"Back in the late '60s there were a lot of issues with auto repair. The cars weren't made great, they were breaking down and they weren't getting fixed," Serratore said.
"And there was consumer concern about 'I can't get my car fixed.' And there were actual Senate hearings about how do we handle this issue with car repair?"
Studies at the time determined that it wasn't malicious fraud, but lack of training, best practices and access to repair technology that created the crisis in auto repair.
The fear of government intervention prompted the National Automobile Dealers Association and the former Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association to create an industry-run licensing body, she said.
"They found out one way to measure the competency of an individual doing a repair was through standardized tests. And so ASE was born out of that decision," Serratore said.
To earn ASE certification, technicians must complete a minimum of two years of qualified work experience and pass a computer-based test for each certification. They need to retest every five years to keep their certifications current.
The exams focus on knowledge of job-related skills. The tests are not easy to pass. According to the ASE, usually only two out of every three test takers pass on their first attempt.
Technicians can also earn Master Technician certification by passing a series of tests for a particular focus. Technicians certified in tests A1 through A8 become Master Automobile Technicians, while those who pass tests T2 through T8 earn Master Medium/Heavy Truck Technician status.
Even Master Technicians have to maintain their status by retesting for all their individual certifications every five years.
As of Spring 2021 there were:
- 182,513 certified automobile technicians;
- 16,300 certified service consultants;
- 23,254 certified maintenance/light repair technicians;
- 34,376 certified advanced engine performance specialists;
- 32,396 certified medium/heavy truck technicians; and
- 2,508 certified truck equipment installation and repair technicians.
Among the master certifications, there are 58,334 master automobile technicians and 10,623 master medium/heavy truck technicians.
The ASA also provides accredited programs in high schools and colleges. Currently there are about 44,247 students who hold ASE entry-level certification, the association said.