Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2003   by Dean Askin

ASE Certification: The Benchmark for Today’s Brake Technicians

There was a time - in the days of far less technologically complex vehicles - when a brake job was a relatively simple task requiring little more than some mechanical know-how and a few simple hand to...

There was a time – in the days of far less technologically complex vehicles – when a brake job was a relatively simple task requiring little more than some mechanical know-how and a few simple hand tools.

That mechanical know-how and those hand tools are still necessary, but today brake specialists also need to know a lot more, including the ins and outs of sophisticated ABS systems and how to diagnose problems with them – before they even start taking the lug nuts off the wheel. You have to be a professional brake technician and diagnostician.

Today, the benchmark for a brake technician is the ASE-certified crest on his coveralls.

According to the Leesburg, Va.-based National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), there are 231,887 ASE-certified brake technicians across North America including 1,725 in Canada. The ASE Brake Test is the most popular of ASE’s eight automotive tests. The number of technicians taking the ASE Brake Test has been increasing over the past couple of years; registrations in 2002 were up seven per cent over 2001, and ASE is anticipating record numbers of technicians taking the Brake Test in May.

For brake technicians taking the test for the first time, there are several motivators to pursue certification, explains Trish Serratore, ASE group vice-president of industry relations.

“It shows that you’re now professional. You’ve taken the ASE test, you’ve achieved that level of certification and recognition within the industry in which you work,” she says.

As well, Serratore says, it’s “a validated test of your knowledge and competency” that brake technicians can take with them to any employer to show they have “the knowledge to be an employable, productive, efficient technician. And that’s important.”

She points out that many shops now require brake technicians to have or be prepared to test for certification as a condition of employment.

When it comes to diagnosing and repairing modern ABS, the ASE Brake Test for certification gives technicians a big advantage.

“This also gives you that baseline knowledge across all of those systems about what ABS is, what it does, how it works, what the components are and how they function. It gives you that nice rounded view of what’s out there and how to diagnose it, and then how to repair it,”says Serratore.

Then there’s the safety factor. “Brakes are a huge safety item. Everybody wants to be able to make sure that their brakes are repaired properly. So I think that technicians look at it as, ‘that’s one of the essentials I have to have in my repertoire of repair certifications’.”

The popularity of the ASE Brake Test is also a direct reflection of the popularity of brake service courses in automotive programs at community colleges, says Serratore.

The test, which costs $US24 on top of a $US29 registration fee, covers six areas of brake diagnosis and repair:

Hydraulic System Diagnosis and Repair (including Master Cylinder, Lines and Hoses, Valves and Switches, and Bleeding, Flushing and Leak Testing)

Drum Brake Diagnosis and Repair

Disc Brake Diagnosis and Repair

Power Assist Units Diagnosis and Repair

Miscellaneous Systems Diagnosis and Repair

Antilock Brake Systems (ABS) Diagnosis and Repair

There are a total of 50 questions that technicians have a total of four hours to answer.

ASE has made it easy to prepare for all tests. Technicians can download PDF versions of the ASE Test Catalogue that includes Test Specifications and Task Lists and sample questions, from the ASE Web site (

“What we recommend for the first-time time a technician takes the test is that they print (the Test Specifications and Task List) or order a copy free of charge from ASE, and use it as a checklist,” explains Serratore.

On the Task List for Bleeding, Flushing and Leak Testing, for example, says Serratore, technicians should make sure they’re comfortable with and understand all four tasks including diagnosing problems stemming from brake fluid and bleeding procedures.

“If they don’t, maybe they put a little check next to the one thing they don’t understand and go and get the training book or they talk to a buddy or refresh their thinking using some additional training materials.”

Sample test questions include these two:

The brake pedal on a vehicle with power-assisted disc/drum brakes moves slowly to the floor during braking. Which of these could be the cause?

(A) A leaking master cylinder primary cup*

(B) A leaking power brake booster

(C) A leaking master cylinder residual check valve

(D) An internal leak in the combustion valve

A hydraulic brake line is leaking. Which of these is the correct repair?

(A) Cut out the bad section and replace with new steel tubing using compression fittings

(B) Replace the leaking line with double-flared seamless copper tubing

(C) Cut out the bad section and replace with single-flared steel tubing using flare nuts and unions

(D) Replace the leaking line with double-flared steel tubing*

* Correct Answer

The amount of test preparation time needed varies depending on level of experience, she notes. “We have a basic assumption that the individual has some technical knowledge of the brake system before he goes in,” says Serratore.

The pass rate on the ASE Brake Test is high in comparison to the more difficult Automatic Transmission Test, she notes. Two out of three brake specialists pass the ASE test on the first try. Every technician who tests receives a detailed score report, which gives those who don’t pass the first time, a clear indication of areas they need to focus on.

Once you become ASE certified, it’s good for five years. At that point, ASE requires a retest – at a higher level of difficulty – to maintain certification. ASE ups the bar because it assumes technicians have been working in the field, keeping up their skills and taking update training as needed, Serratore explains.

Serratore believes no brake technician should fear taking the ASE test. “My feeling is that from the technician’s perspective, they know the information; it’s in their head. All they have to do is translate it to the pencil and they’ll do just fine.”

The Spring ASE Tests are being held May 6, 8 and 13, at 21 testing centres in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. There are no test centres in Newfoundland or the Northwest Territories. Complete information about test centre locations is available at