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Career Information: Automotive Mechanic

— U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Updated on Mar 13, 2010

What is this job like?     

Automotive service technicians and mechanics fix cars or light trucks that have broken down. They must be able to figure out the source of the problem quickly and correctly. They must know automobiles well.

The type of work they do has changed over the years. It used to be simple mechanical repair. Today it is a high technology job. Cars and trucks today are run by electronic systems and computers. The computers tell the automotive service technicians and mechanics how well the car or truck is performing. To do their job, technicians must know a lot about how complex parts of the car and truck work together. They must be able to work with electronic equipment that tells them what is wrong. They must be able to read and understand manuals and machines that are computer-based. At the same time they must be able to use the power and hand tools they have used in the past. They usually follow a checklist to make sure that they check every critical part, including belts, hoses, plugs, and brake and fuel systems. In fact, there are so many parts to an automobile that some mechanics specialize in fixing only one certain part of it. For example, some technicians will only fix brakes while others will solely work on problems with the air-conditioning system.

Nearly half of all automotive service technicians work more than 40 hours a week. Many who put in long hours work for themselves. Some service shops are open in the evenings and on weekends.

Most service technicians work indoors in repair shops. Many times technicians must work with dirty and greasy parts. They often lift heavy parts and tools. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common. Technicians usually avoid serious accidents when the shop is kept clean and in order. It is also important that they follow safety practices.

How do you get ready?

Automotive technology is becoming more complex. People who want to enter this field should get formal training. You can get this training either in high school or in a vocational school. Some people still learn this trade from helping and learning from experienced workers.

Training programs usually use both classroom instruction and hands-on practice. In some technical and trade schools this training lasts 6 months to a year. In community colleges this training usually lasts 2 years. In addition to automotive training, it also includes other classes like math, English, and computers. When students finish this type of training they get an associate degree or certificate. Some training programs also help their future technicians get the various power and hand tools they need, since technicians may have to provide their own tools once on the job.

Automakers and some car dealers sponsor 2-year programs for students to enter after high school. This leads to an associate degree. Students in these programs usually spend 6 to 12 weeks going to class full time. Then they spend the same number of weeks working for a dealer. While there, they work with someone with lots of experience. It may take several years before a new technician can fix automobiles without supervision.

Employers look for people with strong communication and analytical skills for trainee jobs. Technicians also need good reading, math, and computer skills. They must study technical manuals and may even visit an automobile maker to learn how to repair new autos, so they can keep up with the latest in the field. Trainees also must have mechanical skills and know how cars work.

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