What's it like being an automotive technician?

automotive_technician1

As an automotive technician, it is your duty to diagnose and fix mechanical issues with vehicles.

Automotive technicians are service professionals who repair, inspect, and maintain both commercial and privately-owned vehicles. Not only do they provide repair services, they also discuss mechanical issues with their customers to better inform, as well as to build a trusting relationship. In larger companies, auto mechanics may have a single mode of expertise like brakes, engines, or transmissions. However, most automotive technician jobs require a general knowledge of all the mechanical components of a vehicle. If you're interested in beginning your career as an automotive technician, here's a guide to help you understand if the position is right for you.

What Does an Automotive Technician Do?

Responsibilities

As an automotive technician, it is your duty to diagnose and fix mechanical issues with vehicles. This most often concerns mechanical components, but due to the advancement of technology in modern cars, more electrical knowledge is necessary. Responsibilities on the job tend to remain relatively similar for most companies, but specialized positions are also available. Some of your responsibilities may include:

  • Running diagnostics and testing parts to identify the source of automotive mechanical problems
  • Completing preventative maintenance on vehicles including tire rotations, oil changes, filter replacement, and any other pertinent repair
  • Providing advice to customers on how to improve their car care
  • Following any state laws regarding emissions, safety, and other standards
  • Using personal knowledge to disassemble and reassemble parts
  • Using warranties, replacement parts, and personal experience to keep costs to a minimum
  • Providing and writing a general estimate to customers
  • Using customer satisfaction skills to establish a trusting relationship with clients
  • Maintaining a steady supply of parts by keeping inventory and ordering as necessary
  • Working with other mechanics to help diagnose problems and decide the best course of action
  • Being familiar with any and all tools necessary for repairs, including power tools
  • Following rigorous checklists to ensure that every aspect of the car receives an inspection
  • Taking continued education classes to further mechanical knowledge on late-model vehicles
  • Learning how to do repairs on electric, hybrid, diesel, and gasoline-powered automobiles
  • If required, taking phone calls for appointments, as well as providing updates on progress to customers

Work Environment

Most mechanics spend a majority of their time working in a garage; although at times, they may have to work in an office setting or at a job site.

Mechanics employed by a repair shop or dealership typically work in a garage throughout the day. However, it's an unusual setting compared to almost any other job. During repair work, automotive technicians are consistently in uncomfortable or tight settings, as necessitated by the task at hand. In addition, most tools used in an auto shop are loud, and thus, ear protection is often required. Noxious liquids and gases are present in most garages, as well, requiring proper ventilation or, in extreme cases, a breathing apparatus.

Safety is another important aspect of working as an automotive technician. To complete tasks, workers need to use lifts to work underneath heavy vehicles, presenting safety hazards. Technicians also use highly pressurized pneumatic and hydraulic tools, so safety training and following safety protocols are highly stressed. Along with other equipment, it's common for automotive technicians to suffer minor injuries such as cuts, scrapes, and bruises, especially to their hands.

In the office, mechanics help answer phones when necessary and talk to customers about the nature of the vehicle problem. Often, this necessitates taking the client into the garage to show exactly what's wrong with the car. In turn, this helps gain customer trust, which is something many in the industry strive to achieve. Other technicians, typically self-employed, offer services at the location of the vehicle, especially if the car is completely disabled. These workers must have their own tools to complete the job on site, rather than in the comfort of a garage. However, in most cases, buying and using tools is a tax-deductible business expense.

What Are An Automotive Technician's Required Qualifications?

Education

The educational requirements for an automotive technician vary depending on the type of expertise needed for the position. Most of the time, employers require a basic level of mechanical knowledge, although many expect a specialized knowledge in particular components or a specific car brand. Automotive technicians typically have certifications or an associate's degree on top of a high school diploma. Some areas of study and qualifications include:

  • A two-year associate's degree of applied science (AAS) in Automotive Maintenance or Automotive Technology
  • Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Excellence (ASE-Certified, must have two years on-the-job experience to apply)
  • Become a Master Automobile Technician by passing all eight ASE exams
  • State-required licensing exams, if applicable
  • Brand-specific certification (Ford, BMW, etc.)
  • Information Technology
  • Management
  • Business Administration

In addition to this education and certification, automotive technicians also require on-the-job training to align themselves with the procedures, ethics, and operations of the employer. They may also receive training on equipment that is new or unfamiliar to them.

Experience

When automotive technicians begin their education, they are under the guidance of a teacher that helps guide them through a series of hands-on lessons, and eventually, exams. Once a candidate graduates from an accredited program, they usually work for two years as an apprentice to a seasoned, veteran technician. During these two years, the new technician does basic repairs, while also learning more complex tasks.

As an automotive technician gains more knowledge, he or she takes on more responsibility. The quicker and more proficient the automotive technician gets, the better the pay rate. Data indicates that 27 percent of automotive technicians have between 6 and 10 years of experience, 18 percent have 11 to 15 years, and 12 percent have 16 to 20 years on the job. With over 20 years under the hood, the most experienced technicians comprise 19 percent of the workforce, while those with 0 to 5 years make up 24 percent.

These numbers indicate that while experience is highly valued in the industry, newcomers shouldn't feel uncomfortable about potential job prospects.

Skills

Although mechanical and tool knowledge are the most crucial skills for an automotive technician, there are extra attributes that help job performance and employment opportunities. Here are some of the skills that employers look for when hiring an automotive technician:

  • Tool Knowledge
    • Manual tools such as screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, and vise grips
    • Power tools such as drills, pneumatic tools, etc.
  • Problem Solving – Quickly assessing the best possible avenue for fixing a problem, especially under time constraints or high pressure
  • Customer Service – Communicating with customers to build rapport, as well as discussing the diagnosis and repairs necessary
  • Work Ethic – Have the will power to work long shifts, especially when business is heavy
  • Product Knowledge – Have an up-to-date knowledge of all existing and new products on the market, as well as when to use them
  • Technical Aptitude – Knowing which tool to use to help diagnose and fix a problem
  • Strong Verbal Communication Skills – Going hand-in-hand with customer service, a technician must also have the ability to turn complex mechanical ideas, words, and phrases into layman's terms for the average customer.

How Much Do Automotive Technicians Make?

Entry-level automotive technicians with no experience on the job earn an average of $20,800 annually, or $10 per hour. Once a person has two years on the job and obtains a certification, earning potential rises significantly. The national average wage of an automotive technician is about $46,900, while the top earners in the field earned an annual salary of about $62,300.

Different markets also cause wages to fluctuate. For example, the highest paying average salaries are in Houston, Austin, Phoenix, and Baltimore. In each of these cities, candidates make salaries over $36,000 per year.

For more info on how much you can expect to make as an automotive technician, check out these insights.

What Is an Automotive Technician's Job Outlook?

Projected Growth

From 2013 to 2014, the automotive technician profession grew by 2 percent, making it one of the top 10 fastest growing transportation jobs in the country. Also, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive technician job growth is expected to rise 5 percent over the next 10 years, adding 39,100 jobs to the industry. Car dealerships and independent auto shops are the main reason for the job increase.

Career Trajectory

Automotive technicians who excel at their job have great opportunities for advancement, specifically those who share a superior mechanical knowledge, as well as customer service skills. Most of the time, this leads to employment as a master mechanic. Although this job still requires many of the skills as an automotive technician, it also adds a management element, making the master mechanic responsible for the work of all other employees.

Another path that the best automotive technicians take is the one to self-employment. Although there's far more risk involved with starting a business, the payoff is much more money than one would make as an employee, plus the additional benefit of freedom to run the business how they see fit.

If you love working with your hands, building, and problem solving, becoming an automotive technician is a great option. To make matters easier, it requires less formal education than most other jobs, yet still has the potential to become a rewarding career. Start your search for an automotive technician job today.