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Nature of the Work
* Automotive mechanics will be among the occupations with the most job openings.
* Oportunities are expected to be good for persons who complete formal automotive training programs.
* Knowledge of basic electronics is becoming essential for mechanics because computers are increasingly being used in components throughout the vehicle.
Automotive mechanics, often called automotive service technicians, inspect, maintain, or repair automobiles and light trucks with gasoline engines, such as vans and pickups. (Mechanics who work on diesel-powered trucks, buses, and equipment are discussed in the Handbook statement on diesel mechanics. Motorcycle mechanicswho repair and service motorcycles, motorscooters, mopeds, and occasionally small all-terrain vehiclesare discussed in the Handbook statement on motorcycle, boat, and small-engine mechanics.)
Anyone whose car or light truck has broken down knows the importance of the mechanic's job. The ability to diagnose the source of the problem quickly and accurately, one of the mechanic's most valuable skills, requires good reasoning ability and a thorough knowledge of automobiles. Many mechanics consider diagnosing "hard to find" troubles one of their most challenging and satisfying duties.
When mechanical or electrical troubles occur, mechanics first get a description of the symptoms from the owner or, if they work in a large shop, the repair service estimator who wrote the repair order. To locate the problem, the mechanic may have to test drive the vehicle or use a variety of testing equipment, such as on-board and hand-held diagnostic computers and compression gauges. Mechanics make adjustments or repairs once the cause of the problem is found. If a part is damaged, worn beyond repair, or not repairable at a reasonable cost, it is replaced, usually after consultation with the vehicle's owner.
During routine service, mechanics inspect and lubricate engines and other components. They also repair or replace parts before they cause breakdowns. Mechanics usually follow a checklist to ensure they examine all important parts. Belts, hoses, plugs, brake and fuel systems, and other potentially troublesome items are among those closely watched.
Mechanics use a variety of tools in their work. They use 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 handtools like screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches to work on small parts and in hard-to-reach places.
In the most modern shops of automobile dealers, service technicians use electronic service equipment, such as infrared engine analyzers and computerized diagnostic devices. These devices diagnose problems and make precision adjustments with precise calculations downloaded from large databases. The computerized systems have the capacity to automatically update technical manuals and allow technicians unlimited access to manufacturers' service information, technical service bulletins, and other computerized information databases to keep current on trouble spots and new procedures
Automotive mechanics in larger shops have increasingly become specialized. For example, automatic transmission mechanics work on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps, and other parts of automatic transmissions. Extensive training and experience in electronics is needed for the complex components and technology used in new vehicles. Tune-up mechanics adjust the ignition timing and valves, and adjust or replace spark plugs and other parts to ensure efficient engine performance. They often use electronic test equipment to locate and adjust malfunctions in fuel, ignition, and emissions control systems.
Automotive air-conditioning mechanics install and repair air conditioners and service components such as compressors, condensers, and controls. They 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 mechanics specialize in both brake and front-end work.
Automotive-radiator mechanics clean radiators with caustic solutions, locate and solder leaks, and install new radiator cores or complete replacement radiators. They also may repair heaters and air-conditioners, and solder leaks in gasoline tanks.
Most automotive mechanics work a standard 40-hour week, but many self-employed mechanics work longer hours. To satisfy customer service needs, many mechanics provide evening and weekend service. Generally, mechanics work indoors in well ventilated and lighted repair shops. However, some shops are drafty and noisy. Mechanics 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 serious accidents are avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices are observed. Some problems can be fixed with simple computerized adjustments avoiding the need to get dirty.
Automotive mechanics held about 775,000 jobs in 1996. The majority worked for retail and wholesale automotive dealers and independent automotive repair shops, and gasoline service stations. Others found employment in automotive service facilities at department, automotive, and home supply stores. A small number maintained automobile fleets for taxicab and automobile leasing companies; Federal, State, and local governments; and other organizations. Motor vehicle manufacturers employed some mechanics to test, adjust, and repair cars at the end of assembly lines. About 20 percent of automotive mechanics were self-employed.
Automotive technology is rapidly increasing in sophistication and most training authorities strongly recommend that persons seeking automotive mechanic jobs complete a formal training program after graduating from high school. However, some automotive mechanics still learn the trade solely by assisting and working with experienced mechanics.
Many high schools, community colleges, and public and private vocational and technical schools offer automotive mechanic training programs. Post-secondary programs generally provide more thorough career preparation than high school programs. High school programs, while an asset, vary greatly in quality. Some high school programs offer only an introduction to automotive technology and service for the future consumer or hobbyist, while others aim to equip graduates with enough skills to get a job as a mechanic's helper or trainee mechanic after graduation.
Post-secondary automotive mechanic training programs vary greatly in format, but generally 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 must attend each week. Community college programs normally spread the training out over 2 years, supplement the automotive training with instruction in English, basic mathematics, computers, and other subjects, and award an associate degree or certificate.
The various automobile manufacturers and their participating dealers sponsor 2-year associate degree programs at 213 post-secondary schools across the Nation. The manufacturers provide ASE certified instruction, service equipment and current model cars on which students practice new skills, and learn the latest automotive technology. Curriculums are updated 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. While working in the dealerships, they are assigned an experienced mechanic to relate experiences and provide hands-on instruction. Also, some sponsoring dealers provide students with financial assistance for tuition or the purchase of tools.
The National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), an affiliate of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), certifies automobile mechanic, collision specialist, and diesel and medium/heavy truck mechanic training programs offered by high schools, post-secondary trade schools, technical institutes, and community colleges. While NATEF certification is voluntary, certification does signify that the program meets uniform standards for instructional facilities, equipment, staff credentials, and curriculum. In early 1996, 1,245 high school and postsecondary automotive mechanic training programs had been certified by NATEF, of which 1,033 trained automobile service technicians, 174 collision specialists, and 38 diesel and medium/heavy truck specialists.
There are more computers aboard a car today than aboard the first spaceship. A new car today has from 10 to 15 on-board computers operating everything from the engine to the radio. As a result, knowledge of electronics has grown increasingly important for automotive mechanics. Engine controls and dashboard instruments were among the first components to use electronics, but now electronics are used in brakes, transmissions, steering systems, and a variety of other components. In the past, a specialist usually handled any problems involving electrical systems or electronics. But electronics are now commonplace, so all automotive mechanics must be familiar with at least the basic principles of electronics to recognize when an electronic malfunction may be responsible for a problem. In addition, automotive mechanics must be able to test and replace electronic components.
For trainee mechanic jobs, employers look for people with strong communication and analytical skills. Quality mathematics and computer skills are needed to study technical manuals to keep abreast of new technology. People who have a desire to learn new service and repair procedures and specifications are excellent candidates for trainee mechanic jobs. 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 mechanics at a postsecondary institution as the best preparation for trainee positions. Experience working on motor vehicles in the Armed Forces or as a hobby is also valuable. Because of the complexity of new vehicles, completion of high school is required by a growing number of employers. Courses in automotive repair, electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics provide a good educational background for a career as an automotive mechanic.
Beginners usually start as trainee mechanics, helpers, lubrication workers, or gasoline service station attendants and gradually acquire and practice their skills by working with experienced mechanics. Beginners perform many routine service tasks and make simple repairs with a few months' experience. It usually takes 2 to 5 years of experience to acquire adequate proficiency to become a journey-level service mechanic and quickly perform the more difficult types of routine service and repairs. However, graduates of the better postsecondary mechanic training programs are often able to earn promotion to the journey level after only a few months on the job. An additional 1 to 2 years experience familiarizes the mechanic with all types of repairs. Difficult specialties, such as transmission repair, require another year or two of training and experience. In contrast, automotive radiator mechanics and brake specialists, who do not need an all-round knowledge of automotive repair, may learn their jobs in considerably less time.
In the past, many persons have become automotive mechanics through 3- or 4-year formal apprenticeship programs. However, more employers now look for persons who have completed formal automotive training programs to reduce the amount of time invested in training a prospective mechanic.
The most important possessions of mechanics are their handtools. Mechanics usually provide their own tools and many experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in them. Employers typically furnish expensive power tools, engine analyzers, and other diagnostic equipment, but handtools are accumulated with experience.
Employers increasingly send experienced automotive mechanics 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 may also send promising beginners to manufacturer sponsored mechanic training programs. Factory representatives come to many shops to conduct short training sessions. This additional training is typically furnished by the employer to maintain or upgrade employee skills and increase their value to the dealership.
The standard achievement for automotive mechanics is voluntary certification by Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). Certification in one or more of eight different service areas, such as electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and steering, and heating and air conditioning is awarded to mechanics. To be certified as a master automotive mechanic, mechanics must be certified in all eight areas. For certification in each area, mechanics must have at least 2 years of experience and pass a written examination. Completion of an automotive mechanic program in high school, vocational or trade school, or community or junior college may be substituted for 1 year of experience. Mechanics must retake the examination at least every 5 years to maintain their certification.
Experienced mechanics who have leadership ability may advance to shop supervisor or service manager. Mechanics who work well with customers may become automotive repair service estimators. Some with sufficient funds open independent repair shops.
Job opportunities in this occupation are expected to be good for persons who complete automotive training programs in high school, vocational and technical schools, or community colleges. Persons whose training includes basic electronics skills should have the best opportunities. Persons without formal mechanic training are likely to face competition for entry level jobs. Mechanic careers are attractive to many because they afford the opportunity for good pay and the satisfaction of highly skilled work with one's hands.
Employment opportunities for automotive mechanics are expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Employment growth will continue to be concentrated in automobile dealerships, independent automotive repair shops, and specialty car care chains. Employment of automotive mechanics in gasoline service stations will continue to decline as fewer stations offer repair services.
The number of mechanics will increase because expansion of the driving age population will increase the number of motor vehicles on the road. The growing complexity of automotive technology necessitates that cars be serviced by skilled workers, contributing to the growth in demand for highly trained mechanics. With more young people entering the job market not interested in mechanic and repairer careers, automotive mechanics presents an excellent opportunity for bright, motivated people who have a technical background and desire to make a good living.
More job openings for automotive mechanics are expected than for most other occupations as experienced workers transfer to related occupations, retire, or stop working for other reasons. This large occupation needs a substantial number of entrants each year to replace the many mechanics who leave the occupation.
Most persons who enter the occupation can expect steady work because changes in economic conditions have little effect on the automotive repair business. During a downturn, however, some employers may be more reluctant to hire inexperienced workers.
Median weekly earnings of automotive mechanics who were wage and salary workers were $478 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $333 and $667 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $250 a week, and the top 10 percent earned more than $850 a week.
Many experienced mechanics employed by automotive 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 by the mechanic. Employers frequently guarantee commissioned mechanics a minimum weekly salary. Many master mechanics earn from $70,000 to $100,000 annually.
Some mechanics are members of labor unions. The unions include 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 of Teamsters.
For more details about work opportunities, contact local automotive dealers and repair shops, or the local office of the State employment service. The State employment service also may have information about training programs.
A list of certified automotive mechanic training programs may be obtained from:
National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071-3415.
Information on automobile manufacturer sponsored 2-year associate degree programs in automotive service technology may be obtained from:
Ford ASSET Program, Ford Customer Service Division, Fairlane Business Park III, 1555 Fairlane Dr., Allen Park, MI 48101 or by calling (800) 272-7218.
Chrysler Dealer Apprenticeship Program, National C.A.P. Coordinator, CIMS 423-21-06, 26001 Lawrence Ave., Center Line, MI 48015, or by calling (800) 626-1523.
General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program, National College Coordinator, General Motors Service Technology Group, MC 480-204-001, 30501 Van Dyke Ave., Warren, MI 48090, or by calling (800) 828-6860.
Information on how to become a certified automotive mechanic is available from:
ASE, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071-3415.
For general information about the work of automotive mechanics, write:
Automotive Service Association, Inc., 1901 Airport Freeway, Bedford, TX 76021-5732.
Automotive Service Industry Association, 25 Northwest Point, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1035.
National Automobile Dealers Association, 8400 Westpark Dr., McLean, VA 22102
For a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools that offer programs in automotive technician training, write:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
For a list of public automotive mechanic training programs, contact:
Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, P.O. Box 3000, 1401 James Monroe Hwy, Leesburg, VA 22075.
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