Career and Job Highlights for Auto Body Repair Professionals
Auto Body Repair Career Overview
Traffic accidents result in thousands of damaged automobiles each day. While some automobiles may be totaled, many can still be repaired and fixed up to look and run like new. An automotive body worker will remove fixable dents, replace parts damaged beyond correction, and straighten out bent bodies. These repairers work on a variety of different vehicles, mostly cars and small trucks, but sometimes will be asked to work on buses, large trucks or even tractor-trailers.
Vehicles with damaged frames or sections can be worked on by automotive body repairers with special equipment. Repairers use alignment machines powered by hydraulic pressure to realign damaged parts of the vehicle. Some vehicles are designed without frames, known as “unibody” vehicles and they have to be realigned precisely to factory settings to work again. By relying on benchmark systems, repairers can accurately measure each portion of the body to assess how far out of alignment it is before using the alignment machines to move it back to its original position.
Portions of the body panels that are extremely damaged will be extracted by body repairers with a pneumatic metal-cutting gun and then new sections must be welded in to replace the old section. Minor dents can be removed through the use of handtools and pneumatic hammers, or by using a hydraulic jack or hand prying bar. A small anvil can be used to smoothen out smaller dents and creases by placing it on one side of the damaged metal and hammering it on the other side. A process known as metal finishing can be used to extract small pits and dimples through the use of pick hammers and punches.
Many new-models of vehicles use plastic body parts and body repairers must make repairs and replace these parts when necessary. Besides merely removing the damaged panel, a body repairer must also determine the kind of plastic used on the automobile. Normally, a repairer can fix the damaged plastic panel by using heat to soften the plastic, via a hot-air welding gun or by using hot water, then it can be remolded by hand. Plastic panels damaged beyond repair are replaced all together.
Some small dents in plastic and metal cannot be fixed by repairers, and so they must rely on plastic or solder to fill in these problem areas. After filling in a small dent on a metal panel with filler, it must be filed, ground down, and cleaned with a media blaster before the first coat of paint can be applied. In most shops a specialized painter will do the painting, though in smaller shops workers will take on both the repair and painting responsibilities. Some body repairers will even do specialized work with fiberglass bodies.
Initially body shops approached repairs with a one-vehicle, one-repairer method, but that has changed with the introduction of the assembly line format, which allows workers to focus on one area of emphasis, like fixing doors of fenders. Areas of specialization include installing and repairing glass in vehicles. Automotive glass installers and repairers must first take out any broken, cracked, or pitted windshields or window glass. Then they must line the edges of the glass with a substance that keeps out any moisture, put the glass in position, and finally place rubber grips around the edges ensuring it is secure and sealed from outside penetration by weather.
There are many unique problems to body repair, and every vehicle comes with a unique challenges. Tapping into their understanding of vehicle construction and repair methods, repairers will create adequate processes to complete each job. Body repair workers typically work solo, receiving only generic advice and direction from supervisors. Apprentices provide help to more experienced workers in some repair shops.
In 2002, there were 220,000 positions held by automotive body and related repairers with about 1 in 10 specializing in the installation and repair of automotive glass. The majority of repairers worked as repairmen for automotive repair and maintenance shops or car dealerships. Some worked for companies that service their own vehicles, like trucking companies. Wholesalers of vehicles and parts employed a few repairers. Approximately 1 in every 10 automotive body repairer is self-employed, which is close to twice as many in the installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.
Career Training and Job Qualifications for Auto Body Repair
Employers typically prefer applicants with formal auto repair training, but such programs do not meet meet the requirements of all employers. New technicians will get on-the-job-training form their employers, as well as supplemental courses put on by manufacturers ,when available. As improvements in technology have increased the differences in the make and build, parts, and materials used by manufacturers to produce cars, a certain amount of training is required. For example, the make of many new vehicles consists of various mixes of steel, aluminum, and metal alloys and plastics. Each combination must be dealt with uniquely in order to reform parts or remove dents. Auto body repair training can be learned through the automotive service programs developed by high schools, vocational schools, private trade schools, and community colleges.
Reading, arithmetic, and computer skills are needed to become a talented automotive body repairer. In order to restore a unibody to its original position, a repairer must be able to understand directions and diagrams so that they can measure the positioning of the part with respect to other parts.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) provides certification to repairers, which is viewed as a standard of achievement for automotive body repairers even though it is a voluntary program. Twice a year the ASE makes available four tests that collision repair professionals can take. A repairer may test their skills by taking anywhere from one to four ASE Master Collision Repair and Refinish Exams. A combination of 2 years work experience and successful completion of one test warrants ASE certification. Additionally, 1 years worth of work experience can supplanted by the completing a postsecondary program in automotive body repair. By passing all 4 tests, one will be recognized as ASE Master Collision Repair and Refinish Technicians. To remain certified, automotive body repairers must complete the examination every 5 years.
Constant learning is needed during the career of an automotive body repairer. Advancements in automotive parts, body materials, and electronics are continuous, becoming more and more complicated as the years pass. To stay updated, repairers must constantly be gaining new abilities, learning through seminars and classes, and reading technical manuals.
Pay for novices are associated with increasing one’s abilities, learning new methods, and finishing one’s work quickly. To become a shop supervisor, an experienced automotive body repairer must demonstrate the ability to supervise others. Some workers will become entrepreneurs, opening up their own shop, while others will begin working for insurance companies as automobile damage appraisers.
Auto Body Repair Job and Emmployment Opportunities
Employment as an automotive body repairer is projected to increase nearly at the same pace as the average for all occupations through the year 2012. Most of the job openings will come from retirements and repairers who move to other areas of work. Those with formal training in automotive body repair and mechanics have the best opportunities before them.
As the amount of vehicles grows in conjunction with population growth, so to will the demand for body repairers. As more and more vehicles on used, the total number of accidents will increase. Newer vehicles are made of materials that are harder to work with, such as steel alloys, aluminum, and plastics. Thus, repair will be more time consuming, as newer designs in vehicles, specifically light weight vehicles, makes them susceptible to greater damage.
Enhancements in technology and safety, which will help reduce accidents, will somewhat counter increasing demand for body repair caused by more cars, traffic, and ultimately accidents on the roadways. Employment growth also will be limited by changes in body shop management that will increase productivity, reduce overhead expenses, and improve standardization. Bigger shops will be able to serve more customers as they use a team to make repairs, which decreases repair time and improves their overall efficiency. Additionally, more and more insurers are utilizing shop networks to carry out repairs. Growth in demand for repair work will also be tempered as more and more vehicles are determined totaled and beyond repair. Repairs are becoming increasingly expensive, due in part to the damage caused by deployed airbags and the expensive nature of electronic parts.
Automotive repair, maintenance shops, and automobile dealers will continue to experience growth in employment. Changing economic conditions seem to have less of an effect on the automotive repair industry, so layoffs of experienced workers are not common. During an economic downturn, minor repairs to damaged vehicles can be delayed, but any major problems must be fixed for the vehicle to remain safe and functional. When the economy is shrinking, body shops might be consolidated by dealers, struggling independent shops will shutdown, and employers will not hire many new repairers.
Historical Earnings Information
For the year 2002, automotive body repairers made a median hourly wage of $15.71, including incentives. The middle 50 percent made an hourly wage of anywhere form $11.64 to $20.94. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $8.70, and the top 10 percent upwards of $27.10 an hour.
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