A Pacific Northwest dealership service technician doesn't understand why a state that requires his wife — a hairdresser — to have a license doesn't require him to be licensed, too.

“How well I do my job determines whether some family driving down the road is going to be safe,” says the technician, who asked that his real name not be used. “But does the state require me to have a license or demonstrate that I have training or experience or even a clue as to what I'm doing? No.

“My dealership requires it, but the guy up the street isn't required to. Somehow the state is worried enough about bad hair dye and perm jobs that they want my wife licensed. But I guess whether I can fix your car so it's safe isn't very important.”

“Somehow the state is worried enough about bad hair dye and perm jobs that they want my hairdresser wife licensed. But I guess whether I can fix your car so it's safe isn't very important.”
Dealership service technician

He isn't alone in questioning the logic of state licensing regulations. Most states require barbers, auto appraisers and even funeral directors to be licensed — yet don't seem to see value in certification of automotive technicians.

He believes that licensing could help professionalize his trade. But he admits to mixed feelings about it.

“I can't really argue with those who say it may just be another fee we pay for a rule that doesn't get enforced,” he says. “But I'd like to think it would help guys like me and other techs at dealerships who stay up-to-date with training versus the guys outside with some tools but not much training or talent.”

Steve Glazer, an assistant service manager at Al Dittrich Oldsmobile-GMC in Troy, MI, agrees.

“It's a major positive,” Mr. Glazer says of his state's mandatory technician certification program. “If someone from another state said they were thinking about setting up a similar program in their state, I'd tell them to go for it.”

The most widely adopted forms of technician certification are voluntary: those offered by I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, and the National Institute For Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

ASE testing is offered twice a year (in May and November) at more than 750 sites. Registration is required about six weeks in advance. Each of ASE's 46 different tests consists of 45 to 50 multiple-choice questions. Certification is good for five years, after which a re-certification test is necessary.

Although I-CAR considers itself a training organization only, a written test now is part of what it calls the new “enhanced delivery” of its collision repair courses. The revamped classes, which also include more hands-on exercises, conclude with a multiple-choice test that students must pass in order to receive credit for completing the course.

“Under enhanced delivery, if you don't pass the test, you won't get a certificate,” Tom Mack, executive vice president of I-CAR says. “It's not our desire to flunk people. It is our desire that when someone goes to an I-CAR class, they are expecting to learn, pay attention and absorb what is being taught.”

For more information on ASE testing, call toll free (877) ASE-TECH, or visit the ASE website (www.asecert.org). For more information on I-CAR training, call (800) ICAR-USA or visit the organization's website (www.i-car.com).

Ford Motor Co., Mazda, General Motors Corp. and several other auto manufacturers have announced their support for a new performance-based certification program — developed as a joint effort with 10 major paint manufacturers — for auto refinish technicians.

At least one year of professional auto refinishing experience is required to enroll in the certification program. The paint manufacturers offer a pre-test to determine if a refinish technician is ready for the certification course.

If qualified, the painter enrolls in the paint manufacturer's course and has six months to complete the certification based on hands-on demonstration of technical competency in blending, tinting, paint application, reading film, detailing and work safety. Re-certification will be required every two years.

“The bottom line is that the customer can be assured of the highest quality repairs by certified technicians,” says John Hughes, paint specialist for Ford Customer Service Div.

“The more training technicians have, the faster they can repair cars and the more money they can make. And obviously customers like having their cars repaired quickly and correctly.”
Steve Glazer
Assistant service manager Al Dittrich Oldsmobile-GMC

For more information about the certification program, dealership body shops should contact their paint supplier.

While these voluntary technician certification programs are valuable, Mr. Glazer believes Michigan's mandatory technician certification is improving the public perception of the industry.

“You don't have some shade-tree guy who just knows the basics of an engine working on a $40,000 vehicle and giving the industry a black eye,” Mr. Glazer says. “It's also a benefit to the technicians because it requires them to stay up-to-date. The more training they have, the faster they can repair cars and the more money they can make. And obviously customers like having their cars repaired quickly and correctly.”

Under Michigan's state-run program, which began in the early 1990s, all repair orders must be signed by the licensed technician who completed the work.

The state offers tests in 18 different automotive subject areas, covering both mechanical and collision repair, at more than 60 locations throughout the state. There is a $6 fee per test, and technicians receive test results within four to six weeks.

Upon successfully completing one or more tests, the technician pays an annual fee ($25 the first year, $20 each subsequent year) to receive a certificate, wallet card and identification number.

Testing is waived for any technician who has earned ASE certification; ASE-certified technicians need only send the state evidence of their ASE test results and pay the annual fee to become certified.

Mr. Glazer says ASE testing and the training the automakers require of dealership technicians are far more rigorous and valuable than the state-run tests. But, he adds, the testing program at least sets a minimum level that all technicians in the industry need to achieve.

“I'd like to see some movement toward that here,” David Hodge, service manager at Alexander Chrysler-Plymouth in Portland, OR, says of the Michigan program.

He's involved with a committee that helped his state's environmental agency develop a certification program for those working on automotive emissions systems. He says that while the program is currently voluntary, he believes certification motivates technicians to continually improve themselves through training.

“We developed a system that allowed them to become certified through ASE, a state-approved training program, an automaker program, or an equivalent program in another state,” Mr. Hodge says. “We wanted to provide different avenues to reach the goal. But no matter how a technician gets there, certification raises the bar that they have to work to reach. That's why I think making it mandatory could be positive for our industry.”

John Yoswick is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR.