Mechanic or Technician: Which are You?

Brad Barker
Posted on April 5, 2019

File photo courtesy Thomas McMahon
File photo courtesy Thomas McMahon
So, you are a school bus mechanic. Now what? Is this going to be your career? Do you want to become more than just a mechanic? Wouldn’t you rather be able to say “I am a certified Master School Bus Technician?” Instantly, your persona changes in that statement, and you are now a professional in your position.

What is the cost of becoming a technician? If you have performed your duties as a school bus mechanic for more than two years, have broad experience in all phases of mechanical repair, and want to become more than you are today, you are qualified to take tests to obtain that level of integrity and become a certified technician.

Having been certified since the early 1990s, I can tell you firsthand of the career benefits and doors that are opened for you. All it takes is effort and a small out-of-pocket expense on your part to become an ASE certified Master School Bus Technician.

ASE (short for National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence) is the leading nonprofit testing organization available to you. To become certified as a Master School Bus Technician, you will have to pass six test areas. They are: S1-Body Systems and Special Equipment, S2-Diesel Engines, S3-Drive Train, S4-Brakes, S5-Suspension and Steering, S6-Electrical/Electronic Systems, and S7-Air Conditioning Systems and Controls. S1 through S6 are required for Master Certification; S7 is optional. One that I like to include in my certification is L2-Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis Specialist for the icing on the cake.

So, what does it cost? ASE breaks down the testing year into four testing sessions. By checking online at, you can obtain the current testing schedule. Each test session is broken down by seasons — summer, fall, winter, and spring — but the length of time of each session may vary by a few weeks. Register to start testing at the beginning of a test session. (The registration fee is $36.) The fee is good for that entire testing session, and if planned properly, allows you ample time to study and test — one test at a time if needed — with a goal of completing all tests by the end of the test session.

The benefits of becoming certified are pride, higher pay, respect, confidence, increased knowledge and skills, employment opportunities, legal backing by your employer, and less liability for your employer.

Each certification test has an individual cost of $43, so two would cost $86, plus the one time (per test session) registration fee of $36, for a total of $122. (The L2 test has a fee of $86.) The cost to complete the Master Certification in one test session is $294.

You can take as long as you like in the testing process, but each certification is only valid for five years. To avoid having to test constantly for the rest of your career, I recommend preparing to take at least two tests a month, which should allow you time to complete all tests in one session. Then, you are done for five years.

Brad Barker is a veteran shop manager and technician.
Brad Barker is a veteran shop manager and technician.

Recertifying becomes easier and less costly when the certifications expire every five years. The number of test questions is reduced substantially, and the fees top out at $129. With this in mind and for the recertification process, I recommend taking all six tests at once to recertify. If your employer offers incentive pay, be sure to recertify before the expiration date so that you maintain your certification.

The benefits of becoming certified are pride, higher pay, respect, confidence, increased knowledge and skills, employment opportunities, legal backing by your employer, and less liability for your employer. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Brad Barker has more than 40 years of experience in school bus maintenance as a shop manager and technician. He has written numerous articles for SBF. He can be reached at [email protected].

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