If you enjoy working on cars and aren't afraid of technology, then a career in the automotive service industry may be for you. Automotive service technicians, or mechanics, are in demand in a variety of settings, including gas station garages, car dealerships and government agencies. The field offers a range of possibilities and the opportunity to specialize, particularly for people who complete technological training and certification.
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What Mechanics Do
Mechanics work with all of a car's parts and systems, from the brakes and air conditioning to the belts, hoses and steering. In smaller garages or companies, a mechanic must be familiar with all of these systems to diagnose customers' problems, but at larger garages, technicians may specialize in particular areas. Mechanics must be able to use a range of tools -- jacks, screwdrivers, electronic diagnostic equipment, etc., and have strong problem-solving skills to find and repair problems.
Do You Have What It Takes?
According to Dave Kappert, executive director of electronic initiatives at the National Institute for Auto Service Excellence, aspiring mechanics should make sure they're "not doing this just because working on cars is fun."
"Working on cars with your pals on the weekends is all well and good, but is this really the direction you want to take?" says Kappert. "Because it does take some initiative."
He also stresses that a good auto mechanic isn't afraid of electricity and electronics. "There was a time when you could be an auto mechanic and work on mechanical things and not touch electrical systems, but that isn't the way it is anymore," he says.
In addition to being comfortable with using technology, mechanics need to be able to read and understand complex technical manuals.
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Training and Certification
As cars become more technologically advanced, employing intricate computer and electronic systems, mechanics must keep pace. While there are no mandatory national certification requirements, most mechanics will have to complete a good deal of training and education. Some technicians complete high school-level training, while others go on to earn two-year degrees or certificates in auto repair. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer such programs.
The types of training and certification you need depend on where you live, what type of repair you may want to specialize in and how much money you want to make. For example, if you want to work with air conditioning systems, you will need to acquire Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification. If you live in California and want to be a smog technician, you must meet the state's certification requirements for that area of expertise.
Voluntary certification, offered through organizations like ASE, may help you earn a higher salary. Due to constant changes in technology, technicians are expected to refresh certifications every few years.
Hours and Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanics earned an average of $14.18 per hour in 2003. Actual wages vary widely, however, depending on skills and experience. While mechanics are usually paid hourly, some highly skilled mechanics are guaranteed a minimum weekly salary.
Many mechanics work 9-to-5, but some work overtime and those who own their own businesses may work considerably more. The BLS reports that more than 30 percent of technicians work more than 40 hours a week.
How to Get Started
Kappert recommends that would-be mechanics begin by finding an automotive training program or work-study opportunity. Many car dealerships and companies offer these types of programs, where students complete both academic work and hands-on auto repair. Here are three:
- Ford's ASSET Program
- Daimler Chrysler College Automotive Program
- General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program
You can also look into classes that are available in your area. Here are some resources to help you locate training programs:
- National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation
- Automotive Youth Educational Systems
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology
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