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Auto Mechanic and Technician Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Career and Job Highlights for Auto Mechanics and Technicians

  • The ideal preparation for technology intense jobs is formal automotive technician training.
  • Those with a working knowledge of electronics and mathematics, as well as excellent problem-solving abilities will have good opportunities for employment.
  • Advancements in technology cause automotive service technicians and mechanics to continuously be learning and improving on new methods of repair.

Auto Mechanic and Techician Career Overview

Those who have experience with the breakdown of a vehicle are aware of the value automotive service technicians and mechanics provide. Excellent reasoning skills and an understanding of vehicles is necessary for a technician to rapidly and precisely identify the problem. Diagnosing illusive problems proves to be challenging for technicians, but also provides a great deal of satisfaction.

The evolution of automotive repair has seen a change in emphasis from mechanical to technological work. Presently, vehicles use high-tech computers and complex electronic systems to monitor the performance of the vehicle. A strong sense of understanding concerning the operation of a vehicle, including how each device interacts, as well as the ability to deal with electronic diagnostic equipment and digital reference manuals is key to the success of a technician.

Vehicles with gasoline engines must pass inspections, recieve maintenance, and undergo repairs by highly skill automotive service technicians and mechanics. As automotive technology becomes more complex, workers must be more adept in dealing with computerized shop equipment and electronic parts, while also retaining the necessary handtools skill set.

A description of the problem is typically provided to the technician, either by the owner or by a repair service estimator who filled out the repair request. Technicians first run diagnostic tests to find the issue. They will examine that all components and systems are operating and in place. Next, they must rule out any components or systems that logic determines cannot be the reason for the issue. For example, when an air conditioner fails, the technician will examine components and find that the problem is simply a matter of adding coolant, or perhaps the air conditioner shorted out due to a faulty drive-train connection. Sometimes a vehicle must be test driven to diagnose the problem, or shop equipment, like hand-held diagnostic computers or compression gauges, must be used to isolate the problem. All these tests will help decide if the part can be salvaged or if it must be replaced all together.

Typically technicians will examine and lubricate engines and other devices during a tuneup. Preventive maintenance, like replacing an old part helps prevent a component failure from damaging other parts of the vehicle. Normally a checklist is used to ensure the technician has checked all the important parts of the vehicle that must be watched, such as belts, hoses, plugs, as well as brake and fuel systems.

Service technicians utilize many tools, including pneumatic wrenches which help take off bolts quickly, machine tools like lathes and grinding machines to rebuild brakes, welding and flame-cutting equipment to fix exhaust systems, and jacks and hoists make cars and engines more accessible. As always, handtools are also used to do work on small parts and in places which are hard to access.

The results of diagnostic tests are compared against benchmarks offered by the manufacturer in modern shops. When differences exist beyond insignificant levels, technicians realize further examination of the part in question is needed. Precision corrections will be made by the diagnostic equipment according to calculations found on larger computerized databases. These computerized systems help keep technicians up to date on problems and teach them new methods of rectification, as they automatically update manuals and provide technicians with complete access to the manufacturers service information.

Specialization by automotive service technicians in large shops is not uncommon these days. Transmission technicians and rebuilders specialize on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps, and other components of transmissions. Since some of these components tap into the most complicated technology in the industry, an excellent understanding of computer controls and the capacity to identify electrical and hydraulic problems is required. Tuneup technicians perform basic maintenance by adjusting the ignition timing and valves, and replacing spark plugs so that the engine runs properly. Tuenup technicians frequently utilize electronic testing equipment to diagnose issues located in fuel, ignition, and emissions control systems.

Automotive air conditioning repairers perform installations and make repairs on air conditioners and service their components, like compressors, condensers, and controls. Specialized training is necessary as Federal and State regulations determine how refrigerants are handled and disposed of properly. Front-end mechanics work with the steering and suspension systems, aligning them as needed as well as aligning and balancing the wheels. Specially made alignment equipment is often utilized, as well as wheel-balancing machines. Repairs and adjustments on brake systems, like replacing brake linings and pads, are carried out by brake repairers. A few technicians do both brake and front-end work.

Auto Mechanic and Technician Career Training and Job Qualifications

Automotive technology is continuously becoming more and more sophisticated, and experts issue a recommendation that applicants first obtain formal training through high school or a vocational school. Although, there are still some workers that learn the tricks of the trade by merely working alongside more experienced workers.

Automotive service training programs are offered by most high schools, community colleges, and vocational and technical schools. Postsecondary programs go beyond what is taught about repair in high school, giving the student a more thorough education.

Most postsecondary automotive technician training programs prepare the student for the real world by coupling classroom teaching with live training and experience. Depending how often you attend class each week, programs can provide intense training for anywhere from 6 months to a year. Programs taught by community colleges typically last about 2 years, and include classes in core areas like English, mathematics, computers which lead students to achieving an associate degree or certificate. Some people choose to leave school before graduating after having earned their repair certificate. A few programs have added courses in customer service and stress management to improve the students array of skills. Employers believe these additional skills aid the technician in taking on more responsibility and handling customers and vendors.

There is a wide variety in the quality of high school programs. The Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES) helps students receive their technician’s certification, and works with over 150 high schools and 300 dealers. There are lighter programs that merely introduce the student to the industry, giving them a better understanding of automotive technology suitable for a consumer or to take on as a hobby. More in depth programs try to teach the student enough vital skills to help them land a job as a helper to a mechanic or as a trainee.

Many automobile manufacturers and dealerships sponsor training programs in available through 2-year associate degree schools and postsecondary schools. An institution known as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) accredits many automobile and diesel technology schools. The curriculum of these schools is updated quite frequently to keep pace with the advancements in technology and the changes in equipment. Students will attend programs that last which alternate 6- to 12-week periods, first going to class full time then working in repair shops of dealerships. These dealerships provide great hands-on-experience with the supervision and aid of an experienced repairer who provides instruction and tips to the student. The standards of these training facilities are set and certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), which is an affiliate of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). When a training facility meets the required standards, certification is recommended by the NATEF. All high schools, postsecondary schools, technical schools, and community colleges provide automotive service training that is overseen by the ASE certification program, which sets the national standard. Instruction, equipment, and new vehicles are provided by the manufacturers in order for students to hone their skills and gain experience with the latest models of vehicles. The certification through the ASE is not required; it suggests a program in line with standards, especially as they relate to teaching facilities, equipment, credible staff members, and courses. Programs that achieve ASE certification must also work to maintain their certification maintaining standards, and are subject to reviews by the ASE to ensure that the program is keep up with technology advancements, new repair procedures and the ASE standards. The standards of ASE are also reviewed by NATEF program experts to ensure that they are in harmony and on par with the requirements for occupation in the industry. By 2002, the ASE had certified approximately 1,200 high school and postsecondary automotive service technician training programs.

Trainees with good communication and analytical skills are sought after by employers to fill automotive service technician positions. It is important that technicians remain in competent in core areas such as reading, mathematics, and computer skills so that they can study and understand manuals and keep up with the advancements in technology as well as changes in repair methods and specifications. It is also important that trainees understand how automobiles function. A vocational training program is perhaps the best way to prepare for trainee positions according to most employers. Experience gained through the Armed Forces or through a hobby can prove to be of value as well. One must most likely finish high school and complete some form of postsecondary training because the complexity of newer vehicles demands it. A proper educational foundations for employment as a service technician involves schooling in automotive repair, electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics.

Newer cars come with computers that control and operate various parts of the car, from the engine to the radio. Top of the line vehicles include GPS navigation, internet access, and various other features rich in technology incorporated into the automobile. As a result, service technicians must a have a greater knowledge of electronics and computers than previously required. Electronic elements were first incorporated into the Engine controls and dashboard instruments, but now practically every part of the vehicle relies on electronics and computers to run the system, including brake systems, the transmission, air conditioning units, and steering systems. A specialist used to take care of any issues involving electrical systems or electronics. However, these systems are so common now that a service technician must have at least a basic understanding of electronics. Almost all malfunctions in today’s vehicles can be related to the electrical components that control the car’s myriad of systems.

As technology advances even further with the introduction of automobiles powered by different kinds of fuel, service technicians will have to become educated in the science behind these new methods of powering a car. Sources of fuel for these newer vehicles are supplied by the dehydrogenization of water, electric fuel cells, natural gas, solar power, and other non-petroleum-based sources. Energy captured from brakes may even be used to power some vehicles. As automobiles powered by alternative forms of fuel are popularized, technicians will require new training in order to understand the science and engineering behind these new vehicles.

Novices first begin working as trainee technicians, mechanics’ helpers, lubrication workers, or gasoline service station attendants, and are guided and taught by experience workers to help them hone their skills and gain experience. After only a couple of months of experience, novices will perform ordinary service tasks and basic repairs. To become a journey-level service technician, 2 to 5 years of experience is needed. Journey-level technicians must rapidly carry out harder types of normal service and repairs. It is possible to a journey-level technician after only a few months on the job given the proper amount of education and experience normally obtained through postsecondary automotive training programs. A few years of experience goes a long way in exposing mechanics and technicians to a wide array of repair jobs. Harder specialty jobs like transmission repair necessitate an extra year or two of training and experience. However, some specialists such as brake technicians can learn their job quicker because a thorough understanding of automotive repair is not necessary.

Traditionally, automotive service technicians went through a program of 3- to 4-years serving as an apprentice before becoming a service technician. Now vocational training programs are more popular and apprenticeships are less common.

The most important instruments a technician or mechanic uses are hand tools. Typically workers will use their own tools, and a lot of experienced technicians and mechanics own tool sets worth thousands of dollars. More expensive tools, such as power tools, engine analyzers, and diagnostic tools are provided by employers. Many entry-level technicians are able to acquire tools thanks to arrangements tool manufacturers have with the training programs they attend. Automotive service technicians typically have the opportunity to attend manufacturer training centers, thanks to the their employers, where they are taught how to repair new models and components, like air conditioning units or fuel injection systems. Dealerships might also aid novices by sending them to mechanic training programs sponsored by manufacturers. Employees are sent to training programs to increase their skills and thus make them more valuable to the employer. Factory representatives might also come to individual shops to carry out brief training sessions for the mechanics and technicians.

Automotive service technicians typically achieve certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), though it is only voluntary, but is the norm for the industry. There are 8 different service categories in which one can become certified, including electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and steering, and heating and air-conditioning. Two years experience and successful completion of a written exam is required to become certified. One year of experience can be supplanted by successful completion of an automotive training program in high school, vocational or trade school, or community or junior college. At times, certification in as many as 3 specialty areas can be achieved by graduates of ASE-certified programs. Certification in all 8 areas will warrant a technician certification as a master automotive mechanic. In order to maintain certification, each exam must be taken every 5 years.

One that demonstrates great experience and leadership might become a supervisor or service manager. Technicians who interact positively with customers might become automotive repair service estimators. Others might opt to open their own service shop.

Auto Mechanic and Technician Job and Employment Opportunities

Those who finish automotive training programs in high school, vocational and technical schools, or community colleges will have good job opportunities in this industry. The best job opportunities exist for those with good diagnostic and problem-solving skills, and who have been trained in basic electronics skills. If one has received good training and has an excellent technical foundation, a career in automotive service presents a great chance for good wages and high satisfaction associated with doing complicated work on vehicles with advanced technology. A lot of competition for beginner jobs should be expected if one does not have formal automotive training.

Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow on pace with the average rate of growth through 2012. For the period 2002-12, the population is expected to grow, thereby increasing demand for automobiles and consequently boosting demand for regular maintenance and service of those vehicles. The labor force and the amount of families with both spouses requiring vehicles are expected to grow, causing an increased in automotive sales as well as employment. With the increase in rising incomes, more people will be able to own more than one vehicle, and the number on passenger cars will also likely increase as result meaning more cars on the road. Although, it is important to note that as the population of drivers of age slows down due to the smaller post-baby boom generation coming of age, the demand for vehicles will be tempered. Advancements in quality and reliability which lessen the need for repairs and maintenance will also offset some of the increase in demand for vehicles.

Growth in employment will likely remain within dealerships and service shops. The increase in small retail shops that offer after-warranty repairs, such as oil changes, brake repair, air-conditioner service and other small repairs that take less than 4 hours will help create more jobs in the industry. However, gasoline service stations will likely employ fewer and fewer technicians and mechanics as the services offered there become more limited.

Besides new positions caused by growth within the industry, positions will open as result of workers transferring to different jobs or retirement. Stability can be expected by those entering the occupation, as the state of the economy and changes in other industries have a small correlation to the automotive service industry.