How many of us know what we are looking at when we pop the hood of a vehicle? Most of us see a mass of wires, belts and parts that make little sense. A mechanic sees something very different: A puzzle of pieces that fit together just as they should. Understanding that puzzle can help them narrow down the options, diagnose the problem, and have you back on the road as soon as possible. But figuring out how to understand what goes on under the hood doesn’t always come naturally – it requires serious education and training. That’s where mechanic school comes in.
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Talent and an affinity for engines are musts for aspiring mechanics. Those who are serious about creating a strong career must turn to formal education and in-depth training in order to work in the competitive automotive field. These steps provide an overview of what it takes.
The certainty that working on vehicles is a great career path is one thing – knowing exactly where to take that dream is another. Look into the various possibilities, from working in a busy shop to training on vehicles that require a site-visit to diagnose and fix. Once the focus is narrowed, it will be easier to move to the next step.
Completing a post-secondary program in automotive service technology offers strong preparation that employers recognize and appreciate. It is also important to note that some certifications require a background of formal education, so it pays to go to class. Programs might last from six months to a year for a certificate, or two years for an associate degree. Some rare programs offer the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Though formal education will result in a great deal of knowledge and hands-on experience, on-the-job training is usually required after graduation. The length and intensity of that training depends upon many factors, including how specialized the work is.
Certification through the National Institute for Automotive Excellence is the standard for mechanics. It is available in nine different areas, including brakes, engine repair, heating and air conditioning, manual drive train and axles, suspension, steering, electrical systems, engine performance, light vehicle diesel engines and automatic transmission.
Technologies change fast, so it’s very important to keep up with the latest techniques and engine features. Though hands-on training can be helpful with this, so can taking courses that focus strongly on particular features or changes. This learning will continue throughout a mechanic’s career.
Mechanics inspect, repair and maintain vehicles. However, there is much more to the job than meets the eye.
Mechanics must have a strong knowledge of automotive parts, as well as how those parts work together. They must also have the ability to use diagnostic software and tools to figure out what might be wrong, especially with engines that rely heavily on computers. They have to be able to explain what they are doing in layman’s terms, so that anyone can understand the problem and how it will be fixed.
Depending upon their specializations or chosen areas of expertise, mechanics might work with vehicles of all kinds, from light trucks and cars to large construction vehicles. They might also work with only certain parts of vehicles; for instance, a mechanic might specialize in air conditioning, brakes or transmissions. Though they usually work in repair shops, some might go to a remote site to work on engines.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive service technicians made a median wage of $37,850 in 2015, with the upper 10 percent making $63,330. How does that translate to expected salaries in various states? This salary map allows aspiring mechanics to compare geographical areas to determine the highest-paying areas.
The BLS reports expected job growth of five percent for automobile service technicians and mechanics, which is slightly lower than the average for all occupations. However, some states might see higher growth than the national average. This job growth tool can help mechanics decide where the fastest-growing jobs might be.
|Diploma or Certificate||Associate Degree||Apprenticeship|
|Curriculum Focus||Very targeted toward automotive service technicians, with no general education classes; however, some might include courses in management or business.||The degree can include general education courses that allow students to prepare for the bachelor’s degree; the applied associate is more targeted and prepares students to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.||Hands-on training allows aspiring mechanics to learn the ropes, grow their body of knowledge, enhance their techniques and choose which areas they want to specialize in.|
|Program Duration||Six months to one year||Usually two years of full-time study||Dependent upon the particular program; might last for a few months to a few years|
|Benefits||Gets graduates into the workforce quickly, or allows those who are already practicing mechanics to improve their skill and knowledge base.||Offers a well-rounded education that can serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree program.||Allows students to begin work immediately. Almost all work will be hands-on, though there might be some required reading outside of the workplace.|
|Disadvantages||Doesn’t provide the well-rounded education that students get with a college degree.||Takes at least two years to complete; students who are attending full-time might not be able to continue with full-time work during their years of study.||Doesn’t provide formal education, which is valued by some potential employers.|
Where are the programs that will open doors to mechanic careers? Below is a list of the places to receive mechanic training.
These schools often have programs dedicated to those who want to work with engines, including general mechanic courses or more targeted ones. Students can begin study at a vocational school as early as their high school years, and can continue that education to earn a certificate or diploma.
The military is always in need of someone to work on the vehicles used to move troops and supplies. Mechanics in the military get a crash-course in a wide variety of engines and parts. Though they might not earn a certificate or degree, their skills at the completion of their service are expected to be top-notch.
Those who are seeking an associate degree can turn to community colleges, where two-year programs are the norm. Students who complete the associate might be well-prepared for entering a bachelor’s degree program; those who choose the applied associate route will be ready to dive into the workforce upon graduation.
These specialized, stand-alone schools do one thing only: Teach aspiring mechanics what they need to know. Classroom work helps students enhance their knowledge, while hands-on courses focus on improving their skills. Mechanic school usually leads to a certificate or diploma.
Students will find two common paths to becoming a mechanic: The certificate program or the associate degree. Though there are some bachelor’s degree programs, these are quite rare; therefore, the focus of this section is on the most popular options.
These programs typically take between a few months and a year to complete. A general certificate can help students learn how to diagnose, repair and maintain a wide variety of vehicles; some specialized certificates focus on a particular type of engine, vehicle or parts of that vehicle. For instance, students might choose to pursue a certificate in diesel mechanics, ignition and computer systems, fuel injection systems and more.
Even in a more specialized program, some general courses will be needed. Below are some of the more common courses students may expect to find in mechanic school.
This course provides a strong overview of vehicle systems and how they work together, as well as common problems and repairs that might be needed.
A look at how diesel engines are different from gasoline, electric or hybrid engines, as well as troubleshooting the common repair and maintenance issues found with diesel-powered vehicles.
Delves into the electrical systems of vehicles, including how those systems interact with other components, the unique methods for diagnosing issues, and common repairs.
Looks at the theoretical and practical issues concerning fuel and emissions, analysis of fuel system components, government regulations, and testing and service procedures.
The associate degree in automotive service technology focuses on not only courses specific to mechanical work, but also offers those in business and management, preparing students to work in a repair shop or run their own auto service business. Some programs also include general education courses, allowing students the option of transferring their credits to a bachelor’s degree program. The following are some common courses found in associate degree programs across the nation.
Reviews transmissions and transaxles and includes electronic control system theory, electronic testing procedures, hydraulics overhaul, adaptive shift changes and more.
A historical overview of how mechanic technology has changed, the place of automobiles in modern life, and technology shifts that have been instrumental in creating, repairing and maintaining vehicles.
A survey of operations, management strategies, financial considerations, regulatory responsibilities and customer relations integral to the proper running of an automotive repair business.
Focuses on electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and those that run on alternative fuels, such as bio-diesel, as well as the repairs and maintenance unique to each.
In 2014, a record 235 million vehicles were on the road in the United States, according to IHS automotive. That bodes very well for mechanics. However, the number of typical passenger vehicles only scratches the surface of the many mechanic careers available. These specializations for mechanics allow them to show off their skills in other areas.
A general mechanic has a wide breadth of knowledge that allows them to work on a variety of vehicles, including light trucks and cars, as well as some specialty engines. They inspect, diagnose, repair and maintain vehicles for clients.
These mechanics work on the smaller engines of motorcycles, and might also work with the engines of other smaller vehicles, such as mopeds, scooters, dirt bikes and the like. Work might include everything from repairing minor problems to a complete overhaul and restoration of engines and motorcycle bodies.
These mechanics work with diesel engines in some of the largest vehicles on the road, including tractor-trailers, buses and large work trucks. Their work often takes place in dedicated diesel engine shops, but they might also work on location, going to the scene where a truck or bus has broken down and is in need or urgent repair.
These mechanics are trained to handle anything that might go wrong with recreational vehicles, including travel trailers. In addition to working with engines and related systems, these mechanics can also handle the appliances, generators and interior components that are common in recreational vehicles.
This work requires in-depth knowledge of various farm equipment and vehicles, including combines, harvesters, tractors, dairy equipment and irrigation machines. Mechanics might work in a dedicated shop or might travel to farms to handle problems with large equipment that cannot easily be transported.
What does it take to be a great mechanic? These skills, credentials and technology can help pave the way to a long and satisfying career.
Sometimes the problem is as small as a broken bolt or a loose fan belt. Mechanics with an intense attention to detail can spot the little things that make the difference between a five-minute issue and a lengthy repair.
Most mechanics will be in contact with the public, explaining to weary vehicle owners exactly what went wrong with their vehicle and how it will be fixed. Understanding how to handle customers, especially when they are irate about repairs, is a key ingredient for success.
Mechanics should be able to quickly narrow down what might be the problem, then use the proper diagnostic tools and technology to confirm their hunch.
Working with engines often means working with tiny parts. Good hand-eye coordination and a steady hand, especially when working in small or tight spaces, is essential.
Occasionally a mechanic will need to lift heavy components or put a great deal of ‘muscle’ into loosening a part. Physical strength and endurance can mean less risk of injury.
ASE Certification: Offered by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, this premiere certification is available in nine areas:
Those who pass certification in all nine areas can earn the ASE Master Technician credential.
Credentials are available that focus on a certain vehicle type, engine or system. A few examples include:
Not sure that working as a mechanic is the right path? There are several related careers that can put a love of engines and vehicles to work.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Mechanic certificate and degree program holders sometimes go on to pursue careers as diesel service technicians, small engine mechanics, and automotive body and glass repairers. The data below is for mechanic-related professions.
The AMRA works to enhance and strengthen the relationship between the mechanic and the consumer through the proper resources and training.
This organization works for enhance the service experience through professionalism and excellence in automotive work.
NAASP is a coalition of associations that serve the automotive industry; it promotes strategic alliances and common business interests, as well as provides information on current legislation.
NATEF is dedicated to improving the automotive repair industry through accreditation of worthy programs.
This is the premiere organization for testing and certification of mechanics and automotive technicians.
Choosing a mechanic school can be a daunting prospect, as there are quite a few options vying for students. This search tool narrows down those options by state and degree level, and even offers a field for searching by school name.