Spotlights

Job Description

There are over 273 million motor vehicles registered in the United States. As with anything mechanical, these cars and trucks require a significant amount of upkeep to operate properly and safely. Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics perform a wide range of valuable specialized services to keep our motor vehicles running on the roads. Many work for vehicle dealers or shops, while others are employed to maintain private company fleets. 
 
Duties can vary greatly depending on the employer and on the worker’s training and experience levels. Most jobs involve inspecting parts for functionality and wear, performing maintenance actions, troubleshooting problems, and conducting repairs in accordance with factory specifications. Service techs and mechanics work with computerized diagnostic equipment, rely on standardized processes and manuals, and should have general skills to communicate issues with customers who may have little knowledge of how their vehicle works. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Ensuring the safety of vehicle passengers and other drivers on the road
  • Staying active and working with your hands
  • Exposure to a wide variety of different vehicle makes and models
  • Using problem-solving skills to troubleshoot complex issues
2018 Employment
770,100
2028 Projected Employment
763,660
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics typically hold full-time jobs
  • Schedules may involve working weekends and nights
  • Many workers are employed to maintain private vehicle fleets for large organizations whose requirements dictate work schedules

Typical Duties

  • Use computerized diagnostic equipment to troubleshoot certain issues
  • Refer to standardized procedures, checklists, and technical manuals
  • Conduct repairs and routine maintenance in accordance with specifications
  • Test, repair, order, and replace parts for numerous makes and models of vehicles
  • Safely use hand tools such as wrenches, sockets, ratchets, pliers, as well as larger equipment such as jacks, hoists, welding devices, and lathes
  • Work with mechanical systems, such as engines and transmissions
  • Work with electronic systems tied to vehicle functions such as braking, transmission, steering
  • Potentially work with modern automotive sensor equipment
  • Potentially work with vehicles running on electric power or alternative fuels

Additional Responsibilities

  • Communicate recommendations and explain all work performed to customers
  • Depending on the employer, some sales experience may be helpful
  • Many workers specialize in areas such as air-conditioning, brakes and front-ends, diagnostics, and transmissions
  • Others are trained to work on ATVs, motorcycles, diesel trucks and buses, or heavy equipment used on farms or in construction
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Ability to work independently
  • Patience and vigilance 
  • Strong commitment to quality and safety on the job
  • Ability to closely follow instructions 
  • Analytical; able to troubleshoot problems
  • Precision work
  • Good organizational skills for keeping tools secure and in the right place
  • Resilience and composure 
  • Sound judgment, sometimes under pressure
  • Customer service skills
  • Very detail-oriented

Technical Skills

  • General familiarity with using computerized equipment to look up vehicle histories and run diagnostics
  • Operating payment systems 
  • Physical skills, such as strength, stamina, dexterity, and hand-eye coordination 
  • Good near vision and color vision
  • Deep knowledge of mechanics
Different Types of Organizations
  • Garages or auto care shops for general needs
  • Repair centers
  • Specialty shops focusing on specific areas
  • Foreign-made automobile shops
  • Car dealerships
  • Large companies with vehicle fleets
  • Governmental agencies
  • Military units
Expectations and Sacrifices

Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics have jobs that demand compliance with factory standards as well as state and federal standards. They’re expected to work efficiently, often while customers are waiting for their vehicle. Many work independently and should be able to troubleshoot problems and reference written guidance, as needed. Often there can be minimal interaction with co-workers as they focus on tasks at hand. 
 
Vehicle repairs and maintenance are typically done indoors, or at least in open bays. Work centers are noisy and there is exposure to vehicle exhaust throughout the day. There is not much in terms of privacy, and there can be pressure to work quickly in order to get through as many jobs as possible in some cases. For those working with private fleets, hours can be impacted by requirements. For example, during holiday periods, extra delivery vans may be needed for package delivery services. This can extend work hours, therefore flexibility may be needed. Working overtime or on weekends and holidays can be challenging for employees taking college classes or who have family commitments. 

Current Trends

The job outlook is fairly stable. There isn’t a projected increase or decrease in job opportunities over the coming decade. Vehicle usage is predicted to climb, however, it may also change as consumers alter their shopping patterns. Online sales are booming while retail stores are facing difficulty, suggesting fewer people driving to physical stores but more deliveries being made by truck or van.  
 
Entry-level service techs may face limited opportunities unless they stay up-to-speed on the latest technologies. This includes electric vehicles, which may have less maintenance requirements. According to CleanTechnica, 97% of mechanics cannot work on electric cars. This is a major factor to consider if you’re looking into additional training and education to stay competitive. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

As you might expect, enthusiasm for cars and vehicles can be an early sign of a budding mechanic. Many workers enjoyed playing with Hot Wheels, assembling LEGO cars, or gluing and painting traditional model kits. For some, a passion for vehicles is a trait passed on from their families. Unlike many other professions, working on cars is something a lot of people do in their own garages. This can provide early exposure to vehicle repair for kids, who might even be asked to lend a hand. 
 
For a lot of workers in this field, cars aren’t simply a job, but a hobby. They may have enjoyed watching NASCAR races or spending weekends fixing up an old classic they bought from an ad. Several car enthusiasts love to attend events where owners show off their custom work. From vintage hotrods to modified imports, there are dozens of magazines and YouTube video channels devoted to every automobile niche you can think of. 

Education and Training Needed
  • A high school diploma (or GED) is the minimum threshold for entry into this field
  • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics often will have at least a year or two of informal training, such as practical hands-on experience
  • During high school, take automotive repair classes, as well as courses on electronics, computers, or math 
  • Following high school, intense vocational training of up to a year is often done
  • Employers may provide On-the-Job Training if sufficient post-secondary education isn’t done
  • A specialty certificate is helpful to get started
  • An associate’s degree isn’t usually required but helpful to advance; many employers (manufacturers and dealers) pay for these programs for their employees
  • Two-year degree options include brake systems, electronic fuel management systems, automatic transmission, engines, and HVAC
  • Electricians need to finish their apprenticeship or vocational training and licensing exam
  • Techs who handle refrigerants need to pass an Environmental Protection Agency exam
  • Some employers require service techs to hold National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certification in a specialty area, such as brakes or engine performance
  • This requires passing an exam and 2+ years of experience or school combined with experience
Things to look for in a program
  • Per O-Net Online, 52% of workers held a post-secondary certification
  • Look for vocational programs related to Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics
  • Take courses to build skills related to mechanics, electricity, math, and customer service
  • Consider accredited online programs if you don’t live near a campus
  • Consider the cost of tuition, discounts, and local scholarship opportunities (in addition to federal aid such as FAFSA or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act benefits)
  • Think about your schedule and flexibility, when deciding whether to enroll in an on-campus, online, or hybrid program
  • Study in specialization areas such as electric or alternative fuel vehicles, brake repair, front-end work, or transmission
  • Work on certifications such as: 
  • Advanced Engine Performance Specialist 
    • Auto Maintenance and Light Repair 
    • Damage Analysis and Estimating 
    • Emissions
    • Suspension
Things to do in High School and College
  • Visit local dealerships and ask for a tour of their service operations. If things are busy, ask if you can schedule a slower time to visit and ask for guidance 
  • If you have friends or relatives who work on cars, volunteer to help and be ready to put in some hours! Any hands-on experience and informal training will be beneficial
  • Take any automotive elective classes you can, such as Auto Collision Technology, Auto Repair Technology, or Introduction to Mechanics
  • Check out community college programs that accept high school students
  • Read automotive magazines and subscribe to “how to” channels on YouTube, with a goal towards learning new things
  • If you have a vehicle, comb through your owner’s manual and get familiar with the terminology
  • Get familiar with Chilton Repair Manuals made for “do-it-yourselfers”
  • Seek apprentice jobs to perform duties such as changing brake pads, cleaning the shop, counting inventory, ordering parts, changing fluids, and testing batteries.
Typical Roadmap
Automotive Service Technician roadmap
How to land your 1st job
  • Keep records of all your informal training and experience, to include the makes and models of any vehicles you work on and the actions performed
  • List all formal training, including any classes taken in high school, vocational/trade schools, community colleges, or universities
  • Use hard data on your resume or application, such as statistics and numbers 
  • Keep a master copy of your resume; tailor copies to the exact jobs you apply to
  • Have someone with experience look over your resume, if using one to apply
  • Ask people in your network if they know of any upcoming or current job openings
  • Let previous supervisors, instructors, and others in your network know you are job seeking; ask to list them as references, or if they can do recommendation letters 
  • Be ready for an interview! Use mock interviews to practice, prepare your answers to common questions, study how to dress, and master automotive technical jargon 
  • Look for jobs posted on employment portals such as Indeed, Monster, or even Craigslist. 
  • If there are specific companies you want to work for, call and ask their HR person or recruiter for details on applying (if the information isn’t on their website) 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Think long-term. Ask the company you’re applying to (or working for) and be clear you want to understand the promotion potential and the steps you need to take
  • Master your job and do excellent work. Your supervisor will notice!
  • Always be on time and stay positive
  • Find solutions, not reasons to complain
  • Be courteous and professional at all times, with peers and especially customers (customers’ impressions of the company may be based on their interactions with you)
  • Boost your odds by completing advanced education and training
  • Stay ahead of the competition by keeping up with changes in technologies
  • Earn a specialized certificate in a hard-to-fill area
  • Take new employees under your wing and demonstrate your leadership skills
  • Network
  • Read publications that expand your knowledge, then practice what you learn
Recommended Resources

Websites

  • AllData
  • Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association
  • Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association 
  • Auto Channel
  • How Cars Work
  • The C.A.R. Show
  • Popular Mechanics
  • Identifix

Books

  • Auto Repair For Dummies, by Deanna Sclar
  • Idiot’s Guides: Auto Repair and Maintenance, by Dave Stribling
  • Automotive Technology: Principles, Diagnosis, and Service, by James D. Halderman
Plan B

The Bureau of Labor Statics lists the following similar occupations to consider:

  • Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
  • Automotive Body and Glass Repairers
  • Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics
  • Heavy Vehicle and Mobile Equipment Service Technicians
  • Small Engine Mechanics

Not everyone who loves cars wants to work on them. A few alternative paths include Drivers, Auto sales managers, Car rental agents, Tire technicians, Tow truck drivers, Journalists, Air Force vehicle operations, and many other options. 

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