How to Avoid Wrong Turn on Repairs

Times Staff Writer

A frequent question of motorists is how to go about selecting a mechanic or a service garage that will perform car maintenance and repairs both knowledgeably and honestly. A good mechanic is more important than ever, because cars are getting extraordinarily complex. It is no longer adequate for a mechanic to have an instinct for fixing things, because electronic systems can't be figured out intuitively. Mechanics must have knowledge of the computerized controls that operate modern engines and the electronic test equipment to diagnose the engines.

If you don't take your car to a dealer, it is important to select a mechanic and a garage that can perform the specialized car care that your make and model car needs. There are many independent service garages that provide specialized service and often do it at a substantial discount on dealership prices.

Probably the best way of finding this kind of a mechanic is to follow the recommendations of friends who have had experiences with service garages.

If all of the above fails, there is still an alternative to blindly taking your car to a new mechanic or garage. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is a nonprofit organization that tests and certifies mechanics across the country. Garages that employ certified mechanics show the institute's logo and the initials ASE.

Mechanics--the institute likes to call them technicians--voluntarily take a 1 1/2-hour test. There are eight tests for various areas, and a mechanic that passes all of them is certified as a "master mechanic."

The certification categories include gasoline engines, diesel engines, drive train, brakes, suspension and steering, electrical systems, body repair and painting and refinishing. The tests range from 40 to 80 questions each. The test cost only $10 each, so mechanics are not "buying" into a certification.

While a certification by the ASE is certainly not proof that a mechanic is a top expert, it does give the motorist some assurance that he possesses basic skills and knowledge.

About 65% of the mechanics who take the ASE test pass, and they must be retested every five years to maintain their certification, Lawson said. But the institute has never decertified a mechanic, and it does not seek to become a arbitrator of disputes.

The institute has certified 201,555 mechanics in all 50 states, and 42,000 of those are master mechanics. The typical ASE mechanic is certified in about three areas. You can find ASE mechanics by looking for the logo in the Yellow Pages or at service garages, including many dealerships. The institute may also be able to help, but they do not keep a current list of the places where ASE mechanics work. The institute's telephone number is (703) 648-3838.

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