By Douglas Flint
It may come as a shock to you that there is no law or regulation in the state of Virginia (or most states) that one has to demonstrate any level of competence or knowledge of auto repair to open or work in an auto repair facility. Of course all laws concerning zoning, taxation and environmental concerns must be followed, but that is universal to all businesses. Part of this is because automobiles grew literally out of horses and buggies. A man was expected to be able to take care of his own wagon, his plow and his horses, other than an occasional trip to town to get a new shoe installed. Every fair-sized town had a wagon builder.
When the internal combustion engine became reliable enough to be practical, builders began motorizing their wagons, leading to the horseless carriage. A man was still expected to maintain his own ride. Even when the independent carriage builders died out and the car became a machine in its own right, a man was still expected to keep it going.
The Ford Model T that brought the car to the world came with a set of tools that could handle almost any repair on the vehicle. But by the mid-twenties, as each system on the car grew in complexity, the need for specialized repair shops grew and people who showed an aptitude for mechanical tinkering prospered.
Unfortunately the concept that fixing a car is a matter of simple mechanical reasoning became ingrained in the culture, when in fact to be a successful technician today you have to be able to read and comprehend on a very high level, while performing feats of dexterity and strength that should be in the Olympics. So how can you know going into a shop that the personnel are capable of maintaining, repairing, and even understanding what a specific warning light means?
In 1972, in response to consumer demand for competent auto repair, the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (NIASE) was founded as a means for consumers and business owners to identify competent and knowledgeable technicians. Eventually the acronym was shortened from NIASE to ASE (Automotive Service Excellence), and the Institute is headquartered right here in Leesburg, Virginia. In 1972 most American high schools offered some form of vocational training, including auto shop. It was natural for ASE to recruit high school instructors into becoming testing administrators, who were generally delighted to see auto service finally getting the professional accreditation it was due. Unfortunately many high schools dropped their auto shop training, so now the testing is done at professional test centers. Originally there were 8 areas of certification:
Manual drive train and axles
Suspension and steering
Heating and air conditioning
Today, if a technician passes all eight tests and can demonstrate sufficient work experience, he is awarded the status of “Master Technician.” In the seventies and eighties there were many very capable technicians that felt no need to certify. They were good, and everyone knew they were good, and everyone knew where to find them.
Those uncertified techs may still exist in small towns and rural communities, but by and large, a career in auto service will not advance much past the oil change and tire replacement bay without at least some ASE certification.
ASE testing makes any technician better as a result. In order to pass the tests you must be able to read, comprehend, and reason in a very logical fashion. The test questions often have more than one correct answer, so you must determine which answer is most correct. And yes, there are plenty of trick questions, each one forcing you to check and recheck your answer – which not coincidentally is something you should do when diagnosing a customer’s car.
There are plenty of things to worry about in the world. Finding excellent, friendly auto service shouldn’t be one of them. So relax. Wiygul Automotive Clinic has five ASE Master Techs ready to handle your every automotive and light-truck need, with over a hundred years’ combined experience between them. Let us put that experience to work for you.