Becoming a Car Mechanic: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a car mechanic career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a car mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Car Mechanic

Car mechanics ensure vehicles function properly by offering repair and maintenance services. Check out these pros and cons to see if being a car mechanic is the right career for you.

Pros of Being a Car Mechanic
Associate degrees or certificates can be enough for entry-level positions*
Average job-growth field (expected 9% from 2012 through 2022)*
Car mechanics can work in many settings (auto repair shops, dealerships, auto retail stores, governments, rental companies, etc.)*
Many areas of specialization (transmission technicians, air-conditioning repairers, etc.)*

Cons of Being a Car Mechanic
Although voluntary, most employers require certification*
Car mechanics often work overtime*
Need to constantly update skills due to changing technology*
Minor on-job injuries are common*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Also called automotive service technicians, car mechanics ensure vehicles function properly by offering repair and maintenance services. Car mechanics perform inspections on malfunctioning cars, using advanced computerized diagnostic tools to find the problem. After making the necessary repairs, mechanics must conduct tests to check for flaws in their work. Car mechanics also perform preventative maintenance such as tire rotations, oil changes and parts replacement. Repair and maintenance services require the use of a variety of tools, including computers, hand tools and heavy power tools.

Career Paths and Specializations

The majority of car mechanics work in auto repair shops, but they might find work anywhere that auto services are needed, including delivery services, dealerships, car leasing companies and local governments. If you want to work at a large repair shop, you might need specialized training and experience in various areas of car repair. Car mechanics can obtain certifications in various specializations, such as heating and air conditioning, suspension, steering, brakes and engine repair, through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

Salary and Job Growth

According to May 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), automotive service technicians and mechanics earned median annual salaries of about $37,000 (www.bls.gov). Annual salaries can vary greatly depending on the industry you work in. For example, mechanics working for auto repair shops had mean annual salaries of around $37,000 in May 2014, while mechanics working for couriers and delivery services earned approximately $63,000.

Since the number of cars being used in the U.S. continues to grow, job opportunities for car mechanics abound. The increasing lifespan of cars should also increase the need for qualified mechanics. The BLS expected that employment in car mechanic positions would increase 9% from 2012-2022. Those with postsecondary education and training in automotive technology should have the best opportunities for employment.

What Are the Requirements?

Car mechanics usually get their start by taking electronics, math, computer and automotive repair classes while in high school. Graduates can then compete formal education or training programs at colleges and technical schools. Some aspiring car mechanics choose to pursue certificates that can be earned in as little as six months, while others earn 2-year associate degrees. To ensure competence in the different areas of auto repair, many employers require certification by the ASE, which covers various areas and requires two years of work experience.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Because the educational requirements for car mechanics are minimal, most employers want mechanics with experience and certifications that demonstrate their working knowledge. Below are a few car mechanic job postings to give you an idea of the education and experience employers were advertising for during March 2012:

  • A car dealership based in Ohio wants an ASE-certified auto technician to diagnose and repair vehicle problems. Candidates must have a 2-year degree or certificate and at least six months of related work experience. The job requires good customer service skills and knowledge of government and dealership regulations.
  • An auto repair shop in West Virginia seeks a candidate with at least five years of experience repairing transmission, brakes, steering, electrical systems, suspension and air conditioning. The technician must have knowledge of shop equipment and attend regular training sessions to stay updated on new technology. ASE certification is preferred but not required.
  • A New York auto retail store is looking for a technician with five years of work experience that includes interacting with customers. The employer prefers candidates with leadership skills and five ASE certifications.
  • A sheriff's office in Florida advertised for an auto mechanic with at least two ASE certifications to repair and maintain police vehicles. Responsibilities included fixing braking and air conditioning systems and using diagnostic tools such as the FORD IDS. The agency prefers candidates who have previously worked on public safety vehicles.

How Can I Stand Out?

The constantly changing design of cars and the growing integration of electronic and computer systems in vehicles has increased the need for car mechanics with technical expertise. Car mechanics can stay in-demand by staying updated on new repair techniques and equipment in their field. Joining a professional organization like the Automotive Service Association not only helps make professional connections but also allows you to become familiar with new technological developments in mechanics. Car mechanics can also stand out in their field by completing an education program accredited by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.

Alternative Career Paths

Aircraft Mechanic

If you love working in the field of mechanics but working on cars doesn't interest you, there are other options. As an aircraft mechanic, you'll have duties similar to those of car mechanics, except you'll be working on airplanes and helicopters. Mechanics working for civilian airlines must have Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification; most employers prefer the Airframe and Powerplant certificate. Aircraft mechanics need at least 2-year degrees or certificates from an FFA-approved technical school, but those with bachelor's degrees have a higher chance of employment. Although the education requirements are similar, aircraft mechanics earned a considerably higher median annual salary of about $55,000 in 2011. However, the expected job growth from 2010-2020 is much lower at only 6%.

Mechanical Engineer

Alternatively, you can become a mechanical engineer. With a median annual salary of approximately $79,000 in 2011, you could use your love of mechanics to research, design, develop and direct the manufacturing of machines and other mechanical products. To guarantee a product is efficient and safe, you will make, test and analyze prototypes. Mechanical engineering does require a bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs.

Industrial Production Manager

If, on the other hand, you prefer a supervisory position, consider becoming an industrial production manager that directs the creation of products such as cars and mechanical equipment. Working in a manufacturing plant, your daily tasks can include finding solutions to production issues, improving efficiency, monitoring workers, training employees and analyzing data. Employers usually require managers to have bachelor's degrees in industrial engineering or business and several years of work experience. Although the educational burden for industrial production managers is greater, they received a higher median annual salary of around $88,000 in 2011.

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