From alternative fuels to GPS navigators, automotive technicians
have to be tech-savvy. Find out what it takes to begin a career
as an automotive technician in today’s changing world.
“Technician” versus “Mechanic”
Automotive technicians aren’t called mechanics any
longer for a reason: the amount of technological knowledge
that goes into fixing today’s cars requires more than
just a good ratchet set. Automotive technicians still fix
and perform preventative maintenance on customers’ cars
and trucks, but they also must adapt to quickly changing technology
in the automotive industry.
Cars aren’t what they used to be. A great automotive
technician needs to understand electronics and how a car’s
computer runs mechanical components. A great automotive technician
stays up to date on alternative fuel technology, from how
to repair the transmission on a hybrid to how to maintain
top performance of an ethanol-fueled car. A great automotive
technician knows how to access and use digital manuals and
understands how computer-aided diagnostics find problems in
cars. Sound tough? What you probably don’t know is that
great automotive technicians also have great training, usually
from a vocational school.
Like doctors, automotive technicians use different diagnostic
methods to identify problems. Technicians must combine a customer’s
description of a noise or smell, computers and sensor equipment,
and old-fashioned test drives to locate the source of a malfunction.
And like doctors, automotive technicians use a variety of
tools to repair those problems, from basic hand tools and
drills to grinding machines and lathes.
Because of the emphasis on diagnostics, employers seek automotive
technicians with solid reasoning and analytic skills, as well
as customer service skills. A background in electronics is
important, as is a commitment to keeping up-to-date through
continuing education. Math, computer, and reading skills are
also a requirement.
For automotive technicians who have the necessary training
and skills, career prospects are excellent. The field is expected
to grow 14% through 2016. While most work a standard forty
hour work week, 30% of automotive technicians work overtime.
That overtime usually happens in the evenings and on weekends
to accommodate customers’ schedules.
Most technicians earn both an hourly wage and commission.
The commission component comes from labor cost included in
the price of a repair. If you’ve ever taken your car
to the shop and wondered about the “labor cost”
on your bill, part of that is going directly to the technician
who fixed your car. In 2007, the average annual salary for
an automotive technician was $36,480.
Like many fields, in automotive technology you have to work
your way to the top. Most people who aspire to become technicians
start as trainee technicians, technicians’ helpers,
or lubrication workers. It can take anywhere from two to five
years in the field to become a master technician. For automotive
technicians who wish to specialize, it takes another year
or two to become something like a transmission specialist
or front-end specialist. If you want to become a brake specialist
or something else that isn’t as complex, the process
can be much faster because you don’t have to know everything
about the whole car.
Becoming an automotive technician doesn’t necessarily
mean getting your hands dirty, either. Technicians can also
become shop supervisors, service managers (who oversee other
technicians), and repair estimators for shops or insurance
companies. 17% of people working in automotive technology
are self-employed, which usually means they own their own
Continuing education can be important in today’s quickly
changing world, especially for folks who experience that changing
technology first hand. Automotive technicians will often attend
in-house training or dealership training sessions to learn
about how things like GPS and in-vehicle internet access affect
Choosing a School
Employers seek out automotive technicians who have attended
vocational schools. Career schools combine classroom training
with hands-on experience in automotive technology. Students
practice repairing real cars and may complete internships
for course credit. Recently, career schools have added customer
service, stress management, and employment skills classes
to their curriculums to make graduates even more desirable
JustColleges has listings for career schools across the country
that offer programs in automotive
technology. Here are some examples, or you can use the
location search feature to find a school close to you.
Baker College has campus locations all over Michigan, and
offers both associates degrees and certificate programs. With
Michigan’s economic downturn over the last several years,
the fact that 98% of Baker College’s graduates are currently
employed is no small feat.
The Universal Technical Institute has locations in eight
different states and offers automotive technology courses
as well as company-specific programs. If you know going into
school that you want to work for Ford or BMW, the Universal
Technical Institute might be the right career move for you.
For a career in the fast lane, the NASCAR Technical Institute
branch of the Universal Technical Institute colleges offers
programs in NASCAR technology. Learn how to build NASCAR engines
or work as part of a pit crew.
These are just two examples of the accredited career schools
featured at JustColleges that will prepare you for a career
in automotive technology.
Urban areas (and all reputable repair shops) require that
you have ASE certification to work as an automotive technician.
You can test to get ASE certified in up to eight different
areas. In addition to passing the exam, you must have two
years of experience in automotive technology to receive certification.
Your training at a vocational school will count toward that
experience and also be geared toward passing that exam.
a complete list of Automotive Technology Schools