How to Become an Auto Mechanic in California
Due to advances in technology and manufacturing, auto mechanics in California need a whole new set of specialized skills and knowledge to help them do their jobs.
Enrolling in the proper trade school program allows aspiring automotive technicians to undergo comprehensive training and qualify for auto mechanic jobs in California.
Education and Training
While some small garages may provide on-the-job training, most employers require aspiring auto mechanics in CA to undergo formal training. As a result, most people wondering how to become auto mechanics in California start by enrolling in an educational program at a California trade school or community college.
Auto mechanic schools in California usually teach students how to build, repair, and maintain auto parts and systems, including:
- Transmission Systems
- Power Steering and Suspension
- Brake Systems
- Electrical Systems
- Climate Control Systems
Some programs also teach fundamentals of auto body repair, as well as specialized classes on how to install and maintain technological features like rearview cameras, car alarms and sensors, and even stereo systems.
Hands-On Auto Tech Training
Schools typically have on-campus workshops and labs where aspiring auto mechanics in CA can gain practical experience building and repairing automotive systems. You might also be able to gain industry experience through externships at California auto mechanic shops.
While working with experienced technicians at local garages and dealerships, students develop the communication and customer service skills they need for the job. Many students also learn a few business techniques that they can use if they plan to open their own garages once they have enough schooling and experience.
How Long is Auto Mechanic School in CA?
Formal training for auto mechanics in California can take six months to two years, depending on where you enroll and which program you choose. Some schools offer six- to 10-month-long certificate programs, while others let you earn a diploma in 12 to 18 months. Two-year associate’s degree courses might be available as well.
Tuition costs for aspiring auto mechanics in CA also vary. For example, some schools offer online courses that cost about $700. Meanwhile, an on-campus diploma or certificate program can cost around $6,000 or closer to $20,000 if you’re receiving specialized instruction on particular automotive technology, brands, and equipment.
An associate’s degree for automotive technicians in California might cost anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on whether you attend classes at a public or private institution.
California Auto Mechanic Requirements
To become an auto mechanic in California, you might need to get certified through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. While obtaining this credential is optional for auto mechanics in CA, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have ASE certification.
Earning an official certification from the ASE requires aspiring California mechanics to take the following steps:
- Create an account on the ASE website to register for your certification exam
- Select your chosen exam from the list of nine Automobile and Light Truck Certification options
- Complete a work experience form to show at least two years of supervised industry training
- Pay the required application and registration fees
After passing your exam, you’ll obtain your certification credential and can qualify for various auto mechanic jobs in California. You must recertify every five years and can take multiple Automobile and Light Truck Certification exams over time to become an ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician.
CA auto mechanics hoping to specialize as brake and lamp adjusters or smog check repair techs and inspectors must obtain an official license through the state’s Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR). Check the bureau’s website for specific licensing requirements and information about application forms and fees.
Auto Mechanic Salaries in CA
While the statewide auto mechanic salary in California is about $55,993 per year, your annual earnings may vary, depending on which part of the state you live in. Check out the list below to learn how much auto mechanics make in different California cities:
- Los Angeles $54,416
- San Francisco $65,028
- Napa $59,630
- Sacramento $55,703
- Anaheim $55,468
- San Diego $56,044
Other details besides your location might affect your earnings as an auto mechanic in CA. For example, if you have certain certifications, experience, or education, you might be able to negotiate a higher salary. How much you make also depends on whether you receive hourly wages or a flat rate for each job.
Auto mechanics inspect, maintain, and repair vehicles to ensure they function safely and correctly. Whether they work at local garages, dealerships, or larger auto repair chains, these skilled professionals typically perform the following tasks during their workdays:
- Using computerized diagnostic equipment to identify issues with car parts and systems
- Following an employer-approved checklist to ensure a thorough examination of each vehicle
- Discuss vehicle repair and maintenance needs with customers
- Select the necessary parts and tools required for each job
- Perform tasks like:
- Oil changes
- Tire rotations and alignments
- Auto part replacement
- Brake services
- Test drive the vehicle after completing maintenance to ensure proper performance
- Update customer on each performed service
- Process payments for parts, labor, and services performed
Experts at the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that the demand for auto technicians in the U.S. will only increase by about one percent over the next ten years. While this may seem like a limited growth rate, it roughly translates to 73,300 job openings becoming available each year between 2021 and 2031.
Trained auto mechanics in CA can improve their chances of finding work by obtaining an official ASE certification or learning additional, specialized skills that might impress potential employers. Your training program might also offer career service resources that help you find auto mechanic jobs in California through job fairs and other networking opportunities.
Advice from the Inside
There is information that simply cannot be found on the internet or in a book. It is the valuable insight and advice that can be gained only by talking with someone who has gone through the steps necessary to become and held a position as an Automotive Technician.
The automotive industry is very broad with a variety of opportunities and work environments. Automotive Department Chair at WyoTech, Ali Emadi has been in the automotive field for over 16 years. He says “there are many opportunities in this field for establishing a secure and reliable income, but it requires lots of knowledge. The technology changes constantly and new systems roll out every year. In order to be successful, you must keep up with the advancements in technology, or your knowledge will become outdated.”
James Hiner has been working as an automotive technician for the last seven years. He gained his education through a trade school and recommends that future auto technician students check all of the options available. “Look for what ties the trade school has with auto manufacturers and what their enrollment to graduation ratio is.”
Currently employed by a dealership, Hiner stresses the importance of doing your research when it comes time to find a position. “Research the prospective job. Make sure to ask about average hours, benefits, and tuition reimbursement. Make sure that the company you are looking at working for is doing well, not just the manufacturer. And after an interview, ask to stick around and talk to the techs that have been there – make sure that you fit in.”
If he were starting over again, Emadi says he “would try to get a job with a company that would recognize his needs for training and staying up to date. Manufacture training is available for technicians who work for new car dealerships. As new models roll out, dealerships require their technicians to become certified on repairing the new models. Usually these trainings are paid for by the employer and technicians are compensated for the time they spend at the training facility.” Knowing what he knows now, Emadi can see how the additional training would have helped him to become more successful.
“It is really up to the individual and how far you want to go in this field and how hard you are willing to work to get there,” says Hiner. “For me, over the past few years I have made an effort to make sure that the corporate level folks know my name and see what value I bring to the table. Like any job out there, it is always good for the people on top to know your name for a good reason rather than not know it at all!”