its a great program. If nothing else, it shows that a mechanic has the motivation to be a top mechanic. Over the years, I have found that certification programs like that do not tell the whole story.

There are benefits to the program. I think that employers like it because it shows a commitment by the mechanic. If a mechanic is willing to take all 9 tests, which are NOT easy, they should have a high level of dedication to the profession. That coupled with the ability to say your facility has “CERTIFIED MECHANICS” can mean a lot for customers. When I worked at Carmax they displayed each mechanics certifications on a board for everyone to see.

I did a google search on the phrase “how to find a good mechanic”. In that search, almost every site says, “Be sure they are A.S.E. certified. The problem that I have with that is, it means almost nothing. The ability to pass these tests proves nothing about fixing cars. You can not use it to gauge a mechanics integrity. It doesn’t mean you can trust them, or the work that they do.

At the dealership level, the broad knowledge that A.S.E. test on does not apply. It is understood that a dealership mechanic should know the basics about cars. In addition to that they need to know that brand inside and out. That is why people take their car to the dealer in the first place. I think the brand certification carries much more value. There are only 206 or so master certified VW mechanics in the USA. That says a lot about the level of commitment it takes to be a master certified dealer mechanic.

I will say that no level of certification, even specific brand, will tell the whole story. Some guys are better at taking tests than others. Some guys just don’t care about a high level of certification. That doesn’t mean they are not outstanding mechanics. Here are a couple of quick tips to finding your great mechanic!

  • They should have some level of certification
  • Some experience is important, but not everything
  • Talk to the mechanic – Having a conversation with the mechanic will tell a much better story
  • Ask friends that drive your kind of car
  • Bring them cookies – I have said it before, bribery gets you everywhere

These are just some very basic tips. In fact, this is a topic that deserves a dedicated post.

 

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36 Comments

  1. Jeremy

    I agree completely with you. I suck at taking tests but does that make me a stupid person, I don’t think so haha. I take my car to my local mechanic. This guy has been a mechanic for 30 years, he works at a local Good Year. Just because he doesn’t have hundreds of certifications doesn’t mean he is a bad mechanic.
    As for dealership mechanics, I hope those guys know my car in and out. When paying $100 an hour I want my car to be serviced better than my $50 an hour local guy.
    As I said before, I take my car to the guy who is going to do the best job regardless on the amount of plaques on his wall.

    On a side note, sometimes when I bring my car to my local mechanic (Brian) he does it quickly and I don’t get charged. In return I bring him a 10$ Tim Hortons gift card (In Canada, Tim Hortons is the god of all coffee shops). Like you said Charles, little gifts can’t hurt.

    1. Luke

      Oh course not being able to take tests means you’re stupid. That’s why they have tests in the first place…idiot. It may also mean you’re fucking lazy since all you have to do is read a book and pay attention when you’re around the topic. Moron. I’m sick of this politically correct, tree hugging, “oh everyone is special and gifted” crap, and “just because you can’t pass a test, you’re still a special person…” Yeah, special ed maybe. Like Tosh.0 says, “Oh, you mean you don’t do well on that part where we test you on what you know?” You’re a fucking failure, dude.

      1. Jeremy (in pgh)

        citing Tosh.0 and calling someone else a failure? nice try. actually, not really.

        I’m really smart. like, really, smart. it’s been a while, but last time I tested I was at 160IQ… that means nothing. really, nothing, in the real world. it’s not tree-hugging bullshit to say that people learn in different ways. if you were actually smart, then you would understand that. some people learn in physical ways, others in theoretical ways. if an ASE test is taken on paper, I’d rather have the guy I can watch tear my engine apart and put it back together do the work on my car than the guy who can pass a test by filling in the “C” circle 60% of the time. I’d rather have the guy that has done it 100 times and could do it in his sleep do it rather than the guy who has studied it 100 times and taken a test on it. sure, it does back up qualifications of those who can do both. but you cannot say that someone is dumb because they work better in a physical world than they do on paper. are there some dummies out there? sure. are there some guys that really should only change wiper blades and oil? sure. you’re just plain wrong in your assessment and citing Tosh.0 doesn’t help much. I’ve read plenty of (the other) Jeremy’s comments here in the past and there’s plenty of proof to show that your comments are unwarranted and unproven. and Charles, please leave this douchebag’s comment up here so the rest of the world can see what an asshat he is.

        1. Charles

          This comment came through yesterday and I seen it but didn’t give it much thought.

          Now that I see it is in reply to another comment, I am pissed. Let’s see if “Luke” cares to chime back in after his stupid comment.

      2. metalhead

        Luke Your just a loud mouth that don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. I have worked in a diesel shop for 18 years. I’ve taken my are test they are not easy. they are for the most a bunch of worthless knowledge that you rarely use. The bottom line is you either know what your doing or you don’t. that ase patch doesn’t mean a Damn thing, it’s there for customer comfort. If you can’t fix it that patch doesn’t mean a thing.

        1. Ralf

          Wrong! The ASE Test is not Useless! If you can pass that test on your own it means something. Judging by your post I highly doubt you have ever seen or taken that test. There is a reason for the questions in that test.

          1. Nemo

            I would like to clue people in about tests. On a multiple choice test, if the question is about air pressure and the choices have the prefix, “hydro” and “pnemono” you can probably guess the correct answer based only on the prefixes. Or if some of the answers seem totally wrong, what’s left must be the correct answer. For some people, test-taking is their strength. For myself I can zip through a 100 question exam in less than 10 minutes. It doesn’t make me a genius or a better mechanic. It is just a skill I developed from years of schooling and learning the ins and outs of standardized testing. Same with the members of MENSA. They aren’t that smart, they are just good test-takers.

      3. josh

        to be clear, being smart according to you means you are a good test taker?
        Let me tell you about my successful business that i created about 10 years after i dropped out of college….

      4. Jamey Shute

        i just came across this site and i agree with the author of it.as for LUKE YOU IGNORANT P.O.S. IM A GOLD CERTIFIED CHRYSLER TECH KIA-HYUNDAI MASTER TECH. ALSO A.S.E. MASTER TECH. HAVING GRADUATED COLLEGE IN 1998 FOR AUTOMOTIVE TECHNOLOGY COMMUNICATIONS, AND AC/DC ELECTRICITY. AN A.S.E. CERTIFICATION MEANS JACK SHIT IN A DEALERSHIP. THEY MAY HAVE A SIGN SAYING THEY EMPLOY THEM, BUT HERES WHY…..1. The A.S.E. cert board pays dealerships to post that signand back in 1998 to get bronze silver or gold certified through Chrysler you had to have 1-4 A.S.E. certifications…no longer. whatever dealer you work for trains and certifies you. and now let me knock a little sense in your dumb ass shade tree mechanic ass…..theres a reason why theres mechanics and technicians……i can train a monkey with a socket set to change oil and rotate tires……but not train it to professionaly diagnose an electrical issue, engine,trans or whatever the hell the customer may think is wrong even if it isnt customer is right low customer reports means someone going to get fired. or back to training this time unpaid. where i work im the head auto diagnostic tech. I…THATS ME listen to customer complaint try sometimes like hell to get it to whatever they say its doing…..and if it is something i have time to fix i do or i send it to one of our other 16 other techs who specialize in different parts of a car truck. My Father in law is an engineer for GeneraL motors and makes i know well over 300k a year to fix whatever the original engineer fucked up….and i fix whatever they miss. when you can go into work monday at 9 a.m. and by wednesday 10 a.m. have 40-55hours clocked at 52.00/hr with incetives also for every 100bucks i upsell i get 15 bucks in a seperate paycheck. and i make more money doing a .5 hr L.O.F. off of upsells than customer dymensia…….heres a brain teaser 4 you dumbass….ever wonder why your battery water oil pressure guage is almost always in the middle of range? its to make custom,er comfortable and make them feel at idle 18 psi oil pressure may not be an issue when they think its 30 p.s.i. you get picked on alot dont you? bring your car or truck to me and credit card or cash your to dumb to have a real checking account thats valid and after 30 days of non pay we own it……ignorance gets you mo where and for you its to late….NO ONE CAN FIX STUPID!!!

      5. Nemo

        I took automotive classes at a junior college and was an “A” student averaging at least 90% on all of my exams. I had no problem reading the textbooks and absorbing theory. I took all of the student ASE exams, only missing the Heating/Air Conditioning by 1 point. When I started the class, we had about 40 students. By the end of the course we were down to about 10 or 12.

        My problem was that I could only work on vehicles if I had the service manuals in front of me. I was actually great at scanning service manuals to find the problems. But when it came to practical skills, I was a total flop. Without a service manual, I would be completely lost. I tried working in the field for a while but it didn’t work out.

        Anyone who thinks that a book-smart mechanic is better than someone who has 30-plus years of practical experience is fooling themselves. Some mechanics may not be good in classrooms but they have a natural gift that an academically gifted mechanic may not have.

  2. Jeremy Bechtold

    @Jeremy: in the US, Tim Horton’s is the god of all coffee shops too, we just don’t have enough of them πŸ˜‰

    (I have to drive almost an hour to get to one here, so we just buy extra cans to bring home when we’re in Canadia twice a year. thankfully, they’ve also put some inside the new arena here, so I can at least get some timbits 8-10 times a year while seeing a Pens game!)

      1. Humble Mechanic

        We have a really awesome local coffee roaster here. They have some of my favorite coffee. They also contract with a local brewery and brew an amazing coffee stout. Oh, coffee and beer together, outstanding!

        BTW guys,
        I have added a “Subscribe to comments” button. Now you can select to be notified of additions to comments.. πŸ™‚

  3. 30yearsinTheBizandnoASE

    Lets just get to the facts… A.S.E is a brand that is designed give non mechanically inclined people a warm and fuzzy feeling that their property (car motorcycle RV or whatever) is going to be serviced/fixed right. Insurance company’s give discounts across the board to everyone who has a A.S.E certified tech in the mix. People view ASE certifications like the framed graduation certs you see on the wall of a doctors office. Its a fact people who are clueless about things LOVE to latch onto some form of proof that is sold to them thru advertisement. Take Kellys bluebook. Bankers appraisers and of coarse buyers and sellers of cars (besides dealers and brokers) latch onto the K.B.B and N.A.D.A like its word from on high. But any person who knows anything about car values knows K.B.B and N.A.D.A are almost always a mile off on value and usually way to high. YET people still after decades and decades still hold these books close to their hearts. Well everyone but the used car sellers. I know many A.S.E techs, some I would let work on my vehicles and some I would not let them fix my Weedeater.
    I myself years ago was A.S.E certified but with the way my automotive technician progressed I had no need to waste my time in getting re-certified, because it would not get me any more money. Also A.S.E is a “team player” thing and I am not a team player… I keep it real and not phoney.

    1. Ralf

      I am glad you put it the way you did cause I am in the exact same shoes as you. ASE is not a must have to successfully repair an automobile but does still offer lots of good information for technicians that give a damn about their work. I have also bin working on Automobiles for 34 years and have not needed the ASE Cert yet. For the last 20 years I have been doing my own thing and always get asked about the ASE Cert. It does somewhat trouble me that people buy into that hype but what do you do.

  4. Andrew Hiller

    I work at a Dealership. bottom line is no matter how many ASE test we passed, it made no difference in our salary. The Dealer gets CSI money for you busting your ass, and the Techs get nothing what so ever!!! we are almost in 2014, and no one at my Dealer has any ASE Test. Kids coming out of Lincoln Tech from the Bronx will have no clue. Pride does not pay the Mortgage

  5. Lonny

    I first got ASE certification in the 80’s because it was required by the manufacturers I worked for at the time. Now, Porsche, Audi, and VW have thrown that certification by the wayside. I no longer need to be ASE certified because all of them have their own certification programs. The dealerships used to pay for any of the tests that you passed. Now I would need to shell out my own cash for a certification that gets me nowhere with the current manufacturers that I work under. I have master tech status with several car lines and none of them recognize ASE so I’m out. I hope that the customers don’t stop bringing the cookies when the plaque comes down, lol.

  6. Eric Nako

    Hey I know this post is old but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents… I was born in the 80’s so I’m still young and I got my Master Mechanic status and I wanted to say that I agree with Charles here that what ASE certification really shows is that you’re dedicated and serious about being a mechanic… That being said, it honestly did nothing to help me be a better mechanic technically, but I think it gives me job security and helps me in my career.

    Take it for what it is – I probably don’t know half of what Charles and most of the good mechanics out there know, but I truly believe sometimes you just have to play the game, and I think this is one of those “resume builders” to help you get ahead… However, you’re really nothing without core values like honesty, hard work, etc…

    Thanks for reading,
    Eric

    1. Matt

      Absolutely true. No test can replace actual experience. A test cannot teach you how to fix anything. Sourcing the correct information every job every time is the professional way to do things in my book. As the job and all spec are done according to service guidlines specific for that make year and model, these things get updated all the time because of design flaws and or just better parts. So information is constantly changing and improving. I’m my mind the best mechanic is absolutely confident in his tools and ability an is able to learn every day. I get so many cars from ase shops that either the repair was simply wasn’t done and parts were thrown at it or if they can t fix it they make it sound Soo bad and throw you a huge ass bill for something I find and fix in a day or so. For fractions less

  7. Chris pete

    Those post helped me out. I wanted to really get the scoop on the ase Certs. I’m currently in automotive class an wanted to see just how important they were in my quest in a auto mechanic career

  8. Nicm

    ASE is a pathetic SCAM. & Yes i’m ASE Certified and yes i destroy the tests, i hadnt touched a car for months other then side jobs i do for my loyal customers, hadnt attended useless community college i 5 mo ths because of how far above i was then everyone else & it was a big waste of time(yes i will be arrogant). I studied for 4 days, passed A6, 3 days passed A7, 3 days passed A5. But when it came to ENG Performance(A8) i set up an extra day (5) to study, but got food poisoning over the weekend n couldnt reschedule, studied for 1 day, amd failed by 2 questions (33/50), which i was fine with, because it prooved my knowledge. THEN A1 Eng repair came around, i studied for almost 2 weeks, 10+ Hours a day(was unemployed at the time). Took the test, n it literally had NOTHING to do with ANY of the study guide material except 5 questions. I failed by 3 f**king questions & the computer graphics were so bad u couldnt tell wtf they were talking about nor pointing at in the diagrams. This was BS. The A1 test was exactly the same as A8. Get 1 ASE Cert & STOP there. Get A5 or A7 theyre the easiest, A6 is very difficult so unless you know your a beast save it for later, or never. Remember no matter what anyone tells you, ASE does NOT want you to pass. They make the questions the most ridiculous never would happen in real life questions, so you can fail, and come back in 30 days and pay ANOTHER 40$ ON TOP OF ANOTHER 40$ if you miss the end of the registration window, this guarantees monthly income no matter what. F**k ASE n F**k being a ‘master’ mechanic, it dont mean shyt. Just get 1 Cert so u can wear it on your sleeve like a cool guy, n all companies only Req 1, so do t feed these greedy hungry MFs anymore. Thanks.

  9. Kevin

    I am an ASE master tech working for a Toyota dealership . I passed all of the ASEs a1-a8 and failed l1 the first time . I used no study guides or practice tests ever . Just personal knowledge and practical experience . There are many techs that I work with that have passed them with aids that can barely change oil proficiently . ASE is a scam to keep taking good techs money and time . Bottom line truth .

    1. Ralf Valcourt

      Well,if this is the way you look at it then I suppose you are rite!
      If the Tech is only worried about the passing of the test then I agree, but what if you are the kind of person that takes information and evaluates what he/she reads? Over the 38 years I have been doing this and learned a great deal. Furthermore, are you really going to tell me that you have taken all the test’s and not question a single Item in the tests? That if funny to me. Just maybe you are not such a good technician in the first place.

  10. Mark

    Ive been reading everyone’s reply’s but I have yet to see..Is that IF Anything Serious is wrong the car/truck/diesel the ECU will tell the OBD what code its throwing. Look up the code and do what it says. IF the ECU doesn’t give you a code…then its probably a bad ECU. With the technology of today’s vehicles I feel that the ASE is just Garbage. I’ve been working in the Automotive field for 33 years. My Father told me that I cannot get my permit/driver’s license until I could prove to him that i could repair our car. Because he didn’t want a phone call from me or the emergency services to explain to him that I couldn’t change a flat tire/put gas in the car give it tune up or a brake job. When it started acting up at 3am when MOST teenagers are out doing what we did back then. After I gave our car a tune-up/oil change/tranny service or brake job, I would tell dad i was done and ready for a test drive. He would then come out of the house and fuck with it slam the hood and say lets see what you got. Sometimes he would pull a spark plug wire, pinch the positive wire from the points between the cap and distributor causing a short..and look at me and say..what did you fuck up this time? Now you tell me that ANY ASE CERTIFIED mechanic went through that and ill call you a bold face liar right to yer face. ASE is bullshit and means shit!! I started working on cars when i was 15 my first job in high school was doing oil changes, tranny services and tune ups, brake jobs for $3.65 an hour after school and bring home 50 bucks a week because McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s wouldn’t hire me because I had a bad attitude… But the Auto shops loved me and at 18 I joined the service to work on Helicopter Turbines…My brother got his A&P license and now owns his own Shop and when they ask for his ASE cert he points to his A&P and says cars are just toys If the government says I can fix planes then cars don’t mean shit. Shove that up yer ASE certified ass and smoke it!!

  11. Winborn Gregory

    I’m new to this blog and spending some vacation down time reading the old posts. I take offense to the negatives on certification. In 1978, I became certified in my chosen field of professional work. It demonstrated a level of competence and gained me great respect and earning power.

    Should it be any different in the automotive world? At age 65, I went back to school and added an associate degree to go with my masters. Best two years ever! Wish I had done so well in school for the first career. I started my ASE testing while still in school. Passed all eight exams for the master tech. Does that make me any better at what I do? Not really. It is kind of like the uniform that I wear to my shop each day (with the ASE patch.) It tells the world that I am no longer a shade tree mechanic; I am a professional automotive technician. I take pride in my product and go all out to do so. My customers respect that and keep coming back, with comments that they would not trust anyone else to work on their car.

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