Education and Training: Postsecondary training program
Average Salary: $29,104 to $38,425
Job Outlook: Good
Automotive technicians repair automotive vehicles, often using advanced computerized control systems. Some choose to specialize in trucks, alternative fuels vehicles, autobody, or parts. Nearly two-thirds work in automotive repair and maintenance shops or for automobile dealers, with others working for automotive parts, tire and accessory stores; gasoline stations; and automotive equipment rental and leasing companies.
Technicians handle many aspects of vehicle repair and maintenance, including diagnosis of problems, replacement of parts, and routine maintenance such as inspections, oil changes and tire care. They may be called upon to recalibrate parts or overhaul entire engines. Automotive technicians must have the ability to see how parts fit into the whole. Vehicles have become so complex that those who work on them must understand how all of the electrical and mechanical components interact within the entire system.
Interpersonal communication skills are vital. Technicians who work at a shop might be dealing with customers. Those who don’t deal with the general public still might find themselves working with people other than coworkers — suppliers, for example, or truck drivers at long-haul trucking companies.
Education and Training Requirements
A strong background in electronics is critical in this field. Math is used to calculate gear ratios and other aspects, while science, in particular physics, comes in handy for force, friction and hydraulics. Collision specialists will need knowledge of fluids and viscosity for mixing paints, thinners, and reducers. Basic business skills such as writing work orders and reports will be needed, as well as the ability to retrieve technical information from manuals or computers. Good reading and analytical skills, then, are vital.
Some automotive technicians are hired right out of high school automotive programs. Two-year associate degree programs focus on auto repair classes while including standard academic subjects such as English and math. An alternative is a work-study partnership between a college and a shop or dealership, alternating six- to twelve-week periods in class full time with working full time alongside an experienced technician.
Other options include shorter trade and technical certificate programs that last six months to a year. In some training programs, partnerships with tool manufacturers help entry-level technicians build their tool inventory during their training.
The most widely accepted certification is through ASE, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which offers eight concentrations. To become certified, a technician must work in a shop for two years in one of the concentrations and then pass the ASE certification exam. Completion of certain automotive training programs can substitute for one year of experience. Becoming a Master Automobile Technician requires passing all eight exams.
To become a fully qualified service technician might take two to five years of experience. Some specialties, such as brakes, can be learned quickly, while specialties that are more complex and require complete automotive repair knowledge, such as transmission repair, might take one or two years. Technicians might be sent by their employers to manufacturer training centers for training in new models or specialized component repair such as electronic fuel injection.
Getting the Job
It is possible to become an automotive repair technician right out of high school, particularly after completing an in-school training program. The most respected of these are part of the Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES), which is a partnership between auto repair educational programs, dealers, and manufacturers. No certification or formal education is legally required to work as an automotive technician, but in reality, experience in a hands-on program is necessary.
Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development
The need for trained automotive technicians never will go away. As computerized engine management grows more complex, vehicle owners have less ability to make repairs themselves. Demand in the alternative fuels vehicle specialty is increasing as the number of these vehicles on the road increases.
Some automotive technicians choose to remain in their positions repairing vehicles. Others choose to become service managers, service engineers, shop owners, and shop managers. Managers might work on their own, or for a franchise or dealership. Parts specialists might work for dealerships, independent repair shops, truck fleets or retail parts stores. Related jobs include race team pit crew members, automotive writers, and auto technology teachers.
The need for repair services is expected to increase as the average life span of vehicles is increasing. However, continued consolidation of dealerships will limit the demand in that sector. Technicians with specialized skill in advanced technology, such as hybrid-fuel systems, will have the best opportunities.
Working Conditions and Environment
Automotive technicians typically work in shop environments. As customers have demanded hours that accommodate their lives, these businesses may open early in the morning and be open some evening and weekend hours.
Workplaces generally are well ventilated and well lit. Technicians often work with greasy or dirty parts, and must be able to get into awkward positions and lift or move heavy parts or tools.
Salary and Benefits
Experienced auto technicians can earn $30,000 to $40,000. Starting salaries often are $12 to $15 an hour, while seniority and experience can bring increases over $20 an hour. Experienced technicians might earn a guaranteed minimum weekly salary, plus a commission tied to the labor costs charged to their customers.
Health and retirement benefits are offered by some employers but cannot be considered standard.
Where to Go for More Information
ASA: Automotive Service Association
P.O. Box 929
Bedford, TX 76095-0929
ASE: National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence
101 Blue Seal Dr. SE, Ste. 101
Leesburg, VA 20175
NATEF: National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation
101 Blue Seal Dr., SE, Ste.101
Leesburg, VA 20175