Have you always been under the hood of your parent’s car tinkering around? Do you have a curious mind and like to understand how things work? Perhaps you always had an interest in cars and read anything and everything having to do with them.
If any of above sounds familiar, a career as an automotive technician is right up your alley! Not only will you have the opportunity to work with cars all day, but you will also be using some of the most advanced technology on the market. The bonus is that it doesn’t take all that long to get started.
Automotive technicians inspect, repair, and maintain automobiles and trucks that run on gas, diesel fuel, alternative fuels (e.g. ethanol), or electricity. The work of automotive technicians has evolved from performing simple auto mechanics to services that incorporate advanced-level technology, such as integrated electronic and computer systems. As a result, today’s automotive technician must possess knowledge of how these complex systems operate and be able to effectively work with digital equipment and electronic diagnostic tools.
Below is a listing of the common responsibilities of auto mechanics:
- Perform basic car repairs and maintenance, such as oil changes, tire rotations, and brake realignment.
- Use diagnostic tools to identify and troubleshoot problems. For example, if the air conditioner isn’t working the auto technician may evaluate whether there is sufficient coolant or short-circuit in the electrical system.
- Test drive vehicles using hand-held diagnostic computers to determine where any problems may be.
- Follow a check-list to ensure that every part is examined: engines, transmissions, belts, hoses, plugs, brakes, fuel systems, and mufflers.
- Use such power-tools as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts, welding equipment to repair body parts or exhaust systems, jacks and hoists to examine the engine and other systems; lathes and grinding equipment to repair or rebuilding brake systems, and hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, and hammers, to perform minor repairs.
- Interpret computer read-outs from computer diagnostic tools and compare with manufacturer technical manuals. Any major deviations from manufacturer specifications are cause for further investigation.
- Knowledge of navigation and global positioning systems, along with accident-avoidance systems that are incorporated into many high-end automobiles.
- Knowledge of the science behind alternative fuels, such as ethanol, as well as the mechanics behind electrically-operated vehicles.
Automotive technicians may also choose to specialize in one area:
- Some technicians specialize in the rebuilding of transmissions and hydraulic pumps that requires knowledge of the most advanced computer technology on the market.
- Tune-up technicians use electronic testing equipment to maintain timing belts, and replace spark plugs and other parts to maximize engine performance.
- Brake specialists replace and repair brake pads and braking systems. Some technicians perform both front and back end brakes repairs.
Most auto technicians work in auto repair shops, gas stations, dealerships, service centers, as well as accessories and supplies outlets. Most work a standard 40 hour week, including evenings and weekends. Although many problems can now be diagnosed and repaired with computerized equipment, technicians still frequently work with dirty and greasy parts and remain in awkward positions for extended periods.
As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of auto technicians is expected to grow by about 5 percent from 2008 to 2018.
Read about what to consider when choosing auto mechanic as your career choice.
Education and Training
Most employees consider the successful completion of a vocational training program in automotive technology as the best preparation for a career in this field. Training may be completed on the high school level or by attendance at a vocational school or two year community college program. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence evaluates the quality of education offered by automotive technician programs against standards developed by the industry. By attending an accredited program you can be assured that you are receiving training that will be recognized and respected by prospective employers.
High School Preparation
Some of the more extensive high school programs are offered through the Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES), a partnership between high school automotive repair programs, auto manufacturers, and dealerships. All AYES programs are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellent. Coursework includes automotive repair, electronics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics.
Postsecondary Automotive Tech Training
If you have already graduated from high school, you can attend an automotive technician training program, which provides intensive preparation through a combination of classroom instruction in auto repair and maintenance, along with “real-world” experience. Training may last from 6 months to one year depending on whether the student attends on a full or part time basis. Upon completion, students are awarded a certification of completion. Community colleges award either a certificate or associate’s degree. Associate degree programs typically take 2 years to complete and, aside from automotive training, require coursework in liberal arts studies.
Browse our list of Florida Trade Schools which include auto mechanic programs.
First Job and Next Career Steps
Those new to the field usually start as technician trainees and gradually, over a period of a few months, acquire the skills and experience needed to work on their own. It typically takes between 2-5 years to become a fully qualified service technician able to handle the most complex tasks using advanced technological equipment. An additional 1 to 2 years may be required to learn advanced skills, such as rebuilding transmissions. Brake specialists may be able to learn their jobs in much less time since they do need to have the same level of advanced technical knowledge.
Dealerships and automotive repair shops may send the most promising beginners or experienced technicians to manufacturer-sponsored technician training programs to update or maintain their skills.
There are several avenues of career growth, especially for certified technicians! Experienced technicians with managerial ability may be promoted into the position of auto technician supervisor or service manager. Those who work well with customers may become auto service estimators. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit (and sufficient funds!) there is also the option to open your own repair shop. You may also become an instructor within a vocational training program or community college.
Acquiring National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certification has become standard credential for those seeking to work as automotive service technicians. While not mandatory for employment in Florida, obtaining this certification leads to increased employment opportunities, recognition for service excellence, and a higher rate of pay.
Prospective candidates may register to take one of 40 exams administered by ASE. The tests are grouped into such specialties as automobile, medium/heavy truck, school bus, and collision repair. Within automotive services certification is available in several areas, including electrical systems, brake systems, suspension and steering, air conditioning, engine repair.
Upon passing at least one exam and providing evidence of at least 2 years experience as an automotive technician, the candidate becomes ASE Certified. To remain certified, those with the ASE credential must retest once every five years. Testing is administered by paper-and pencil and computer based (CBT) at over 750 locations throughout the country.
Entry-level Automotive Technician Salaries
Below is a listing of average salaries for entry level auto technicians with less than one year experience in select Florida cities. Your income may vary depending on type of setting in which you work.