What is a Mechanic and What do They do?
Are you considering a career as a mechanic? If you have an aptitude for working with mechanical systems and are interested in learning how to provide basic care and maintenance for automobiles or even airplanes, this profession may be a good fit for you. The most successful professionals in this field tend to be detail-oriented, dexterous, physically strong, and organized. Individuals should also have excellent customer-service, mechanical, and troubleshooting skills. Particularly skilled mechanics may also consider obtaining a business license and opening their own auto shops.
Automotive service technicians and mechanics are responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing cars and light trucks. This can include a wide assortment of activities that range from simple to highly complex. Some of the most common tasks include identifying problems with vehicles, testing parts and systems for functionality, ensuring all critical parts are examined, repairing or replacing worn parts, and explaining maintenance or repair plans and procedures to clients.
Steps to Becoming a Mechanic
Education and training requirements vary by state, but are generally considered readily achievable. Unlike other professions, prospective mechanics do not necessarily require any experience in the field prior to beginning training. While related high school courses can establish a solid foundation for future learning, most service technician programs are comprehensive and provide students with the knowledge necessary to perform work-related tasks efficiently. The best preparation for this career consists of completing a vocational or other postsecondary education program in service technology. This will qualify graduates for most entry-level jobs.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy and work with refrigerants to be certified in proper handling procedures, additional certifications are voluntary. The standard optional credential for mechanics is offered via the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE certification is available in nine different automobile specialty areas. Candidates can choose to become certified in one or all of these after two years of experience and by passing an examination.
It’s important to note that working as a mechanic is not always easy. The position requires a significant amount of problem-solving and it’s always possible to make a mistake. Additionally, some tasks can be hazardous; there are many possible dangers to professionals handling large machinery and workplace injuries are common.
Step 1: Education Requirements
Step 2: Internship or Apprentice
Step 3: Licensing and Certifications
Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance
Step 1: Education Requirements
At minimum, mechanics will require a high school diploma or GED to find employment. While high school courses in automotive repair, electronics, computers, and mathematics provide a good foundation for future learning, they are not typically sufficient to meet employer hiring standards. Most professionals in this field complete a training program. Acceptable programs may be offered by community colleges, vocational schools, or even automobile manufacturers. Graduates either receive associate degrees or certificates of completion.
Associate degree programs generally consist of 60 credit hours and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Common courses include mathematics, electronics, and automotive repair. It’s not uncommon to find this type of degree program sponsored by automobile manufacturers. In these cases, students tend to alternate attending classes and working full time in service shops.
Alternatively, certificate programs often last six months to a year and are designed to provide students with intensive career preparation through classroom instruction and hands-on practice. It’s also worth noting that short-term certificate programs are also available. These programs tend to focus on a single subject, such as brake maintenance or engine performance.
Step 2: Internship or Apprentice
Prospective mechanics may benefit from finding an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship programs offer professionals the opportunity to get paid while they gain the skills and experiences necessary to become an ASE certified technician. Some companies offer this type of on-the-job training, with the apprentice working under the direct supervision of an ASE master mechanic. In most states, apprenticeship candidates must have a high school diploma or a GED, as well as a valid driver’s license. It’s not uncommon for employers to also require a background check and drug screening.
The duties of an apprentice can vary but generally include performing various basic maintenance tasks on vehicles, as well as writing customer estimates for repairs.
Some common examples of potential responsibilities are:
- Changing Brake Pads
- Inspecting Vehicles
- Ordering Replacement Parts
- Replacing Vehicle Fluids
- Testing Car Batteries
- Cleaning the Shop
- Taking Inventory
A potential drawback associated with apprenticeships is the need to own mechanics tools. These items can be expensive. Candidates may also need to work their way up from lower positions before being considered.
Internships differ from apprenticeships because they are generally associated with an academic program. These positions are often unpaid and reserved for students, who may earn class credit for the hours worked. Individuals interested in mechanic internships should speak with their school counselor or advisor.
Step 3: Licensing & CertificationsEvery shop handles licensing and certification differently. Some employers require mechanics to have one or more certifications, while other shops do not. It’s important to verify these requirements prior to submitting a job application. Every technician who buys or works with refrigerants has to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA). This requires passing the EPA exam. While no formal preparation is typically required, many training programs address the information covered in the test.
As previously mentioned, the most prominent certification for mechanics is the ASE credential.
ASE certification is available in the following automobile specialty areas:
- Automatic Transmission / Transaxle
- Light Vehicle Diesel Engines
- Electrical / Electronic Systems
- Engine Performance
- Engine Repair
- Heating and Air Conditioning
- Manual Drive Train and Axles
- Suspension and Steering
Mechanics can become certified in any of these areas by obtaining at least two years of experience and passing the associated examination. Relevant academic training can be substituted for a single year of experience if applicable. Those who become certified in all of the aforementioned specialties, excluding light vehicle diesel engine, may earn the title of ASE Master Technician. ASE Master Technicians tend to have more job security and make higher salaries.
Step 4: Continuing Education and License Maintenance
As a general rule, the more skills mechanics have, the higher their earning potential. Continuing training and education is a great way to enhance employment prospects and increase hourly salaries. Additionally, the car industry is constantly changing; staying informed about new makes and models, as well as standard procedures, is incredibly important.
Continuing education opportunities may be found in a wide range of places, including parts suppliers and test-equipment manufacturers. Stakeholder entities like these often offer seminars, on-the-job advice, and troubleshooting suggestions for free or at a discount for clients. Local technical colleges may also offer individual courses or full academic programs that lead to associate degrees. Additionally, many organizations and associations offer continuing education via presentations and resources to their members. At a minimum, school bookstores and libraries are likely to have advanced mechanics textbooks available for purchase or loan.
It’s worth noting that some employers offer continuing education opportunities to their mechanics for free. Many shop owners know the value of up-to-date training and ensure their workers are familiar with the best and latest techniques and technology.
Where Do Mechanics Work?
Automotive service technicians and mechanics often work for automobile dealers, automotive mechanical and electrical repair and maintenance shops, or automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores. Some professionals in this field are also self-employed, opting to manage their own auto shops. Most repair shops are well lit and ventilated but may lack air conditioning at service areas. While diagnostics is usually performed using computers and other electronic equipment, maintenance and repairs generally require the use of greasy tools and auto parts. The nature of the work performed also necessitates mechanics stand or be in potentially uncomfortable positions throughout much of the day.
Work schedules will vary, but most professionals have full-time positions that require evening and weekend shifts. On-call rotations and overtime pay are also common.
Why Become a Mechanic?
There are many reasons to become a mechanic. Benefits include good job stability, less student loan debt, the availability of advancement opportunities, and the ability to work independently or with others. Notably, there will always be a need for automotive service technicians and mechanics. As a result, individuals in this profession can generally find work almost anywhere and will never be let go due to outsourcing.
Mechanics can also boast less student loan debt. While many careers require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions, professionals in this field can find employment after graduating from vocational schools or community colleges. These institutions are significantly less expensive. Additionally, students can often find paid apprenticeships to help supplement expenses while learning the trade. It is also relatively easy to advance in this field. Professionals interested in making more money can become ASE Master Mechanics, who are certified in all nine of the ASE automobile specialty areas. Highly experienced and certified technicians can also choose to start their own businesses.
Some mechanics choose to join professional organizations. There are several options available and each offers a wide variety of perks that can prove beneficial to both current practitioners and students. Students, in particular, can use memberships as a means of learning more about the field and making important connections with other professionals.
While the specific member benefits vary, some of the most common reasons for joining a professional organization include easy access to resources, continuing education, license renewal information, and upcoming events. Organizations and associations also offer excellent networking opportunities, as well as potential job leads. Some groups even offer conferences, during which members can listen to qualified speakers, attend panels, and sign up for classes.
Some of the most popular organizations and associations relevant to mechanics include:
- Automotive Service Association (ASA)
The Automotive Service Association (ASA) is a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to and governed by independent service and repair professionals. Member benefits include opportunities to network with successful shop owners, education and training through the Automotive Management Institute (AMI), industry information and resources, and reduced business costs.
- Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA)
The Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA) serves as a valuable technical resource and industry leader for internal combustion engine rebuilders. Members receive access to technical support, PROSIS PRO engine specification software, specification manuals, automotive machining online training, conferences, grants, special discounts, and the Engine Professional Magazine.
- National Auto Body Council (NABC)
The National Auto Body Council (NABC) strives to develop, implement, and promote community-based initiatives that exemplify the professionalism and integrity of the collision repair industry. Membership distinguishes professionals and shops as committed to giving back to their communities. Members gain access to resources that can help them implement nationally-recognized community service programs.
Career, Salary, and Advancement Outlook
According to PayScale, the average pay for mechanics is $19.53 per hour. According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics was $44,050 in 2020. This is above the median annual wage of $37,690 for all occupations. It’s important to note, however, that most entry-level professionals only make an average of $14.83 per hour. It’s not until after five to nine years of experience that $19.90 becomes the standard hourly wage. Mechanics with 20 or more years of experience can make as much as $24.61 per hour.
Unfortunately, the job outlook for automotive service technicians and mechanics is relatively poor. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects there will be a 4% decrease in job availability between 2019 and 2029. The major reason for this decline is the fact that new vehicles are being built with interconnected sensors, cameras, and instruments that allow for predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics. While basic maintenance and repair tasks must still be performed, the number of working hours required to complete them will likely decrease. Additionally, electric vehicles are becoming more prominent and require less maintenance and repair. Job opportunities will still be available, however, especially to those with extensive training and experience.
Find Mechanic Jobs Near You
Trade Career Paths