Automotive service technicians and mechanics

What Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics Do

Automotive service technicians and mechanics, often called service technicians or service techs, inspect, maintain, and repair cars and light trucks.

Duties

Automotive service technicians and mechanics typically do the following:

  • Identify mechanical problems, often by using computerized diagnostic equipment
  • Test parts and systems to ensure that they are working properly
  • Follow checklists to ensure that all critical parts are examined
  • Perform basic care and maintenance, including changing oil, giving tuneups, checking fluid levels, and rotating tires
  • Repair or replace worn parts, such as brake pads and wheel bearings
  • Disassemble and reassemble parts
  • Use testing equipment to ensure that repairs and maintenance are effective
  • Explain to clients their automotive problems and the repairs done on their vehicles

Service technicians work on traditional mechanical components, such as engines, transmissions, and drive belts. However, they also must be familiar with a growing number of electronic systems. Braking, transmission, and steering systems, for example, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic components.

Other integrated electronic systems, such as accident-avoidance sensors, are becoming common as well. In addition, a growing number of technicians are required to work on vehicles that run on alternative fuels, such as ethanol and electricity.

Service technicians use many different tools, including computerized diagnostic tools and power tools such as pneumatic wrenches, lathes, welding torches, and jacks and hoists. These tools usually are owned by their employers.

Service technicians also use many common handtools, such as sockets and ratchets, wrenches, and pliers. These tools generally are owned by service technicians. In fact, experienced workers often have thousands of dollars invested in their personal tool collection. For example, some invest in their own set of pneumatic tools—tools, such as impact wrenches—powered by compressed air.

Service technicians sometimes specialize in a particular type of repair that may be subject to specific regulations or procedures. For instance, those focused on repairing air-conditioning system must follow federal and state regulations governing the handling, recycling, and disposal of refrigerants.

In some shops, technicians may specialize. The following are examples of types of service technicians:

Automotive air-conditioning repairers install and repair air conditioners and parts, such as compressors, condensers, and controls. They are trained in government regulations related to their work.

Brake repairers adjust brakes, replace brake rotors and pads, and make other repairs on brake systems. Some technicians specialize in both brake and front-end work. 

Front-end mechanics align and balance wheels and repair steering mechanisms and suspension systems. They frequently use special alignment equipment and wheel-balancing machines.

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.

Drivability technicians use their extensive knowledge of engine management, emission, fuel, electrical, and ignition systems to diagnose issues that prevent engines from performing efficiently. They often use the onboard diagnostic system of a car and electronic testing equipment such as a multimeter to find where the malfunction may be.

For information about technicians who work on large trucks and buses, see the profile on diesel service technicians and mechanics.

For information about technicians who work on farm equipment, construction vehicles, and railcars, see the profile on heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians.

For information about technicians who repair and service motorcycles, motorboats, and small all-terrain vehicles, see the profile on small engine mechanics.

How to Become an Automotive Service Technician or Mechanic

A high school diploma or the equivalent is typically the minimum requirement for someone to work as an automotive service technician or mechanic. Because automotive technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, some employers prefer automotive service technicians and mechanics who have completed a formal training program in a postsecondary institution. Industry certification is usually required once the person is employed.

Education

A high school diploma or the equivalent is typically the minimum requirement for someone to work as an automotive service technician or mechanic. High school courses in automotive repair, electronics, computers, mathematics, and English provide a good background for prospective service technicians. However, high school graduates often need further training to become fully qualified.

Completing a vocational or other postsecondary training program in automotive service technology is considered the best preparation for entry-level positions. Programs usually last 6 months to a year and provide intensive career preparation through classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Short-term certificate programs in a particular skill are also available.

Some service technicians get an associate’s degree. Courses usually include basic mathematics, computers, electronics, and automotive repair. Some programs add classes in customer service, English, and other necessary skills.

Various automobile manufacturers and dealers sponsor associate’s degree programs. Students in these programs typically spend alternating periods attending classes full time and working full time in service shops under the guidance of an experienced technician.

Training

Most service technicians must complete on-the-job training.

How long it takes a new service technician to become fully qualified in the occupation depends on the person’s educational background. A period of 2 to 5 years is typical. It then takes an additional 1 to 2 years of experience for service technicians to become familiar with all types of repairs.

New workers generally start as trainee technicians, technicians’ helpers, or lubrication workers and gradually acquire and practice their skills by working with experienced mechanics and technicians.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all technicians who buy or work with refrigerants to be licensed in proper refrigerant handling. No formal test preparation is required, but many trade schools, unions, and employer associations offer training programs designed for the EPA exam.

Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence is the standard credential for service technicians. Certification demonstrates competence and usually brings higher pay. Many employers require their service technicians to become certified.

Certification is available in eight different areas, including automatic transmission/transaxle, brakes, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance, engine repair, heating and air-conditioning, manual drive train and axles, and suspension and steering.

For each area, technicians must have at least 2 years of experience (or relevant schooling and 1 year of experience) and pass an exam. To become a Master Automobile Technician, technicians must pass all eight exams.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Service technicians must discuss automotive problems—along with options to fix them—with their customers. Because workers may depend on repeat clients for business, they must be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions.

Detail oriented. Mechanical and electronic malfunctions are often due to misalignments or other easy-to-miss causes. Service mechanics must, therefore, account for such details when inspecting or repairing engines and components.

Dexterity. Many tasks that service technicians do, such as disassembling engine parts, connecting or attaching components, and using handtools, require a steady hand and good hand–eye coordination.

Mechanical skills. Service technicians must be familiar with engine components and systems and know how they interact with each other. They often must take apart major parts for repairs and be able to put them back together properly.

Troubleshooting skills. Service technicians must be able to use diagnostic equipment on engine systems and components in order to identify and fix problems in increasingly complicated mechanical and electronic systems. They must be familiar with electronic control systems and the appropriate tools needed to fix and maintain them.

Job Outlook

Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

10%

Automotive service technicians and mechanics

9%

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

As the number of vehicles in use continues to rise, more entry-level service technicians will be needed to do basic maintenance and repair, such as replacing brake pads and changing oil. The increasing lifespan of late-model cars and light trucks will further increase demand for qualified workers.

Job Prospects

With some employers reporting difficulty finding workers with the right skills and education, job opportunities for qualified applicants should be very good. Jobseekers who have completed formal postsecondary training programs—especially candidates with training in advanced automotive technology, such as hybrid fuel or computer systems—should enjoy the best job prospects.

Those without formal automotive training are likely to face strong competition for entry-level jobs.

More numerous openings will be in automobile dealerships and independent repair shops, where most service technicians currently work.

Employment projections data for Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Automotive service technicians and mechanics

49-3023 701,100 761,500 9 60,400
  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Automotive body and glass repairers Automotive body and glass repairers

Automotive body and glass repairers restore, refinish, and replace vehicle bodies and frames, windshields, and window glass.'

High school diploma or equivalent $37,680
Diesel service technicians and mechanics Diesel service technicians and mechanics

Diesel service technicians and mechanics inspect, repair, or overhaul buses, trucks, and anything else with a diesel engine.'

High school diploma or equivalent $42,320
Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians

Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians inspect, maintain, and repair vehicles and machinery used in construction, farming, rail transportation, and other industries.'

High school diploma or equivalent $43,820
Small engine mechanics Small engine mechanics

Small engine mechanics inspect, service, and repair motorized power equipment. Mechanics often specialize in one type of equipment, such as motorcycles, motorboats, or outdoor power equipment.'

High school diploma or equivalent $32,640
Ref: bls.gov
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