“Hi, I was just calling to find out if you guys are certified.”
It’s actually pretty important to vet your mechanic, but how can you tell who’s qualified? It’s the wild west here is California. All that’s necessary to work on cars as a “professional” is a job. You see, in California a repair shop must be licensed through the BAR (Bureau of Automotive Repair) in order to charge money for car repair. The requirements for licensing are actually pretty minimal. The state just wants to give everyone a number so they can track the screw-ups in the industry.
A technician on the other hand simply needs a licensed auto repair shop to hire him and he can legally fix your car, or try at least.
- No training of any kind? No problem.
- Never worked on a car before? Sure, you can legally “fix” cars.
- Never driven a car before and no driver’s license? Yup, you can still be a mechanic.
I could go on, but you get the point; all anyone needs to do to be a mechanic in California is say, “I’m a mechanic”.
So vetting a mechanic is pretty important! Back to our caller… Are you a certified mechanic?
Here’s the thing. What is a certified technician? I mean, I have a MACS (Mobile Air Conditioning Society) certification. With only this one certification, I can truthfully say that I’m certified. It took me about 20 minutes to read all of the training material and pass the certification test online. Now don’t get me wrong, the MACS certification is real and valuable in our industry. But do you think it proves my competency to repair the brakes on a family member’s car?
Your mechanic should certainly be certified in the discipline he’ll be plying. If you need your air conditioning serviced, a guy with a MACS certification might be fine. But what about the rest of the car? A lot of customers will ask if we have a Toyota certified mechanic, Honda certified mechanic, Subaru certified mechanic, etc. Are you factory authorized? Do you have factory trained technicians? Are any of those even real things?
Some manufacturers have “certification” programs through their dealerships for apprentice mechanics. And actually it’s a great way to round out beginning technicians after they complete their schooling. Dealerships sometimes tie pay to their “certification” program to encourage their employees to complete the factory training modules and develop their skills.
Look for testing-based certification, not “participation prize” certification
Here the thing. Factory training programs aren’t really a true measure of a technician’s knowledge. The technician completes a unit of study and then takes a short test to prove he completed the self-guided unit. I’m not knocking it. It’s a good thing. Continuing education is very important and manufacturers like Toyota and Subaru do a great job with development and administration of training modules. I’ve self-guided my way through many of them since they offer them for free with a subscription to their information services. I’ve even been to factory training though Subaru’s excellent school in Sacramento, which they were kind enough to invite me to even though I don’t work for Subaru. Does that make me a factory trained Subaru mechanic? I supposed, but that’s not the same as being a certified mechanic.
What I’m saying is that for the manufacturers that offer certification, it’s really just proof that the certified mechanic completed the modules and finished the end of chapter test.
So let me ask you this: was it Henry VIII or Henry VII who created the Church of England so he could get a divorce? You very likely knew at the end of a chapter once upon a time. And that’s my point; completing training and knowing how to fix cars are two different things. Both are good, but the latter is better if you want to get your car fixed.
ASE Certified: The gold standard
So, how should you go about making sure a mechanic is at least minimally qualified to repair your car? You do want a certified mechanic, but whose certification is very important. In auto repair, there’s only one certification to look for: ASE (Automotive Service Excellence).
ASE is a non-profit organization founded in 1972. They don’t write tests themselves, even though many of their employees are former automotive technicians and instructors. They facilitate creation of tests by experts in the various aspects of automotive repair.
I was one of the Subject Matter Experts involved with creating the L3 test to become hybrid certified because that’s something I know a lot about. However, I wasn’t asked to help with the L2 Advance Diesel Engine Performance test because I’m far from expert in that subject. In fact, I doubt I could pass the L2 test despite being a pretty good all around mechanic.
Mechanics can be certified in different areas
ASE Certification is real proof that a mechanic is minimally qualified to perform diagnosis and repair in one of eight categories:
- Engine Repair (A1)
- Automatic Transmission/Transaxle (A2)
- Manual Drive train & Axles (A3)
- Suspension & Steering (A4)
- Brakes (A5)
- Electrical/Electronic Systems (A6)
- Heating & Air Conditioning (A7)
- Engine Performance (A8)
In addition to passing the test, a technician must also provide proof of two years of experience in the field before receiving the certification. School and DIY projects don’t count toward the experience requirement. If a mechanic is certified in all eight areas and meets the experience requirement he is a Master Technician, and will likely do reasonably well repairing your car. There are also advanced tests available for seasoned mechanics:
- L1 Advanced Engine Performance Specialist
- L2 Advance Diesel Engine Diagnosis Specialist
- L3 Light Duty Hybrid/Electric Vehicle Specialist
There are also a number of other types of certification of other niche areas like alternative fuels, school buses, exhaust repair, etc.. If you’re interested, you can find more information on the ASE website.
Why look for ASE certification? Because they use science to evaluate an applicants knowledge. Choose an ASE certified mechanic!
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