How do I become an auto mechanic?
Aspiring service techs can take any of several routes to a career as an auto mechanic. An on-the-job education isn't uncommon, particularly among less technically complex specialties, but those who learn up-to-date auto mechanic skills through formal courses and hands-on instruction often have an advantage over their untrained counterparts in the hiring process.
Technical institutes and vocational schools are common locations for auto mechanic programs, and traditional universities or junior and community colleges may offer individual auto mechanic courses if the appropriate facilities exist on their campus. Some auto mechanic schools even offer online degree programs, if you don't have the time or money to commit to a schedule of campus-based courses and don't mind taking the initiative to find a local repair facility or automotive learning center that will let you engage in hands-on work experience exercises.
How long will the education program take?
The length of an auto mechanic degree or certificate program tends to depend on the difficulty of the subject matter and the teaching methods used at the school. Comprehensive programs that teach diagnostic and repair methods for the entire vehicle, headlights to tailpipe, may take 12-24 months of study and award an associate degree upon completion. Intensive sessions that focus on a particular segment of the vehicle market may take 12 weeks from start to finish and award a non-degree certificate or diploma.
Auto mechanic courses that cover individual vehicle systems, such as automotive A/C, electrical, drive train, transmission, chassis and others, tend to fall on the shorter side of the program spectrum. Programs of fewer than 18 credit hours can often be completed in two or fewer semesters of full-time study.
What will I be learning?
The curriculum covered in auto mechanic instruction programs tends to depend on the range of courses involved. Shorter programs typically cover fewer systems or offer fewer details about individual components.
Here's a list of the sort of auto mechanic skills covered in comprehensive, nose-to-tail repair programs:
- Brakes and steering
- Powertrain maintenance
- Engine disassembly and rebuilding
- Electrical system and electronic components
- Auto instrumentation
- Wheels and tires
- Heating and air conditioning fundamentals
- Transmission and transaxle
- Suspension systems
- Tools and equipment
- Work safety
- Lighting and accessories
Manufacturer-specific education programs often fit more closely to the description of auto mechanic certification programs, particularly in that many such programs operate under the impression that students have already been taught the fundamentals.
It isn't always necessary for an auto mechanic to earn certification, but it can help you take your skills to the next level and may be preferred by employers. Check out your many options for specialized education and certifications here. Mechanics with certification often have better prospects for desirable auto mechanic jobs and command higher salaries than those without.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers more than 40 exams for auto mechanic certification, and their reputation among repair shops, dealerships and consumers alike is barely matched. At least two years working in a mechanical service capacity are required in order to take any of their certification tests, and those who pass the full schedule of "A series" exams can be recognized with the title of Master Automobile Technician.
Certification to work on light vehicle diesel engines can also be earned in this series, but the Master Automotive Technician credential didn't require the diesel exam as of August 2015. Advanced auto mechanic certifications can be won through the ASE program as well, in three subject areas:
- Advanced Engine Performance
- Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis
- Light Duty Hybrid/Electric Vehicles
ASE certification in alternate fuels, damage analysis, collision repair and engine machining can also be acquired. Mechanics who service automotive A/C systems are required by federal law to become certified in the handling and legal regulation of controlled refrigerants, and ASE is one of many providers of this certification exam.
If you want to move beyond repair and maintenance of standard, passenger-grade vehicles, it's possible to earn more specialized credentials. Auto mechanic certifications for school buses, transit buses and medium-heavy trucks are all available through ASE, and each one comes with its own Master Technician series that can distinguish you as one of the most qualified in your field.
Brand-specific auto mechanic certifications
Along with taking intensive exams that cover specific vehicle systems, an ambitious auto mechanic can earn certification in the specific components, configurations and repair methods of a particular automotive make. The Universal Technical Institute, or UTI, is one such school that offers manufacturer-specific certifications, such as:
- BMW FastTrack
- Ford FACT
- Honda PACT
- Nissan NATT
- Toyota TPAT
- Mercedes-Benz ELITE START
- MINI STEP
- Porsche PTAP
- Volvo SAFE
- GM Technician Career Training
These certifications can be especially useful to mechanics working at branded automotive dealerships, where upper management may expect certain standards of repair and maintenance that techs without manufacturer certification may not be naturally inclined to follow. Some employers in this category may have programs in place to help you free up some of the money and time necessary to earn your manufacturer's certification, as long as your advanced education can help their business in the long run.
- Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm
- Automotive Mechanic Technician Program, Ohio Technical College, accessed August 2015, http://www.ohiotech.edu/automotive-technology-program/
- Automotive Maintenance Technician, Milwaukee Area Technical College, accessed August 2015, http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/2015-2016/diplomas/automotive_maintenance_technician.cfm
- Automotive Technology, Atlanta Technical College, accessed August 2015, http://www.atlantatech.edu/academics/area.php?area=Automotive+Technology
- Manufacturer-Specific Advanced Training (MSAT), Universal Technical Institute, accessed August 2015, http://www.uti.edu/programs/automotive-noslide#tabbed-nav=msat
- Automotive Technician Program Curriculum, Ashworth College, accessed August 2015, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/automotive-technician-training/curriculum/
- Penn Foster, accessed August 2015: Automotive Technician Training Online School, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/automotive-and-engine-repair/auto-repair-technician-career-diploma; Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.pennfoster.edu/why-penn-foster/learning/faq;
- Automotive Master Mechanics, Occupational Information Network, accessed August 2015, http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/49-3023.01
- National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, accessed August 2015: Test Series, http://www.ase.com/Tests/ASE-Certification-Tests/Test-Series.aspx; General Information, http://www.ase.com/Tests/ASE-Certification-Tests/Test-Series/General-Information.aspx; Master Status, http://www.ase.com/Tests/ASE-Certification-Tests/Test-Series/Master-Status.aspx