Having a Career in Repairing Cars

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More cars are on the road every year. Although more reliable than ever before, cars still break down and need to be repaired and also require routine service to keep them running smoothly. Thousands of cars are also damaged in traffic accidents every day. More than one million auto mechanics, often called "automotive service technicians," as well as automotive body repairers are currently working to keep several million passenger cars and taxis operating in the United States.

What It's Like To Be an Auto Mechanic

Because cars have become so complex, you will probably specialize in an area such as engine repair, brakes, collision damage repair, transmission, or electrical systems. On the job, you will use the thousands of dollars of equipment you have accumulated over the years, plus the power tools, engine analyzers, and other test equipment that your employer furnishes. Your workplace will be indoors, and it is likely to be quite noisy if you are a body repairer. You will probably work at an automobile dealer, independent repair shop, or gasoline service station. Only 20 percent of automotive mechanics and body repairers are self-employed.

Let's Find Out What Happens On the Job

Auto mechanics typically get a description of a problem from the customer or the service adviser. Then the mechanic must figure out exactly what the problem is. This frequently involves using a wide variety of electronic equipment to assist in making the correct diagnosis. You may even have to test drive the car. After the problem is determined, it is time to fix it. This involves repairing or replacing one or more of the faulty parts. Not all your work will be repair work, you will also do routine maintenance work such as lubrication and changing oil. You will not fix dents, straighten bent fenders, or replace broken glass; this job is usually done by body repairers.

The Pleasures and Pressures of the Job

You are faced with challenging problems. Perhaps you have to find out why a car suddenly hesitates after it has been running for an hour, or why an engine has to be cranked repeatedly the first time it is started. Solving problems like these is one of the greatest satisfactions of being an auto mechanic.

You may find some of the physical aspects of being an auto mechanic unpleasant. You are going to get your hands dirty. Frequently, you'll skin your knuckles. You are going to find yourself in awkward and cramped positions. Furthermore, your work will be strenuous at times when you lift heavy parts and tools.

The Rewards, the Pay, and the Perks

Being an auto mechanic or body repairer is very rewarding because each day you can clearly see what you have accomplished. You see cars leaving your shop in perfect running order or with all their dents removed. How much you earn as an auto mechanic or body repairer is determined largely by your skill level. You may not earn much more than $9 an hour if you are a semi-skilled mechanic. A highly skilled mechanic or body repairer, however, can earn more than $50,000 a year. And if you work more than 40 hours in a week, you will receive overtime.

Getting Started

The number of skills needed to be a skilled auto mechanic is constantly growing. You can still start by working as a trainee mechanic, helper, lubrication worker, or gas station attendant and gradually acquire skills by working with experienced mechanics. This approach is discouraged by most training authorities. You can also enter a 3- or 4-year apprenticeship program, but the number of these programs is getting smaller.

Formal automotive training programs have increased in popularity. According to the experts, the best route to becoming an auto mechanic is to take a formal training program at a community college, vocational school, or technical school. Find a program that is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).

Climbing the Career Ladder

You will advance through several steps until you become a skilled, advanced technician. Then it will be possible to continue climbing the career ladder to shop supervisor or service manager. Or you could take a different route and become a service consultant and work with customers. You could even decide to open your own repair shop.

Now Decide If Being an Auto Mechanic Is Right for You

Auto mechanics are highly skilled professionals. They need to constantly update their skills. For example, electronics knowledge was once only essential for those working on engine controls and dashboard instruments. Today, electronics are being used in brakes, transmissions, steering systems, and a variety of other components. Most auto mechanics must now be familiar with the basic principles of electronics to recognize when an electronic malfunction may be the cause of a problem. Are you willing to attend seminars and clinics and read trade publications and technical manuals to constantly learn new skills? You will have to do this to remain a top-notch mechanic.

Things You Can Do To Get a Head Start

You must graduate from high school. While you are in school, you can get a head start by studying automotive repair, electronics, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Experience working on cars in the Armed Forces or as a hobby can also be valuable. Begin now to contact associations to get information on training programs and job qualifications.

You and Repairing Cars

Now you need to decide if a career in repairing and/or servicing automobiles is right for you. Take this quiz to see if you have some of the basic qualities and interests of a good repairer or service technician.

  1. Do you spend your free time tinkering with cars or reading car magazines?

  2. Does it bother you to get dirty?

  3. Do you like to work with your hands? Are you any good at it?

  4. Do you have a good under-standing of how automobiles work?

  5. Do you have an aptitude for mechanics?

  6. Do you enjoy solving problems?

  7. Do you keep working at a problem until it is solved?

  8. Are you willing to keep up with new technology and learn new repair and/or service methods?

  9. Can you explain technical issues to customers in an easy-to-understand manner?

You may wish to begin learning about a career in repairing cars by contacting these associations:

  • National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation

  • Automotive Service Association

For information on two-year associate degree programs in automotive service technology, contact:

  • ASSET Program Training Department

  • Chrysler Dealer Apprenticeship Program National CAP Coordinator

  • General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program

  • National College Coordinator

  • General Motors Service Technology Group

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