Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

There are about 750,000 automotive service technicians and mechanics working in the United States. In terms of job growth, automotive and service technicians and mechanics will face a slower than average growth over the next decade. However, those with formal training and experience will not have difficulty finding work.
Mechanics must undergo continuing training to keep pace with changes in automobile technology. Many employers prefer job applicants who have been formally trained and have experience working on cars.

  • Automotive service technicians and mechanics maintain gas or electric-powered cars. In addition to basic maintenance, such as oil changes and fluid checks, they must be able to diagnose specific problems.
  • Because newer vehicles are built with integrated electronic and computer systems, mechanics must be familiar with computerized equipment and electronic components in addition to hand tools. Some problems are common and can be diagnosed based upon the owner’s description.
  • More complex issues are diagnosed step by step. If basic system components are functioning, the technician locates the source of the problem, often with a hand-held computerized tool. Sometimes parts can be repaired; in other cases, it is more cost efficient to simply replace them.

In addition to computerized hand-held devices and traditional hand tools, mechanics use pneumatic wrenches, lathes, grinding machines, welding tools, and hoists. Often, a mechanic is expected to provide his own hand tools while the company purchases power tools, engine analyzers, and costly tools for diagnostics.

Many larger repair shops have technicians who specialize in one or more areas. These specialists must be familiar with complex automotive technology and understand computers that operate vehicle systems. Tune-up technicians use electronic equipment to locate ignition, fuel, and emissions-control issues. They adjust timing and valves, replace spark plugs, and check fluid levels. Service technicians and mechanics specializing in vehicle air-conditioning, which uses refrigerants, are required to undergo training that meets regulations set by both the federal government and most states. Steering and suspension issues are handled by front-end mechanics.

While many technicians and mechanics work a standard forty-hour workweek, if the shop is open evenings or weekends, employees might be expected to be available at other times to put in overtime if necessary. Most repair shops are well lit and sufficiently ventilated. Lifting heavy toolboxes, carrying large components, and yanking stuck parts, as well as twisting or crouching into awkward positions can contribute to muscle or ligament pain. Although most repair centers are sufficiently ventilated, the fumes and chemicals used might cause discomfort for anyone with asthma or other breathing problems.

As more and more employers are looking for certified mechanics, a job applicant with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is in a better position than one who lacks it. Vocational training in automotive technology is also considered a plus. Those who studied automotive repair in high school may require additional training. However, high school graduates who participated in Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES), a team effort between high school vehicle classes, car manufacturers, and franchised dealers, are eligible for certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Even with training, most mechanics will work for two to five years before becoming a fully qualified service technician. Expertise in transmission repair and other specialties can take another year to achieve. Frequently, employers ensure their technicians are up-to-date by sending them to manufacturer-training centers. Another source of additional training is factory representatives who come to the shop to present a training session.
Employers look for new hires that can arrive at a logical diagnosis quickly and correctly, are able to read manuals, and have the basic math and computer skills required to decipher technical manuals. Technicians and mechanics must also have knowledge of electronics since most automotive malfunctions are caused by electronic components. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certification in electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and steering, and heating or air-conditioning is expected by many employers, particularly those in urban centers. Certification requires a minimum of two years experience, in addition to passing a test. To become certified as a master automobile technician, mechanics must successfully pass all eight tests. Advancement is easiest for those who have certification and substantial experience. Those who also have administration ability are clear communicators, and work well with people might be promoted to supervisor or service manager.

The median hourly salary for automotive service technicians and mechanics is around $17.50 per hour. Those in the lowest 10 percent in terms of pay earn around $10 per hour, while those in the top 10 percent earn nearly $30 per hour.

Some experienced mechanics working for automobile dealers or independent repair shops earn a commission that is a percentage of the customer’s labor cost. In these cases, paychecks reflect the amount of work a mechanic completed as a commission, in addition to a flat weekly guarantee. While benefits like health insurance are offered by some companies, many do not provide such perks.