What is an Auto Mechanic?
An auto mechanic is a professional that performs maintenance and repair work on automobiles. Though an auto mechanic is perhaps best known for doing things like oil changes and brake repairs, the scope of their work can actually be much wider, ranging from auto body repair to tire rotations.
Additionally, an auto mechanic might be a generalist who does a little bit of everything or they might specialize and perform only a specific kind of auto repair, like working on transmissions, or they might work with only a specific type or brand of vehicle.
What Does an Auto Mechanic Do?
Being an auto mechanic is much more than simply working on cars. Instead, today’s vehicles are so technologically advanced that an auto mechanic must fulfill a wide variety of job duties.
Auto mechanics are tasked with troubleshooting problems with vehicles, often based upon incomplete or erroneous information given to them by vehicle owners. To develop a clearer understanding of what the problem or issue might be, an auto mechanic relies not just on his or her own personal training in working on mechanical parts, but also on their training and understanding of computerized diagnostic equipment.
Once an auto mechanic has determined the problem with the vehicle, they must devise a plan for fixing the defect. Typically, mechanics rely on their knowledge and skills to guide them regarding what repairs to make, though they also rely heavily on established procedures, technical manuals, and best practices to guide the planning process.
Repair and Maintenance
What most people likely think of when they think of an auto mechanic is the aspect of the job in which they are working on vehicles to fix the problems they discovered during the troubleshooting phase.
In terms of repair, auto mechanics will remove defective or deteriorating parts and replace them with new ones. Testing these new parts is a critical component of the repair and maintenance stage so that they are assured of working properly.
In many cases, auto mechanics need to explain to customers what’s wrong with their vehicle as well as how the problem can be fixed. This aspect of the job requires a very different set of skills than what’s required to work on a vehicle, including strong interpersonal communication skills.
Mechanics must also be able to remain calm under pressure, such as if a customer is upset about the price of repairs or the time it will take to fix their vehicle.
Cleaning and Organizing the Shop
Perhaps the least glamorous of a mechanic’s job duties is to clean and organize the shop space. With so many tools, parts, and automotive fluids in a typical shop, it’s imperative that the space be as tidy as possible for the safety of employees.
What is the Difference Between an Auto Mechanic and an Auto Technician?
There are two primary differences between auto mechanics and auto technicians. First, an auto mechanic tends to perform work on the mechanical parts of a car, fixing broken or ill-performing systems.
Conversely, an auto technician uses computers to interact with the car’s computer to diagnose problems. So, for example, if your car is experiencing engine trouble, an auto technician would likely be in charge of exploring the car’s computer to diagnose the issue, and based on that information, an auto mechanic would be tasked with fixing the problem.
The second main difference between these two professions is in the types of vehicles they can work on. Auto mechanics typically can work on any kind of vehicle because their training allows them to do so. That is, an engine in a passenger car is not that dissimilar from an engine in a truck, and that’s true across makes and models, meaning that even if an auto mechanic specializes in performing work on a specific brand, they can still likely do similar work on a different type of vehicle.
Auto technicians, on the other hand, are far more specialized and have training that typically pertains to a specific brand of vehicle, like Fiat, BMW or Ford.
What are the Working Conditions for Auto Mechanics?
The working conditions for auto mechanics can be very challenging. That is, while auto repair shops tend to be very well lit and ventilated, the fact that they have large doors that are open to the elements means that the shop can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.
What’s more, there are many dangers in a typical auto repair shop that make the working conditions more dangerous than other kinds of jobs.
For example, not only are there fluids that are dangerous (i.e., gasoline, motor oil) and potentially explosive, but there are also many types of tools that could cause injury if they were to be dropped on one’s hand, foot or other body part.
Auto repair shops usually strive to maintain a clean workspace due in large part to the need to have a space that’s as safe as possible. However, the work of an auto mechanic is certainly not clean. Mechanics can expect to have grease and other particulates on their hands, under their fingernails, and perhaps even on their arms, face, and other areas that are exposed.
Auto mechanics can work long hours, too. Many auto repair shops are open early and stay open late to accommodate the general public that might work 8am to 5pm. That means that mechanics might be on duty from 6am to 6pm, which makes for a long day of work.
What Do You Learn in an Auto Mechanic Degree Program?
With vehicles becoming ever more complex, it should be of no surprise that a typical auto mechanic degree program has a wide-range of learning targets for students. Though this is not a complete list, some of the most common things students learn are:
- Auto Shop Safety – Before students ever lay hands on a car, they must first learn how to maintain a safe working environment in the automotive shop.
- Automotive Electric Systems – Students learn about the different electrical systems in a typical vehicle as well as critical principles of electricity such as circuitry, reading electrical diagrams, and Ohm’s law.
- Automotive Brake Systems – These courses focus specifically on operating principles, diagnosis of braking problems, and learning the components of braking systems.
- Automotive Engine Repair – In this course, students learn about the various components in different engines and how to repair common engine problems.
- Automotive Suspension and Steering – Students learn about the operation of steering and suspension systems, including how to diagnose common problems with wheels and tires.
- Automotive Heating and Air Conditioning – Coursework in heating and air conditioning focus on the components of heating and cooling systems that make the cabin environment in a vehicle pleasant for its occupants.
- Automotive Computer Systems – Courses on automotive computer systems introduce students to the complexities of modern vehicle computers, including how to troubleshoot problems with a car’s computer.
- Applied Math – Applied math courses help students develop basic math skills as they pertain specifically to automotive repair applications.
- Communication – Many auto mechanic degree programs require students to complete courses in interpersonal communication in order to learn effective speaking and listening skills.
What are the Requirements to Become an Auto Mechanic?
To become an auto mechanic, one must complete a post-secondary auto mechanics training program. These programs can be completed in as little as six months and are offered at vocational schools and often community colleges as well.
The primary goal of these short-term programs is to prepare students for immediate entrance into the workforce in an entry-level position. As such, the admissions requirements for these programs tend to be lax compared to other degrees.
Some prospective auto mechanics choose to complete an associate’s degree program as part of their studies. At two years in length, an associate’s degree offers more coursework both inside and outside of the major. That is, if one majors in automotive repair, there will be more required automotive courses as well as more required general studies courses, like math, science, and the humanities.
Whether a student participates in a short-term degree program or pursues an associate’s degree, they can expect a healthy dose of classroom learning and hands-on experience working on cars under the supervision of their teachers.
Auto Mechanic Certifications
For additional training, some students might take certification programs that focus on a specific aspect of being an auto mechanic. For example, to make themselves more attractive to employers, a student could pursue certification as a brake specialist. Likewise, someone that already has a job but wants to expand his or her skills could take a certification course in an area like engine performance.
Though these specific certifications are usually not mandatory, having additional certifications will only help in finding a job. What’s more, some automotive shops might even sponsor a worker to obtain certification, making the extra learning opportunity free.
By far the most popular and widely recognized auto mechanic certification is the ASE certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. ASE Certified mechanics often enjoy greater income and improved job opportunities than mechanics that lack such a certification. And because this certification is so well respected in the automotive community, employers often require their mechanics to be ASE certified upon hire or to become ASE certified within a specified amount of time after being hired.
What is an Online Auto Mechanic Degree?
Just like studying on campus, an online program in auto mechanics affords students plenty of learning opportunities that prepare them to become competent auto mechanics.
Naturally, studying online has many perks, not the least of which is having the opportunity to learn on one’s own time. That is, rather than attending classes at a specific time, many online degree programs in this field allow students to complete their studies at their own pace. This can be a huge advantage for students that work or have other obligations.
Additionally, modern online degree programs have a wealth of resources to help students in their studies. This includes interactive online “classrooms” where students can discuss topics with one another and their teachers. Many courses even have live and recorded video feeds so students can see and listen to their teachers explain crucial topics.
Online degree programs in auto mechanics typically have work experience components as well, which gives students a chance to put their learning to the test in real-world environments working on actual cars.
What Tools Does an Auto Mechanic Need?
There are many different tools that auto mechanics must know how to utilize in order to complete their job duties proficiently. Though this isn’t a complete list, the following tools are certainly must-haves for any auto mechanic:
- Ratchets, sockets, and wrenches – These tools allow mechanics to remove bolts or nuts during the process of removing parts that need to be fixed or replaced. There are also specialized tools like an oil filter wrench, which is used specifically to remove oil filters.
- Spark plug pliers – As the name states, spark plug pliers are a mechanic’s go-to tool for removing spark plugs.
- Screwdriver set – Mechanics need a good set of screwdrivers – both flat and Phillips heads – to remove screws from parts on vehicles.
- Measuring tools – Measuring tools like a micrometer – which is used to measure the distance between two objects – are common for auto mechanics, as are tools like pressure gauges for measuring the pressure in a vehicle’s tires.
- Strut spring compressor – This specialized tool compresses the springs on a vehicle’s strut in a safe manner, that way a mechanic can replace or repair the strut around which the spring is located.
- Needle scaler – A needle scaler is used by mechanics to remove rust from metal surfaces.
- Pneumatic lift – Pneumatic lifts are used by mechanics to raise vehicles into the air for easier access to the underbelly of the car.
- Electronic diagnostic tool – These tools are small, handheld devices that allow a mechanic to access a car’s computer to diagnose potential problems with the vehicle.
- Flame torch – Some mechanics use welding tools like a flame torch for removing exhaust systems from cars.
What Skills are Required to Be an Auto Mechanic?
An auto mechanic must have the requisite skills to diagnose and fix mechanical problems with a vehicle. But they must also possess the personality traits and personal qualities that make being a good auto mechanic more likely. Some of these skills include:
- Automotive diagnostic skills – Auto mechanics should possess the ability to quickly diagnose problems with cars and be able to use the appropriate tools to do so.
- Knowledge of brake repair – Repairing and replacing brakes, including how to resurface brakes, is a hard skill that auto mechanics should master.
- Ability to tune an engine – Mechanics need to understand how to tune up an engine for optimal performance. This might include knowledge of how to flush a fuel system or testing the emissions system.
- Understanding of critical engine components – Whether they work on large or small engines that use gas or diesel, auto mechanics need to have a solid understanding of various engine components.
- Understanding of electrical systems – Being able to diagnose electrical problems and having a deep understanding of electrical systems and components is a must-have skill for workers in this field.
- Motor skills – Given the nature of their work, mechanics should have excellent fine and gross motor skills as well as strong hand-eye coordination.
- Critical thinking skills – A large part of this job is problem-solving. As such, critical thinking skills that allow for accurate diagnosis of vehicle problems are necessary.
- Enjoys manual labor – Since auto mechanics work with their hands, it helps auto mechanics to have the personal quality of enjoying manual labor.
- Physically fit – Being an auto mechanic requires one to be physically fit and capable of long hours standing, bending over, extending one’s arms above one’s head, and other awkward positions.
- Effective communication skills – Whether it’s listening to customers describe a problem or explaining what needs to be done to rectify it, auto mechanics should have top-notch communication skills to be successful.
- Interest in technology – Having an interest in technology, especially as it pertains to advancements being made in the automotive industry, is a helpful quality to have for people that wish to become an auto mechanic.
What are the Benefits of Being an Auto Mechanic?
A career as an auto mechanic comes with many benefits. Among some of the most important benefits this job provides are:
- Good earning potential – Auto mechanics can make good money, especially those with advanced training and job experience. According to a 2022 report by Salary.com, hourly wages can exceed $24/hour.
- Low education requirements – Many auto mechanics begin their careers in an entry-level position after just six months to one year of training.
- Opportunity to specialize – Some auto mechanics specialize in a certain field like diesel mechanics or brake systems, which can lead to better job opportunities and higher income.
- Abundant work opportunities – Auto mechanics are employed by a wide range of employers, from car dealerships to small garages, fleet companies (like UPS or FedEx) and government agencies (i.e., a state highway department).
- Stable career – The need for auto mechanics to repair vehicles has been stable over time and should continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
- Ability to help people – People rely heavily on their cars for everything from getting to work to taking kids to school. Helping people keep their cars on the road can result in a lot of job satisfaction.
- Gain practical knowledge – The knowledge and skills that a mechanic learns in school and on the job is applicable to everyday life, allowing them to work on their own vehicles and address problems when traveling should they arise.
What is the Job Outlook for Auto Mechanics?
The job outlook for auto mechanics is about average for all occupations. According to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this particular career area is expected to grow at a 5 percent rate through 2030.
On the one hand, the need for entry-level mechanics to perform basic automotive services like oil changes and basic repair services like changing brake pads is expected to be robust in the coming years. That’s due to the increasing number of vehicles on the road and the increasing number of aging vehicles on the road as well.
With new technologies emerging that are making cars more reliable (i.e., electric-powered vehicles), the need for auto mechanics is expected to be held in check. That is, if cars last longer and need less maintenance over the course of their lives, there will be lesser need for workers in this field. Nevertheless, good mechanics with proper training and demonstrable experience are always in high demand.
What Professions are Similar to an Auto Mechanic?
Working with one’s hands in the context of auto mechanics is a common occupation. There are many other occupations that require a similar skill set and offer a similar work experience. These include:
Auto Body Repairer
Auto body repair workers review damage to vehicles, prepare cost estimates for fixing the damage, and undertake repair work on damaged vehicles. This might involve removing body panels and replacing them with new ones, realigning a car’s frame, hammering out dents, or repainting a vehicle.
Diesel Service Technician
A diesel service technician specializes in working with diesel-powered engines, typically large engines like those found in semi trucks. This work includes inspecting the engine for blowby, replacing defective parts, cleaning engine components, changing oil, and inspecting the vehicle for other issues.
Small Engine Mechanic
A small engine mechanic specializes in working on vehicles or tools with small engines, like motorcycles, boats, and even power tools like riding lawn mowers. Their duties includes inspecting engines for performance issues, lubricating parts, replacing worn parts, and adjusting engine components according to required specifications.
Aircraft mechanics are responsible for diagnosing, repairing, and maintaining airplanes such that they are safe to fly. This includes working on mechanical or electrical problems, repairing aircraft components like wings or brakes, examining aircraft parts for defects, and testing aircraft parts to determine their fidelity.