In the old days, anyone with a wrench, a repair manual, and the willingness to shimmy under a car with a creeper could call themselves an automotive mechanic. No more! Today's dealerships and auto mechanic shops are looking for graduates of auto mechanic schools who know how to use computerized diagnostic equipment to identify problems in ever-more-complicated cars and trucks.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers seek candidates who have completed formal auto mechanic courses or auto mechanic degree programs that are qualified to handle emerging automotive technology. In the larger cities, the BLS reports, many employers demand entry-level automotive mechanics to hold an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification. You can kiss the old-school wrench jockeys goodbye.
Auto Mechanic School: What to Expect
Today's campus and online auto mechanic schools may provide instruction in diagnosis, service, and repair of domestic and foreign vehicles, along with the increasingly sophisticated computerized tools required to keep pace with emerging models and systems, including hybrids. That doesn't mean you won't be required to handle tools or use your common sense and your experience. Auto mechanic courses may combine technical training with hands-on practice in generally required skill areas, including:
- Engines and power plants
- Transmission systems
- Electrical systems
- Wheels and brakes
- Electronic fuel injection systems
- Heating and air conditioning
- Diagnostics and smog certifications
You may also choose to continue your education later by enrolling in courses for high-performance vehicles, street rods, diesel engines, chassis repair or fabrications, trim and upholstery, or collision repair and painting. Some auto mechanic schools may focus on manufacturer specific training for diagnosing, repair, or maintenance of foreign and high-performance vehicles.
Among the auto mechanic degree programs, you'll find courses leading to diplomas, certificates, associate's degrees, and four-year bachelor's degree in automotive engineering technology.
Career Options for Auto Mechanic School Graduates
Grads from auto mechanic degree programs may take jobs with automobile dealerships, private repair shops and garages, auto parts stores, parts manufacturing companies, tire retailers, or as self-employed professionals.
If you work for a dealership or repair shop after graduating from mechanics school, you may probably work as an apprentice behind a seasoned mechanic who checks your work. With experience, you may also move from assigned auto maintenance roles to diagnostic and repair work. You may choose to pursue additional training on specific brands of vehicles as your employer asks you to obtain certifications.
Salary Outlook for Auto Mechanic School Degree Holders
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that automotive service technicians and mechanics earned mean annual wages of $35,790 in 2010. Wages may vary by region, training, and the size of your employer.
States areas with the highest concentration of auto mechanics include Vermont, Montana, West Virginia, and Maine, while the top-paying state was Alaska, with an hourly mean wage of $23.74. You can earn more by continuing to add specializations and certifications. In the auto body field, by comparison, the 2009 mean annual wage was $41,020, with the top earners drawing $63,980.
The BLS predicts very good job opportunities for auto mechanics with formal training and ASE certification.