How to Become a Mechanic
What is a Mechanic?
Simply stated, auto mechanics are professionals trained to repair and maintain motor vehicles. If you become a car mechanic, you may end up working on many different motor vehicle types, including passenger, marine, fleet, or heavy duty diesel vehicles. Getting started in automotive technology can be easy, advancing and becoming a master in the industry can take years with many steps.
An auto mechanic’s main job duties are to inspect, maintain and repair all types of vehicles – it’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure type of career. Specific job duties will depend on your natural preferences as well as the type and amount of training you choose. For example, you could enter an associate degree program for automotive technology or do one of the many apprenticeships for mechanics and each will get you somewhere different.
As a trained mechanic in automotive technology, your career can go down many different roads. There is no such thing as exact steps to becoming an auto technician.
If your goal is to perform general maintenance and repairs, you can look into general training. This includes training options that simply require a high school diploma to more competitive options than earn an associate degree program. You can also be trained to work on a specific type of vehicle or brand, which would translate into a career working on that type of car, for that brand or at a dealership.
Another option is to train to work on specific vehicle parts. For example, you can become a mechanic who specializes in brakes, air conditioning or transmissions. Choosing this type of specialization would most likely lead to working in repair shops. This can also increase your pay as a mechanic as your level of understanding of the specific technology will need to be much higher.
Your job duties can also take you beyond general maintenance. Based on what you study and the classes you take, there are a variety of vehicles you could work on, from your average car to large construction vehicles. In many cases, the different types of vehicles will vary in the level of salary you can earn.
In order to be successful in your job, you need to have a good level of understanding of the variety of tools and equipment used in the field. As well as this, you should understand automotive technology and the procedures for troubleshooting/repairing vehicles.
Wherever your career ends up taking you, you’ll be expected to have a strong knowledge of automotive parts, as well as how those parts work together. It’s also important to know how to use diagnostic software and tools to figure out what might be wrong, especially with engines that rely heavily on computers. Not only this, working in a mechanic car shop will require a certain level of customer experience which can be very valuable.
As an auto mechanic, your work can lead to a variety of places, including government agencies, repair shops, gas stations, and automotive parts, accessories and tire stores. However, the majority of auto mechanics end up working for automobile dealers or in the automotive repair and maintenance industry. That being said, there is generally a good community between fellow mechanics that can take you all across the nation, and the world.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics was $39,550 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,470, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,070.
What you can expect to bring home depends on the career path you take. According to the same stats, the median annual wage working for automobile dealers was $43,180; for automotive mechanical and electrical repair and maintenance, it was $37,420; and for automotive parts, accessories, and tire store employees, it was $33,640. Some mechanics earn salary while some are paid hourly. This depends on the community as well as the shop.
The rate you get paid depends on how you gained training and where you work. Many repair shops pay auto technicians on an hourly basis. If you complete an associate degree program at a trade school in automotive technology, you can receive a pay increase. This increase can be even greater if you earn continued education in a specific technology whether that be a diesel program for a specific manufacturer or taking classes on automotive HVAC or doing extra study on brakes.
If you get enough experience as an auto technician and work for a car dealer or an independent repair shop, you can receive a commission that’s based on the cost of labor charged to a customer.
Under this system, which is commonly referred to as the “flat rate” or “flag rate,” your weekly earnings will depend on the amount of the work you complete.
If you do become a mechanic, you can expect to work full-time and possibly even evenings or weekends. Overtime is common in this profession.
Becoming an auto mechanic comes with quite a few perks. The first, if you’re a car fanatic, is the opportunity to turn your passion into a career.
Beyond that, one of the major perks of becoming an auto mechanic is the job stability.
The field of auto repair is very stable, as cars have long been the main form of transportation for both people and companies, and that probably won’t be changing anytime soon.
Another benefit in becoming an auto mechanic is that you’ll have the chance to one day open your own shop. Auto shop owners in the U.S. make average salaries of more than $100,000 a year, according to job site Indeed.
If you work at a private shop, some perks might include the ability to use the facilities to work on your own vehicle. You may also receive car parts or tools at a lower cost or even for free.
Lastly, one perk of getting into automotive technology is the fact that all you need is your high school diploma. Shops are always hiring technicians at any level. If you have some understanding of automotive technology and your school diploma, you should be able to find jobs or apprenticeships to study while you earn salary or wages. How easy is that?
The good news: If you’re a qualified applicant with the right education and experience, job opportunities should be in your favor.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 6 percent from now to 2026, constant with the average for all occupations.
The number of vehicles on the road is expected to continue to rise. Now more than ever, entry-level service technicians will be in great demand to perform basic maintenance and repair, such as replacing brake pads and changing oil.
The first qualification you’ll need to become an auto technician is a high school diploma or its equivalent. Next, you’ll want to do everything you can to make yourself a desirable candidate and good hire.
The right maintenance training will make you stand out to employers. Many prefer to hire someone who has completed an automotive technology training program at a vocational school or postsecondary learning institution. Earning this type of school diploma shows an employer that, in most cases, you’ll require less on-the-job training with a greater understanding of the technology.
Employers also look for mechanics that can fill their specific technology gaps. For example, a shop may not have anyone dedicated to diesel technology, fortunately for you, you studied diesel technology. Making you the most desirable choice.
If you don’t go the route of a trade school technology program, you will most likely start out in a lower-paying position, like a trainee tech, technician helper, or lubrication worker. From here, there is one great way how you can increase your position and pay, further your understanding of the technology through self study or a community college technology program.
As your career begins and progresses, you’ll be required to get various automotive technology certifications.
Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is considered the standard credential for auto service technicians. Getting this certification demonstrates your competence in the field, understanding of the technology and usually comes with higher pay. Most employers require their service technicians to become certified.
You can get ASE certification in nine different automobile specialty technology areas: automatic transmission/transaxle, brakes, light vehicle diesel engines, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance, engine repair, heating and air-conditioning, manual drivetrain and axles, and suspension and steering.
To become certified, you must have at least 2 years of experience (or relevant schooling and 1 year of experience) and pass an exam.
If you achieve certification in all of the required areas, you can even earn the elite ASE Master Technician status, which comes with higher pay.
Getting into the Field
Once you’ve made the decision that this is what you want to do, here are some steps for breaking into the auto mechanic industry:
Get in on the ground floor at an auto repair shop
You can start your career by finding a job at a local mechanic’s shop. If you’re looking to get in on the ground floor, find a job at your local mechanic’s shop as a parts runner (you’ll set aside parts for customers) or mechanic’s helper.
You probably won’t work on cars all day, but you will get a hands-on education on how an auto repair shop works to prep you for your future as an auto technician. And as you gain more experience and the trust of your supervisor, you might even get the chance to get under the hood of a car.
You will also be building valuable relationships in the industry. Once you become a full-fledged auto mechanic, you’ll have a relevant reference to put on your job application or even a job offer from the shop.
Start building up your toolbox
Now is the time to start building up the tools of your trade. The auto repair shop you work for will most likely have the large, more expensive equipment for mechanics to use. However, you’ll probably be responsible for purchasing the hand tools you’ll need.
Some of the basic tools you will need are wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, and more. For an in-depth look at the list of best mechanic tools for beginner mechanics we made.
Find out what you need by talking to other mechanics working in your repair shop — they’ll be able to give recommendations on the right tools and their favorite brands. At the end of the day, though, you’ll have to get what’s right for you and start building your own preferences.
Get the right education and training
You can find mechanic certification programs at most community colleges and technical schools, or you can find a school that specializes in auto mechanics education.
There are pros and cons for each scenario. Community Colleges will set you up with the education you need to be a successful mechanic, plus it’s typically the more affordable option. However, a specialized mechanic school or specialized classes may pay off more in the long run.
An added benefit of attending a specialized school is the networking opportunities they offer, as well as the specialized certification. The more specialized your certification, the more you can expect to earn in your hourly rate as a diesel, Ford, or small motor mechanic.
Gain as much experience as possible
Becoming a certified auto mechanic is only just the beginning. Your education should be a lifelong pursuit.
There’s always more to learn, even if you attended a technical school and completed a basic mechanic certification program. If you have the time and financing, you can move on to advanced or specialized certification for a mechanic school. Some employers will even fund your education.
Already have a job at an auto repair shop? It’s worth asking your employer if they’d be interested in paying for your advanced certification or even a fraction of it.
The benefit of continued learning and advanced certifications is that you’ll be a more ideal candidate for employers. Along with that, you can specialize your skills and even be considered for management with a bachelor degree. Students should keep this in mind when doing their search for a job. Job offers should set a clear path for growth, otherwise you should not select that job.
Types of Certification
The standard certification for mechanics is through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. It’s available in nine different areas: automatic transmission/transaxle, brakes, light vehicle diesel engines, electrical/electronic systems, engine performance, engine repair, heating and air-conditioning, manual drivetrain and axles, and suspension and steering.
The cost will depend on the education and training you choose. Here’s an idea of what you can expect if you opt for:
- Online automotive technician training programs — Programs can cost anywhere from $750 to $1,000.
- A certificate program — You can expect to pay $5,000 to $20,000 for programs that last six months to two years.
- An associate degree — An associate degree program in auto mechanics generally costs about $10,000-$25,000 and takes two years to complete.
- Voluntary certifications — Courses generally cost $30-$60 per test, plus a $36 registration fee.
- Licensing requirements — Licensing requirements vary by state.
It depends on the training you choose, but upon successful program completion you should be able to do the following:
- Diagnose and repair all major vehicle systems, including electrical, brakes, engines, transmissions, and steering and suspension
- Use tools and equipment found in an automotive repair shop
- Operate diagnostic and repair equipment
- Interpret repair manuals and computer-based programs
Trade Schools Near You
Learn More about Becoming a Mechanic!
We create resources for aspiring auto mechanics. From school searching guides to different learning techniques, we have them.
Popular Mechanic Locations
How long does it take to learn to be a mechanic?
The length of time it takes to learn about automotive technology will vary from each different type of training. For example, going to trade school will take on average 3 years to earn an associate degree while apprenticeships can last anywhere from 1 year to 5 years. It all comes down to your drive…
Are there any prerequisites to automotive training?
Although most trade schools do not require prerequisites to start their program, most auto shops will require some training from their auto mechanics. Prerequisites for school will vary from each school…
Do mechanics make good money?
Mechanics can earn very good money doing something they love, wrenching on vehicles. The amount of money any certain mechanic will make varies on location, experience, training, and specialization. On average, mechanics make about $21 an hour or $43,000 per year…
Is mechanic a good career?
Auto mechanics typically enjoy their career, especially if your drive and passion follows it. For mechanics, some pros are job security, good wage potential, and the ability to work on passions while some cons are poor working conditions, expensive equipment, and physical strain. There are many other pros and cons that come along with being an automotive technician…
How much does it cost to become a mechanic?
The cost of school depends heavily on the school you choose to go to. There are many different auto mechanic training options to choose from with all different costs. You can pay to go to trade school for more formal training or get paid to complete an apprenticeship for more informal training…