Formal automotive technician training is the best preparation
for these challenging technology-based jobs.
Opportunities should be very good for automotive service technicians
and mechanics with diagnostic and problem-solving skills, knowledge
of electronics and mathematics, and mechanical aptitude.
Automotive service technicians and mechanics must continually
adapt to changing technology and repair techniques as vehicle
components and systems become increasingly sophisticated.
Nature of the Work
Anyone whose car or light truck has broken down knows the importance
of the jobs of automotive service technicians and mechanics. The
ability to diagnose the source of a problem quickly and accurately
requires good reasoning ability and a thorough knowledge of automobiles.
Many technicians consider diagnosing hard-to-find troubles one
of their most challenging and satisfying duties.
The work of automotive service technicians and mechanics has
evolved from mechanical repair to a high technology job. As a
result, these workers are now usually called “technicians” in
automotive services and the term “mechanic” is falling into disuse.
Today, integrated electronic systems and complex computers run
vehicles and measure their performance while on the road. Technicians
must have an increasingly broad base of knowledge about how vehicles’
complex components work and interact, as well as the ability to
work with electronic diagnostic equipment and computer-based technical
Automotive service technicians use their high-tech skills to
inspect, maintain, and repair automobiles and light trucks that
run on gasoline, ethanol and other alternative fuels, such as
electricity. The increasing sophistication of automotive technology
now requires workers who can use computerized shop equipment and
work with electronic components while maintaining their skills
with traditional hand tools.
When mechanical or electrical troubles occur, technicians first
get a description of the symptoms from the owner or, if they work
in a large shop, from the repair service estimator or service
advisor who wrote the repair order. To locate the problem, technicians
use a diagnostic approach. First, they test to see whether components
and systems are proper and secure. Then, they isolate the components
or systems that could not logically be the cause of the problem.
For example, if an air-conditioner malfunctions, the technician’s
diagnostic approach can pinpoint a problem as simple as a low
coolant level or as complex as a bad drive-train connection that
has shorted out the air conditioner. Technicians may have to test
drive the vehicle or use a variety of testing equipment, such
as onboard and hand-held diagnostic computers or compression gauges,
to identify the source of the problem. These tests may indicate
whether a component is salvageable or whether a new one is required
to get the vehicle back in working order.
During routine service inspections, technicians test and lubricate
engines and other major components. In some cases, the technician
may repair or replace worn parts before they cause breakdowns
that could damage critical components of the vehicle. Technicians
usually follow a checklist to ensure that they examine every critical
part. Belts, hoses, plugs, brake and fuel systems, and other potentially
troublesome items are among those closely watched.
Service technicians use a variety of tools in their work—power
tools, such as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts quickly; machine
tools like lathes and grinding machines to rebuild brakes; welding
and flame-cutting equipment to remove and repair exhaust systems,
and jacks and hoists to lift cars and engines. They also use common
hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches, to work
on small parts and in hard-to-reach places.
Computers also have become commonplace in modern repair shops.
Service technicians compare the readouts from computerized diagnostic
testing devices with the benchmarked standards given by the manufacturer
of the components being tested. Deviations outside of acceptable
levels are an indication to the technician that further attention
to an area is necessary. A shop’s computerized system provides
automatic updates to technical manuals and unlimited access to
manufacturers’ service information, technical service bulletins,
and other databases that allow technicians to keep current on
problem spots and to learn new procedures.
Automotive service technicians in large shops have increasingly
become specialized. For example, transmission technicians and
rebuilders work on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps,
and other parts of transmissions. Extensive knowledge of computer
controls, the ability to diagnose electrical and hydraulic problems,
and other specialized skills are needed to work on these complex
components, which employ some of the most sophisticated technology
used in vehicles. Tuneup technicians adjust the ignition
timing and valves, and adjust or replace spark plugs and other
parts to ensure efficient engine performance. They often use electronic
testing equipment to isolate and adjust malfunctions in fuel,
ignition, and emissions control systems.
Automotive air-conditioning repairers install and repair
air-conditioners and service their components, such as compressors,
condensers, and controls. These workers require special training
in Federal and State regulations governing the handling and disposal
of refrigerants. Front-end mechanics align and balance
wheels and repair steering mechanisms and suspension systems.
They frequently use special alignment equipment and wheel-balancing
machines. Brake repairers adjust brakes, replace brake
linings and pads, and make other repairs on brake systems. Some
technicians specialize in both brake and front-end work. Even
though electronics and electronic systems in automobiles were
a specialty in the past, electronics are now so common that it
is essential for all types of service technicians to be familiar
with at least the basic principles of electronics.
Nearly half of automotive service technicians work more than
40 hours a week. Some may also work evenings and weekends to satisfy
customer service needs. Generally, service technicians work indoors
in well-ventilated and -lighted repair shops. However, some shops
are drafty and noisy. Although some problems can be fixed with
simple computerized adjustments, technicians frequently work with
dirty and greasy parts, and in awkward positions. They often lift
heavy parts and tools. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common,
but technicians can usually avoid serious accidents if the shop
is kept clean and orderly, and safety practices are observed.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Automotive technology is rapidly increasing in sophistication,
and most training authorities strongly recommend that persons
seeking automotive service technician and mechanic jobs complete
a formal training program in high school, or in a postsecondary
vocational school or community college. However, some service
technicians still learn the trade solely by assisting and learning
from experienced workers. Courses in automotive repair, electronics,
physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics provide
a good educational background for a career as a service technician.
High school programs, while an asset, vary greatly in scope.
Some aim to equip graduates with enough skills to get a job as
a technician’s helper or trainee technician. Other programs offer
only an introduction to automotive technology and service for
the future consumer or hobbyist. Some of the more extensive programs
participate in Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES), which
has about 500 participating schools and more than 4000 participating
dealers. Students who complete these programs receive an AYES
certification and upon high school graduation are better prepared
to enter entry-level technician positions, or to advance their
Postsecondary automotive technician training programs vary greatly
in format, but normally provide intensive career preparation through
a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on practice.
Some trade and technical school programs provide concentrated
training for 6 months to a year, depending on how many hours the
student attends each week, and award a certificate. Community
college programs normally award an associate degree or certificate
and usually spread the training over 2 years by supplementing
the automotive training with instruction in English, basic mathematics,
computers, and other subjects. Some students earn repair certificates
in one particular skill and opt to leave the program to begin
their career before graduation. Recently, some programs have added
to their curriculums training on employability skills such as
customer service and stress management. Employers find that these
skills help technicians handle the additional responsibilities
of dealing with the customers and parts vendors.
The various automobile manufacturers and their participating
dealers sponsor 2-year associate degree programs at postsecondary
schools across the Nation. The Accrediting Commission of Career
Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) currently certifies
a number of automotive and diesel technology schools. Schools
update their curriculums frequently to reflect changing technology
and equipment. Students in these programs typically spend alternate
6- to 12-week periods attending classes full time and working
full time in the service departments of sponsoring dealers. At
these dealerships, students get practical experience while assigned
to an experienced worker who provides hands-on instruction and
The ASE certification is a nationally recognized standard for
programs offered by high schools, postsecondary trade schools,
technical institutes, and community colleges that train automobile
service technicians. Some automotive manufacturers provide ASE-certified
instruction programs with service equipment and current-model
cars on which students practice new skills and learn the latest
automotive technology. While ASE certification is voluntary, it
does signify that the program meets uniform standards for instructional
facilities, equipment, staff credentials, and curriculum. To ensure
that programs keep up with ever-changing technology, repair techniques,
and ASE standards, the certified programs are subjected to periodic
compliance reviews and mandatory recertification, as are the ASE
standards themselves. In 2004, about 2000 high school and postsecondary
automotive service technician training programs had been certified
For trainee automotive service technician jobs, employers look
for people with strong communication and analytical skills. Technicians
need good reading, mathematics, and computer skills to study technical
manuals and to keep abreast of new technology and learn new service
and repair procedures and specifications. Trainees also must possess
mechanical aptitude and knowledge of how automobiles work. Most
employers regard the successful completion of a vocational training
program in automotive service technology as the best preparation
for trainee positions. Experience working on motor vehicles in
the Armed Forces or as a hobby also is valuable. Because of the
complexity of new vehicles, a growing number of employers require
completion of high school and additional postsecondary training.
Many new cars have several onboard computers, operating everything
from the engine to the radio. Engine controls and dashboard instruments
were among the first components to use electronics, but today
most automotive systems, such as braking, transmission, and steering
systems, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic
components. Some of the more advanced vehicles have global positioning
systems, Internet access, and other high-tech features integrated
into the functions of the vehicle. The training in electronics
is vital because electrical components, or a series of related
components, account for nearly all malfunctions in modern vehicles.
In addition to electronics and computers, automotive service
technicians will have to learn and understand the science behind
the alternate-fuel vehicles that have begun to enter the market.
The fuel for these vehicles will come from the dehydrogenization
of water, electric fuel cells, natural gas, solar power, and other
non-petroleum-based sources. Hybrid vehicles, for example, use
the energy from braking to recharge batteries that power an electric
motor, which supplements a gasoline engine. As vehicles with these
new technologies become more common, technicians will need additional
training to learn the science and engineering that makes them
possible. Currently, the manufacturers of these alternate-fuel
vehicles are providing the necessary training. However, as the
warrantees begin to expire, technicians in all industries will
need to be trained to service these vehicles. As the number of
these automobiles on the road increases, some technicians will
likely specialize in the service and repair of these vehicles.
Those new to automotive service usually start as trainee technicians,
technicians’ helpers, or lubrication workers, and gradually acquire
and practice their skills by working with experienced mechanics
and technicians. With a few months’ experience, beginners perform
many routine service tasks and make simple repairs. While some
graduates of postsecondary automotive training programs are often
able to earn promotion to the journey level after only a few months
on the job, it typically takes 2 to 5 years of experience to become
a journey level service technician, who is expected to quickly
perform the more difficult types of routine service and repairs.
An additional 1 to 2 years of experience familiarizes technicians
with all types of repairs. Complex specialties, such as transmission
repair, require another year or two of training and experience.
In contrast, brake specialists may learn their jobs in considerably
less time because they do not need a complete knowledge of automotive
At work, the most important possessions of technicians are their
hand tools. Technicians usually provide their own tools, and many
experienced workers have thousands of dollars invested in them.
Employers typically furnish expensive power tools, engine analyzers,
and other diagnostic equipment, but technicians accumulate hand
tools with experience. Some formal training programs have alliances
with tool manufacturers that help entry-level technicians accumulate
tools during their training period.
Employers increasingly send experienced automotive service technicians
to manufacturer training centers to learn to repair new models
or to receive special training in the repair of components, such
as electronic fuel injection or air-conditioners. Motor vehicle
dealers and other automotive service providers also may send promising
beginners to manufacturer-sponsored technician training programs;
most employers periodically send experienced technicians to manufacturer-sponsored
technician training programs for additional training to maintain
or upgrade employees’ skills and thus increase the employees’
value to the employer. Factory representatives also visit many
shops to conduct short training sessions.
Voluntary certification by the National Institute for Automotive
Service Excellence (ASE) has become a standard credential for
automotive service technicians. Certification is available in
1 or more of 8 different areas of automotive service, such as
electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and
steering, and heating and air-conditioning. For certification
in each area, technicians must have at least 2 years of experience
and pass the examination. Completion of an automotive training
program in high school, vocational or trade school, or community
or junior college may be substituted for 1 year of experience.
For ASE certification as a master automobile technician, technicians
must be certified in all eight areas. Technicians must retake
each examination once every 5 years to maintain their certifications.
Experienced technicians who have leadership ability sometimes
advance to shop supervisor or service manager. Those who work
well with customers may become automotive repair service estimators.
Some with sufficient funds open independent repair shops.
Automotive service technicians and mechanics held about 803,000
jobs in 2004. The majority worked for automotive repair and maintenance
shops, automobile dealers, and retailers and wholesalers of automotive
parts, accessories, and supplies. Others found employment in gasoline
stations; home and auto supply stores; automotive equipment rental
and leasing companies; Federal, State, and local governments;
and other organizations. More than 16 percent of service technicians
were self-employed, more than twice the proportion for all installation,
maintenance, and repair occupations.
Job opportunities in this occupation are expected to be very
good for persons who complete automotive training programs in
high school, vocational and technical schools, or community colleges
as employers report difficulty in finding workers with the right
skills. Persons with good diagnostic and problem-solving abilities,
and whose training includes basic electronics and computer courses,
should have the best opportunities. For well-prepared people with
a technical background, automotive service technician careers
offer an excellent opportunity for good pay and the satisfaction
of highly skilled work with vehicles incorporating the latest
in advanced technology. However, persons without formal automotive
training are likely to face competition for entry-level jobs.
Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is
expected to increase as fast as the average through the year 2014.
Over the 2004-14 period, demand for technicians will grow as the
number of vehicles in operation increases, reflecting continued
growth in the number of multi-car families. Growth in demand will
be offset somewhat by slowing population growth and the continuing
increase in the quality and durability of automobiles, which will
require less frequent service. Additional job openings will be
due to the need to replace a growing number of retiring technicians,
who tend to be the most experienced workers.
Most persons who enter the occupation can expect steady work,
even through downturns in the economy. While car owners may postpone
maintenance and repair on their vehicles when their budgets become
strained, and employers of automotive technicians may cutback
hiring new workers, changes in economic conditions generally have
minor effects on the automotive service and repair business.
Employment growth will continue to be concentrated in automobile
dealerships and independent automotive repair shops. Many new
jobs also will be created in small retail operations that offer
after-warranty repairs, such as oil changes, brake repair, air-conditioner
service, and other minor repairs generally taking less than 4
hours to complete. Employment of automotive service technicians
and mechanics in gasoline service stations will continue to decline,
as fewer stations offer repair services.
Median hourly earnings of automotive service technicians and
mechanics, including commission, were $15.60 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $11.31 and $20.75 per hour. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.70, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $26.22 per hour. Median annual earnings in the
industries employing the largest numbers of service technicians
in May 2004 were as follows:
Automotive repair and maintenance
Automotive parts, accessories, and tire
Many experienced technicians employed by automobile dealers and
independent repair shops receive a commission related to the labor
cost charged to the customer. Under this method, weekly earnings
depend on the amount of work completed. Employers frequently guarantee
commissioned technicians a minimum weekly salary.
Some automotive service technicians are members of labor unions
such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace
Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace
and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Sheet Metal
Workers’ International Association; and the International Brotherhood
Other workers who repair and service motor vehicles include automotive
body and related repairers, diesel service technicians and mechanics,
and small engine mechanics.
Sources of Additional Information
For more details about work opportunities, contact local automobile
dealers and repair shops or local offices of the State employment
service. The State employment service also may have information
about training programs.
A list of certified automotive service technician training programs
can be obtained from:
National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, 101
Blue Seal Dr., SE., Suite 101, Leesburg, VA 20175. Internet:
For a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools
that offer programs in automotive service technician training,
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology,
2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201. Internet:
Information on automobile manufacturer-sponsored programs in
automotive service technology can be obtained from:
Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES), 100 W. Big Beaver,
Suite 300, Troy, MI 48084. Internet: http://www.ayes.org/
Information on how to become a certified automotive service technician
is available from:
National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE),
101 Blue Seal Dr. SE., Suite 101, Leesburg, VA 20175. Internet:
For general information about a career as an automotive service
National Automobile Dealers Association, 8400 Westpark Dr.,
McLean, VA 22102. Internet: http://www.nada.org/