Do you really know what auto mechanics do? I am sure you have some idea that they fix your car when it is broke or offer advice on best to make your car run better or faster. But do you know what it takes to become an automotive technician and what they really do?
Auto mechanics are some of the hardest working people in the country. Their job is almost always in demand to help repair cars and trucks or even just to perform a quick oil change. There are millions of cars and trucks on the road today and at any time any of these vehicles may need to a little fix-me-up by the good hands of your local auto mechanic.
The information on this page is designed to give you a better understanding of the auto mechanics career. You will not only get a list of typical jobs performed but also a look at necessary certifications, salary and what the future looks like for this position. While you read this you will realize how important auto mechanics are to our modern life by keeping your car running tight or fixing up that old muscle car to impress everyone.
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What is An Auto Mechanic?
In a sense, auto mechanics are physicians to cars and trucks. They are the ones that you take your car to when it isn’t working correctly or making that funny sound that you can’t describe. Auto mechanics will diagnosis and repair any problems you are having with your car or truck as well as tell you some preventative measures that can make your vehicle last longer.
In the past, most mechanics were self-taught or learned on-the-job to fix mechanical issues. Today’s auto mechanics are highly trained to meet the rapid advancement of technology being installed in vehicles. The use of sophisticated computerized diagnostic systems and other state of the art tech devices, auto mechanics have had to stay on top of every change along the way through training programs.
The main jobs of an auto mechanic is to repair or replace parts that are either worn down or defective. They also try to keep your vehicle running in the best condition it can. From tune-ups and oil changes to replacing transmissions and engines, auto mechanics can be the savior to your favorite car.
A growing number of auto mechanic employers are looking for candidates with some formal training, aka auto mechanic schools. This mainly due to the increased use of electronics in today’s vehicles as well as less on-the-job training. Here is a breakdown on our recommendations for those looking to become an auto mechanic. For more in-depth detail, please see our page on Auto Mechanic Schools.
- Most employers are looking for people with some post-secondary education
- Formal training can be received at vocational schools, community colleges and career centers
- Most automotive technician schools offer certificate and associate degree level programs
- Certificate programs can take 9 to 12 months to complete and may be good enough to find employment
- Associate degree programs take upwards of 2 years and can be a good steppingstone to owning your own shop or working as a supervisor
- Many of those with associate degrees report that they had a slightly easier time securing a job
- Industry certifications are necessary for most employers and can be earned after being hired
Desired Traits of an Automobile Tech
As with most jobs out there, most successful auto mechanics have some natural born traits that help make their job easier. Some of these traits include:
- Manual Dexterity: The ability of using your hand or hands to grab, assemble or manipulate parts and objects
- Near Vision: The ability for the eyes to focus on details in a close range
- Task Focusing: The ability to focus on a task for a long period of time
- Reasoning Skills: The ability to combine pieces of information and evidence to come to a conclusion
- Precision: The ability to adjust controls or machinery quickly for desired results
- Audio Focusing: The ability to tune out other noises or sounds to focus on one specific sound
- Visualization: The ability to see what something will look like after it is rearranged or moved
- Good Memorization Skills: The ability to recall information including instructions quickly and accurately
- Communication Skills: The ability to communicate effectively through speech or writing as well as being able to comprehend what is being told to you
- Color Sensitivity: The ability to tell the differences being able to match shades of colors
- Strength: The ability to use core strength to move, carry or left objects
- Flexibility: The ability to stretch, bend, twist or move your body, arms and legs to reach a goal
- Reaction Time: The ability to quickly respond to a sight, sound or action when necessary
- Problem Sensitivity: The ability to detect when something is wrong or about to go wrong with a part or object
Auto Technician Job Description
Typical tasks performed by auto mechanics include:
- Listen to customer describe problems they may be having with the vehicle
- Inspecting, diagnosing and repairing cars, SUVs and light trucks
- Test drive vehicle to detect any issues or sounds that may need attention
- Disassembly, overhauls and reassembly of engine fixing and replacing worn/defective parts
- Inspecting, repairing or replacing automotive and manual transmissions
- Perform scheduled maintenance on vehicles such as oil changes, tune ups, replacing spark plugs, etc.
- Check and measure the brakes and brake pads, replace when needed
- Perform font end alignments
- Inspect, repair and service electrical, climate control and engine-cooling systems
- Installation or replacement of accessories like radios, windshield wipers, mirrors, lights, etc.
- Create estimate of labor and parts to present to customer before starting work
- Make minor or major adjustments to parts or systems
- Recording all work performed including labor, replacement parts, etc. for final bill
- Following state guidelines on emissions control
- Using electronic diagnostics to find causes for defects or malfunctions
- Returning the car to the customer in clean condition
- Working with other auto mechanics in team situations, if needed
Auto Mechanic Work Environment
The typical work environment for auto mechanics is in a garage setting, as you may suspect. These garages are usually well-lit and ventilated but fairly noisy, so ear plugs might be necessary for some people. Due to the high risk of on-the-job injuries, it is very important that auto mechanics follow safety procedures.
Most auto mechanics work for privately owned repair garages with 14% owning their own business. The breakdown of where they work can be seen in the chart below.
|Work Location||% of Employed|
|Private Auto Repair and Maintenance Garages||32%|
|Auto Dealers (New and Used)||29%|
|Auto Parts, Accessories and Tire Shops||9%|
|Local, State and Federal Government||4%|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Auto Mechanic Salary and Outlook
|Fast Facts: Auto Mechanics|
|2012 Median Pay (Yearly)||$36,610|
|2012 Median Pay (Hourly)||$17.60|
|2012 Number of Jobs||701,100|
|2012-22 Added New Jobs||60,400|
|2012-22 % Job Growth||9%|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Types of Certifications Should I get as an Auto Technician?
Industry certifications have become increasingly more important to those who would like to have an auto mechanic career. There are several certifications that you could choose from depending on your specialty.
The Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)
If you decided for whatever reason you were only going to get one certification as an auto mechanic, then you should most definitely choose the ASE from the Institute of Automotive Service Excellence. The ASE is by far the most recognizable and most respected of certifications in the automotive field. So much so, that it is highly recommended that you only go to a garage that has ASE certified mechanics on duty.
- Engine Repair
- Suspension and Steering Systems
- Electronic and Electrical Systems
- Automatic Transmission and Transaxle
- Heating and Air Conditioning Systems
- Light Vehicle Diesel Engines
- Automobile Service Consultant
- Automobile Parts Specialist
- Auto Maintenance and Light Repair
- Engine Performance
Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR)
I-CAR certification is aimed at improving the safety, quality and competence of automobile and light truck collision repair. Since 1979, I-CAR has been around to serve the greater good of the auto repair industry and the consumers by creating role specific certifications for collision repair. An auto mechanic can seek to earn one or more of the six certifications that represent the different repair technician roles.
- Physical Damage Appraiser (Estimator)
- Steel Structural Technician
- Non-Structural Technician
- Aluminum Structural Technician
- Electrical and Mechanical Technician
- Refinish Technician
Chlorofluorocarbon/Environmental Protection Agency (CFC/EPA)
Any auto mechanic that works with, repairs or replaces anything with refrigerants such as the air conditioner in a car, must be licensed by law. The CFC/EPA certification is the license for such work and proves that you have been trained to safely and properly handle any wastes. This is a no-brainer for most auto technicians.
A manufacturer certification, or also known as factory trained, are earned by any auto mechanic that works on a specific brands or model of cars. This certification is more common at dealerships and independent garages that focus on foreign cars (either German or Japanese). This can be a great certification to have as it makes one an expert in brand-specific vehicles like Honda or Ford.
Final Word on Auto Mechanics
By becoming an auto mechanic, you will be setting yourself up for a career that can take you a lot of places. Through hard work and training, it is possible for you start your own business, work for one of the car makers or even land a dream job working in NASCAR or another racing league. If you really have the passion and desire to work on cars, a career in auto mechanics is the surest bet to a happy and profitable career.