There are about 166,000 automotive body and related repairers in the United States. Job growth statistics indicate this industry will experience little to no change over the next decade. Job applicants with formal training and certification will have little problem finding work. Those who lack formal training, however, will not fare as well.
While not all automotive body repairers need to be certified, employers in urban areas may require certification for repairers to be promoted beyond an entry-level position. Fundamental math and computer proficiency is required, as repairers must be able to read and understand manuals.
Repairers return cars that were in a wreck to pre-accident state. Technicians knock out dents and restore or replace parts that are not repairable. More experienced repairers may prefer to work alone, while others specialize in one area and work as part of a team. First, structural damage must be determined. If the vehicle isn’t aligned, a structural machine using hydraulic pressure is used to straighten it. Repairs can’t be attempted until alignment is corrected. Once all repairs are made, the repairer sands the repair to shape.
If the car contains plastic components and is not too heavily damaged, a repairer might use a hot-air welding gun or extremely hot water to soften the plastic so it can be returned to proper shape. Plastic parts are relatively inexpensive, however; more often, they are removed and replaced.
Body shops use power tools that are very loud. Repairers should wear ear guards to reduce hearing loss. Shops are usually ventilated to remove dust and minimize fumes. The work can be physically demanding, as repairers need to lift and carry awkward or heavy items; crouch, crawl, and reach certain areas; and may have to work in a cramped posture for extended periods of time. If safety rules are followed, serious injury is rare. However, minor or major cuts, burns, or power tool injury are always possible.
The work schedule is usually forty hours per week. Most shops are open weekdays during standard working hours, and many extend their hours into the evening. Shops are also open on Saturdays and some on Sundays, as well.
While certification is not required in all shops, many employers prefer new hires who have been formally trained in automotive body repair. Continuing education is provided by vendors and suppliers. Some shops will hire a repairer with a high school diploma only, but it is difficult to move beyond entry-level work without certification. High schools, vocational schools, and community colleges may offer a program in collision repair consisting of formal classroom work and hands-on exercises. Employers are especially interested in job applicants with a background in physics, chemistry, electronics, English, math, and computer studies. These programs are usually six months to a year, although community colleges might offer a two-year program. Some programs allow students to accumulate individual course certificates for those who prefer to take classes as needed.
On-site training is common. New hires are usually teamed with experienced repairers and act as assistants responsible for tasks like removing panels and sanding repairs. When that has been mastered, the next step is learning to straighten crushed parts and to install new parts. Three to four years of shop work will teach most workers all aspects of the job. Because new cars are constantly being redesigned and built with improved materials, continuing education is necessary.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers certification. Certification requires passing at least one exam, in combination with two years of hands-on experience, either through a job or through formal training. ASE offers four Master Collision Repair and Refinish exams. By passing all four exams, a repairer is certified as an ASE Master Collision Repair and Refinish technician. These exams must be retaken every five years. The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) offers ongoing training for repairers interested in becoming platinum technicians. In addition to these certifications, a number of car manufacturers offer product certification programs. A repairer’s pay is based upon competency, training, experience, and speed. Advancement is possible to shop supervisor or manager. Alternatively, some repairers leave the shop to work as an appraiser for an insurance company.
The median hourly pay for automotive body and related repairers averages $18 per hour; this figure includes incentive pay. Those in the lowest 10 percent in terms of pay earn less than $12 per hour, while those in the highest 10 percent can earn more than $30 per hour. Repairers who work for independent shops and dealers are typically paid an incentive. Tasks are assigned a dollar amount; pay is based upon how many of these tasks were finished. Generally, a minimum salary is guaranteed. Trainees are paid at an hourly wage until they are able to work well enough to earn incentive money. Some shops offer paid leave time, health insurance, and retirement. Benefits are more often offered by dealerships than by independent shop owners.