According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for automotive technicians and mechanics in 2020 was $46,760. To become a mechanic, you must complete some post-secondary education or training. These programs cost $5,000 to $20,000 in full — much less than tuition for a traditional bachelor's degree, which can cost that much in just a year.

Learning how to become a mechanic can help you decide which career moves are right for you.

Did You Know?

What's the difference between a mechanic and an automotive technician? The term "mechanic" could mean anyone who knows how to build and fix the inner workings of a vehicle or another machine. Auto technicians have these capabilities, along with the training to diagnose and solve problems in today's increasingly computerized cars.

Most training, education, and certification programs refer to this occupation as an "automotive technician" or auto technician in professional circles.

What Does a Mechanic Do?

Mechanic Careers Basic

Automotive mechanics inspect, repair, and maintain vehicles. They have a strong understanding of automotive parts and functions, and they often use diagnostic software or other tools to assess vehicles.

Steps to Becoming a Mechanic

If you're serious about becoming a mechanic, you will need formal education and in-depth training to compete in the automotive field. These steps provide an overview of what it takes.

Step 1
Do Some Homework

Career mechanics have physically demanding jobs. Plus, they must dedicate time to improving and continuously learning about new technology. Before you commit to the vocation, here are a few ways to make sure you're ready:

  • Read up: Read popular car magazines for consumers, like Car and Driver, and publications for technicians, like Auto Service Professional. Find car service manuals and read them cover to cover. See if these technical details interest you and if you can remember the information.
  • Practice: If you grew up fixing cars, you have a head start. If not, practice on your car if you have one.
  • Help out: Ask around at local repair shops to see if they will let you do some work without education and certification. You might start with detailing work — vacuuming, cleaning, and washing cars. It will give you a chance to experience the job environment and ask the pros questions.
Step 2
Complete a High School Education

Most employers want applicants with a high school diploma or equivalency. This credential shows them that you have the basic math, science, and reasoning knowledge you'll need for the job. In most states, you can complete the GED tests in a few months for around $80 to $140.

Step 3
Complete a Mechanic Training Program

You have options when it comes to selecting an education program. Here are some:

These schools offer certificates and diplomas. Some trade schools partner with high schools, so you can train for your career while earning your high school degree.

Community colleges frequently offer both certificate programs and two-year associate degrees in automotive technology. Some offer a four-year bachelor's degree program in auto service management.

Mechanics in the military train on many engines and parts. After your training, you'll leave with top-notch experience — but not a degree. However, you can earn a degree by taking supplemental classes, and G.I. bill-approved programs will cover the cost of your tuition.

These stand-alone schools teach aspiring mechanics what they need to know to enter the workforce upon graduation. You'll build your knowledge in hands-on courses and earn a certificate or diploma when you finish the program.

Step 4
Become Entry-Level Certified

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) develops tests for automotive technicians to demonstrate their expertise in various specialties. The ASE entry-level certification consists of eight tests. It covers:

  • Engine repair
  • Brakes
  • Electrical systems
  • Suspension
  • Steering

You don't need experience to take the entry-level test. So, take the test during or after your educational program — whenever you think you're ready. You can also take practice tests and follow test-prep checklists on the ASE's website.

Step 5
Complete an Apprenticeship or Internship

Some mechanics complete apprenticeships, but not all do. An associate degree program will likely require you to participate in an internship or other fieldwork for a semester.

Suppose a major car dealership hires you as an entry-level mechanic. In that case, you may need to work as an apprentice for eight weeks or more before earning the automotive technician title.

Step 5
Get Hired as a Mechanic

According to the BLS, about a third of car mechanics work at dealerships. Another third work at repair shops.

In either environment, you'll start working on less diagnostic and more predictable projects, like changing oil and lubricant and assisting certified technicians. You will need one to two years of work experience before becoming eligible to take the ASE certification exam.

Step 6
Become a Certified Professional Technician

You can take the ASE test series to become a certified professional technician after two years of combined experience and education. (That is, you can work for two years or complete a one-year degree and one year of training.) The ASE label signifies that you have the foundational experience and knowledge for work as an automotive technician.

Step 7
Keep Learning

Technology changes quickly, especially when it comes to cars. As an automotive mechanic, you'll need to keep up with the latest developments. Continue learning throughout your career by attending training and conferences, joining committees, and participating in industry networking events.

Mechanic Salaries and Job Growth

State
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Projections Central, a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored website.

Top 10 areas with the highest job growth:

  1. Utah: 25.4%
  2. Guam: 10.7%
  3. Nevada: 9.7%
  4. Idaho: 9%
  5. Texas: 8.1%
  6. Colorado: 7.8%
  7. Iowa: 6.9%
  8. Alaska: 5.8%
  9. South Carolina: 5.5%
  10. South Dakota: 5.2%

Career Paths for Mechanics

Start as an Entry-Level Mechanic, Helper, or Apprentice

You can start your experience in a few different ways. For example, you may:

  • Begin doing detailing work at a dealer or repair shop while you complete your education.
  • Start an internship or apprenticeship after you complete an associate degree.
  • Train in the military.
Specialize in your career

With on-the-job training, you can specialize in a type of vehicle. Specialized mechanic roles include:

  • Motorcycle mechanic
  • Diesel engine mechanic
  • Aircraft technician
  • Heavy-duty equipment mechanic
Become ASE-Certified as a Professional Technician

After two years of combined education and experience, you can become ASE-certified. This displays your experience to employers and customers and positions you to become a certified master technician.

Master your trade

Master automotive technicians pass each certification test in an ASE-designated testing series. For example, to become a master automotive technician in automobiles and light trade, you must pass all nine ASE A-series tests. Other series you can master include:

Hone your craft by gaining experience, mentoring others, and holding yourself accountable to learn and improve.

Manage operations and other technicians

With an associate degree and experience, you can advance from technician to foreperson at a repair shop. The shop foreperson oversees technicians in a shop and helps them with more challenging procedures.

From there, you can continue to move up in management by becoming a service manager. Service managers supervise all service procedures for the dealership or shop.

Courses in Mechanic Programs

Below are some of the courses you can expect in any education program for automotive technology.

Course Objectives
Introduction to automotive technology
  • Identify common problems
  • Handle basic repairs
  • Get to know industry certifications
  • Learn and practice shop safety
Engines
  • Understand diesel and gas engine components and functions
  • Take engines apart and reassemble them
Electrical systems
  • Learn about lights, dashboards, cruise control, and other electronic systems of a car
  • Identify electrical issues and how to repair them
Transmission diagnostics
  • Learn about hydraulic and electrical testing procedures
  • Test and troubleshoot automatic transmissions
Alternative-fueled and hybrid vehicles
  • Study electric and hybrid vehicle technology
  • Handle unique repair and maintenance situations
  • Understand technology changes in the broader societal context

In addition, associate degree programs require completing general education requirements (for example, writing, biology, and statistics) and some of the following shops or electives:

Course Objectives
Automotive mechanics technology
  • Understand the history of automobiles in modern life
  • Learn about technological shifts that can predict the future of automotive repair and maintenance
Automotive service management
  • Study operations, management strategies, financial considerations, and regulatory responsibilities of running an auto repair business
  • Learn how to handle human resources and customer relations
Shop, internship, or fieldwork
  • Practice what you've learned in class with hands-on assignments

Pro Tips on Becoming a Mechanic

Editor's note: We've edited these tips for clarity and length.

Scott Hadzik
Scott Hadzik
Scott Hadzik, B.S., M.S., and ASE-certified Master Automotive Technician, started his career as a U.S. Air Force aircraft technician. Twenty years later, he’s Weber State University’s Automotive Technology Department chair. Hadzik offers tips he learned from two decades in the field.
What's your advice for someone considering a career as an auto technician?

First, getting your own set of tools can be very beneficial. It can even help you start your first job. Most tool manufacturers offer some pretty heavy discounts. Snap-on, Matco, and Mac are the big ones, but there are quite a few others.

Also, you'll want to consider formal training. It's going to give you a step up and help you become a technician faster.

What should interested individuals look for in a program?

Today, more manufacturers are committing to electric vehicles. But not all programs are ready to prepare technicians for that. You should look for that type of training in your program.

What skills or qualities does an auto technician need to get hired?

When service managers are hiring, they're looking for mechanical aptitude and capabilities. At the same time, with the way that modern manufacturing has improved, today's technicians spend more time diagnosing vehicles and spotting issues in electrical systems. So, managers want to hire people with troubleshooting skills and strong mental problem-solving abilities.

How can an automotive technician advance their career later in life?

Later on, you might find that you still have the passion for the career, but the physical requirements are too demanding. At that point, you can earn a bachelor's degree and work directly for manufacturers as a field service engineer. The job works between the car engineer and the technician at the dealership. You still get a chance to fix things, but you're called in for really tough challenges. It comes with a higher salary and oftentimes a company car.

Getting Financial Help with Your Mechanic Program

Scholarships for Mechanic Programs

Below are a few national scholarships to pursue your education in automotive technology. Also, be sure to request information from the Collision Repair Education Foundation and browse Automotive Aftermarket Scholarships Central for local opportunities.

TechForce Foundation Scholarships

  • Who qualifies: You must be a U.S. citizen with a high school diploma or GED. You must also demonstrate financial need.
  • Deadline: This varies. But you should complete an application while you're in your program or up to four months before you plan to start.
  • Other important information: The TechForce Foundation will show you scholarship opportunities you're eligible for based on your school and financial need. To get started, you must create and submit a general application first to the TechForce Foundation.

SEMA Education Scholarships

  • Who qualifies: You must be at least 18 and a U.S. citizen.
  • Amount: Up to $5,000
  • Deadline: Before March 1, annually
  • Other important information: SEMA Education also offers loan forgiveness for graduates who are employed at their partner companies.

Federal Grants for Mechanic Programs

Federal Pell Grant

  • Who qualifies: Determine if you're eligible by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)
  • Amount: This varies depending on your situation. The maximum amount in the 2021-2022 school year was $6,495
  • Deadline: June 30, annually

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

  • Who qualifies: Determine if you're eligible by completing the FAFSA
  • Amount: $400-$1000, depending on your school and financial need
  • Deadline: June 30, annually

Mechanic School and Career Resources

The Automotive Service Association (ASA)

This non-profit trade association hosts trainings, webinars, podcasts, and other educational events for members. It also advocates on behalf of the automotive repair industry and its workforce.

The National Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP)

AASP provides resources for employers in the automotive industry, such as continuing education, training, lobbying, and more services to support their customers and employees.

ASE Education Foundation

The ASE's Education Foundation supports entry-level mechanics preparing for the certifying tests and growing in their careers.

Related Careers at a Glance

Not sure that working as a mechanic is the right path? Many careers can allow you to pursue your passion for engines, electronics, and highly hands-on work.

Electricians

  • Growth rate: 8%
  • Average salary: $61,550
  • Education/training required: Apprenticeship

Mechanical Engineer

  • Growth rate: 4%
  • Average salary: $95,560
  • Education/training required: Bachelor's degree

HVAC Technician

  • Growth rate: 4%
  • Average salary: $53,410
  • Education/training required: Certificate or associate degree and apprenticeship

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