Automobile Mechanics (AM) or Auto Mechanics, also known as Automobile Technicians (AT), inspect, repair and maintain automobiles and other vehicles that are powered by gasoline (including diesel), electricity, or alternative fuels such as ethanol. Auto Mechanics and Technicians are responsible for identifying and repairing problems with cars and trucks and doing repairs and preventive maintenance to insure the customer's vehicle is in good condition and running smoothly and safely.
The job duties of an automobile mechanic have changed significantly in the past few decades as car and truck engines have become increasingly more sophisticated and run by complex electrical and computer systems. As a reflection of these changing job duties, workers who service automobiles are now usually called technicians rather than mechanics. Because of the evolution of this profession, auto mechanic schools play a critical role in training a future mechanic and preparing them for a successful career.
An automobile technician must have a combination of skills that allow them to do traditional tune-ups and maintenance using hand tools to keep a car running efficiently and also more complex repair projects that involve electrical components and computer controlled systems.
All automobiles require routine maintenance at scheduled intervals recommended by the manufacturer. While performing routine service on a vehicle a technician will test all engine components and features using computerized diagnostic systems. Technicians will use the maintenance schedule provided by the automobile maker as a checklist to ensure that they have inspected all parts that could cause a car to breakdown. Repair or replacement of parts that are not functioning properly would be performed as part of this inspection. Parts that might be looked at during this routine maintenance include brake systems, belts, plugs, hoses, and fluids such as oil and anti-freeze.
When a customer is experiencing a mechanical problem with their automobile the technician will get a description of the problem from the car owner or in a larger dealership or repair shop from a customer service advisor who spoke directly to the customer. As most automobile owners are not skilled in performing maintenance and repairs on their own vehicle they might have difficulty providing a clear, accurate description of the problem they are experiencing. Automobile technicians work closely with the customer to ask questions about the problem the customer is experiencing and then take a diagnostic approach to repairing the vehicle.
An auto mechanic will usually follow these steps in inspecting and repairing a vehicle:
- Perform diagnostics on all computer systems and electrical components to ensure they are functioning properly
- Test drive the vehicle
- Use computerized testing devices to check operating systems of the vehicle
- Review the manufacturers technical manuals/bulletins and software packages for deviations to the benchmarks and standards set by the manufacturer
- Make accurate estimates of the time required to repair vehicle and the cost of replacement/new parts
- Perform needed repairs according to manufacturers specifications and industry standards
Auto Mechanics can choose to work in a small repair shop where they would perform a combination of maintenance and repair work, from tune-ups and oil changes to repairing electrical and computer systems, replacing brake systems, and repairing heating and cooling systems. In larger repair shops or automobile dealer service centers, automobile technicians often become specialized in one type of repair such as a transmission specialist or air-conditioning repairer. A transmission technician repairs or rebuilds the gears, hydraulic pumps and other parts of the transmission. This requires experience and extensive knowledge of computer systems and the ability to solve complex electrical and hydraulic problems.
An air-conditioning repair technician is responsible for installing and repairing the systems that keep the driver and their passengers cool in warm weather. In addition to knowledge of computer systems as is required to be a successful transmission technician, the air-conditioning technician must also be knowledgeable about state and federal regulations that pertain to the use and disposal of chemicals and refrigerants used when repairing an air-conditioning system as these materials can pose a hazard to the environment and the physical health of the technician.
To successfully service or maintain a vehicle automobile technicians use a variety of tools as part of their daily work. They use power and electrical tools such as welding equipment to repair exhaust systems, jacks to lift a vehicle and machine tools to rebuild brakes. They also use more traditional hand tools that many people have in their homes such as wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers.
Computers have become a common tool in almost all modern repair shops or dealership service centers. These high-tech systems are needed as most systems in an automobile such as steering, brakes, or transmission are now controlled by computers. Many cars also contain sophisticated entertainment systems such as DVD and CD players, global positioning systems or onboard assistance/concierge services that might contain Internet capabilities so technicians will be expected to become more knowledgeable and comfortable repairing these computer-driven systems.
While most auto mechanics work indoors in well-ventilated areas their work is still physically demanding as they are often in awkward positions and cramped spaces to access hard-to-reach areas of the car's engine or other systems. Technicians are often subjected to ongoing noise due to the tools/equipment being used. Mechanics must also pay close attention to their personal safety and that of their co-workers as well as customers who might be in the repair area due to the oil, grease, and other chemicals needed to maintain and repair the vehicles.
These materials might cause a physical reaction in people who are sensitive to smells and odors and also present a danger of falls if the materials leak and cause the ground to become slippery. Minor bruises or cuts are also common but with proper safety procedures most technicians avoid more serious incidents. Technicians must be physically strong and able to lift heavy parts and supplies which are found in most cars.
When first entering the automobile technician profession as an apprentice most mechanics must purchase a variety of hand-tools including wrenches, screwdrivers, etc. Their employer will provide them with the computers and diagnostic tools required for the automobiles they are servicing. Mechanics who work on foreign cars or cars with hybrid engines require more specialized tools that often cost thousands of dollars.
An individual in the automotive technician profession should possess most of the following skills and attributes:
Auto Mechanic Schools, Training and Certification
As automotive technology is changing rapidly and becoming more sophisticated most employers require that people interested in working as an automotive mechanic or technician complete a formal training program from an auto mechanic school. These auto mechanic training programs provide preparation through hands-on experience working on vehicles combined with classroom instruction.
Many high schools provide this vocational training. If this program is not available to a candidate at their local or regional high school they can enroll in a postsecondary vocational school or local community college that offers auto mechanic courses. The training programs vary in length from six months to a year depending on the number of hours spent on the program weekly. High schools that provide this course of study will award students a high school diploma as well as a certificate. Community college programs will usually award an associate degree or a certificate. Postsecondary vocational auto mechanic schools also award an associate degree or certificate of program completion.
Some larger high schools participate in Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES) which is a partnership between high schools that offer automotive repair programs, manufacturers, and car dealers. Students who complete this program will be able to enter entry-level technician positions at a repair shop or car dealership and enhance their skills on the job. Some auto mechanics choose to learn the trade by assisting family members or other experienced workers.
Recent graduates of a high school or post-secondary mechanic program usually start their careers as trainee mechanics or mechanics' helpers and practice their skills by working beside and learning from more experienced technicians. Usually within a few months auto mechanic trainees may begin to perform routine service duties and simple repairs on their own. Mechanics should expect to spend 2 to 5 years working in a repair shop or dealership service center before becoming a fully qualified service technician.
To become proficient in a complex specialty such as air-conditioning or transmission repair might require another year or two of training or on the job experience. On-going training including classes at manufacturers facilities to learn new technologies is common and technicians are expected to keep up with ever-changing systems through reading and on-the-job practice.
ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification is offered from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and has become a standard credential for auto mechanics. Certification programs are available in 8 specialized areas of automotive service and repair including brake systems, heating and air-conditioning and engine repair. To be certified in each area a technician must have a minimum of 2 years of practical experience and pass the exam/test. Completing a recognized auto mechanic training program in high school or post-secondary college may be substituted for 1 year of on-the-job experience. To receive a Master Automobile Technician designation a technician must be certified in all eight specialties.
According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of jobs for auto mechanics is projected to grow at a faster than average rate for all occupations over the next decade. Many skilled technicians are expected to retire and demand is expected to increase for technicians by 14% between 2006 and 2016 compared to 10% for all occupations. As the number of cars in operation increases due to the continued growth in the population eligible to drive as well as the complexity of these cars operating systems the demand for skilled automobile technicians will grow.
- National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation
- National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)
- Automotive Careers Today
Schools for Automotive Mechanics are listed in the column to the left.