What Does an Automotive Technician Do?
Automotive technicians (also sometimes called automotive mechanics and automotive service technicians) enjoy working in a field that provides continual opportunities for lifelong learning. Let’s discuss the automotive technician’s duties here. Reading about this tradesperson’s duties will help you begin to think about whether this field is right for you.
The duties of an automotive technician usually include:
• Automotive technicians work on both traditional mechanical systems of the vehicle (such as drivebelts, transmissions, and engines), as well as (increasingly) complex electronic systems. Computer and electronic components usually control steering systems, transmission, and braking. Successful automotive technicians must be willing and able to keep up with fast-paced technological changes and advances in order to stay relevant and employable.
• Automotive technicians examine the components of a vehicle and identify problems. This requires a great deal of attention to detail and conscientiousness. Computerized diagnostic equipment is increasingly used in this process.
• Automotive technicians check to make sure that parts and systems function properly through testing. Carrying out such testing correctly takes a methodical and organized mind.
• Automotive technicians make and use checklists to methodically make sure that he/she has carried out examination of all critical parts of the vehicle. This is just one more example of how detail-oriented, organized, and conscientious an automotive technician needs to be.
• Automotive technicians use technical manuals, experience, and charts, plan procedures for how the work will be done. These tradespeople must be proficient at quickly finding what they need in available information resources.
• Automotive technicians make repairs according to the specifications of the customer and manufacturer. The automotive technician must ensure that he or she keeps all vehicles and repairs entirely separate in his or her mind.
• Automotive technicians verbally explain the problems with his or her vehicle to the customer, as well as the repairs that need to be done. Strong communication skills (speaking and attentive listening) are needed for this part of the job.
• Automotive technicians carry out replacements of, and repairs to, vehicle parts such as sensors, wheel bearings, and brake pads.
• Automotive technicians carry out basic maintenance and care of vehicles. This includes such things as tire rotation, checking fluid levels, and changing oil.
• It is becoming more common for automotive technicians to be asked to work on alternative fuel vehicles (such as those that run on electricity and ethanol). Becoming very well-trained in these areas will help to ensure an automotive technician remains employable and relevant well into the future.
• Automotive technicians must engage in lifelong learning, and keep up to date with new electronic features and systems, such as accident-avoidance sensors.
• Automotive technicians use power tools such as jacks and hoists, welding torches, pneumatic wrenches, and lathes, as well as computerized diagnostic tools. Power tools and computerized diagnostic tools are usually owned by the employer of the automotive technician.
• Automotive technicians use hand tools; for example, wrenches, ratchets, sockets, and pliers. The automotive technician usually owns these tools.
As an automotive technician, you will probably invest substantial money in your own tool collection. Many automotive technicians invest several thousands of dollars in tools during their career.
Automotive technicians sometimes choose to work in a specialty. Examples of possible specialty positions include:
• Transmission technician and rebuilder
• Brake technician
• Drivability technician
• Automotive air-conditioning technician
• Front-end technician
Where Does an Automotive Technician Work?
Automotive technicians can find jobs in several different environments. Examples of workplaces where automotive technicians can be found include:
• Automobile dealerships
• Automotive electrical and mechanical repair and maintenance shops
• Automotive parts stores
• Automotive accessories stores
• Tire stores
As an automotive technician, you will need to expect to stand for the majority of the workday. Your work environment will likely be well-lit and well-ventilated. You must be equally comfortable working with tools and greasy parts, and complex computerized equipment.
The majority of automotive technicians work on a full-time basis. It is quite common for these tradespeople to work weekends or evenings, as well as overtime hours.
Being self-employed and owning one’s own business is a strong option for automotive technicians, especially after they have gained several years of experience. In 2014, approximately 1 in 10 people in this field were self-employed.
If you have eventually being self-employed and having your own automotive repair and maintenance business as your goal or dream, you should keep in mind the importance of keeping your skills in every area of the field at the highest level. Work on your administrative and business skills, as these will be just as important as your automotive technology skills as a self-employed business owner.
Below are some factors to consider with regard to starting your own auto repair business:
• You will need to have access to a large amount of capital. Having this access will probably involve having to take out a large bank business loan.
• You will need to create a viable business plan. This involves setting solid, tangible goals for your business. Your business plan must set out your plans regarding expenses of all kinds (for example, advertising), as well as the methods you will use in each necessary area.
• You must take start-up costs into account. This is especially important in this field, as much of the needed equipment is extremely expensive.
• A good option is to buy an existing auto repair business, rather than going to the trouble of building one from the ground up. Another alternative is to buy and/or set up a branch of an automobile repair franchise company.
• Remember the importance of planning for insurance to cover anything happening to the shop, as well as possible injuries to workers.
• You might decide to offer a wide variety of services to customers, or be more specialized.
• Do a lot of research regarding possible locations for your business. Location is always a critically important factor in the success of a business, and this is especially the case in the field of automobile repair.
What Personal Qualities Do You Need to Succeed as an Automotive Technician?
Being an automotive technician is a challenging job that requires several personal qualities and skills, including:
General dexterity: You will need strong hand-eye coordination, as well as steady hands.
Mechanical understanding and skills: Automotive technicians need strong comprehension of mechanical systems.
Organizational skills: It is essential to keep the workspace organized and clean, for numerous different reasons. Also, if you have especially strong organizational skills, you are more likely to progress in your career.
Troubleshooting abilities: Automotive technicians must be effective troubleshooters.
Physical ability and strength: Lifting and dealing with heavy parts and equipment requires good physical strength.
Attention to detail: Automotive technicians need to pay close and consistent attention to detail.
Customer service skills: Automotive technicians must have good customer service skills.
Communication skills: Automotive technicians must be able to verbally communicate effectively with customers.
Willingness and ability to learn quickly: As automotive technology is constantly changing, it will be essential for you to keep up to date with changes and advances to technology throughout your career. Automotive technicians face a competitive job market, and being a quick and eager learner will put you at an advantage.
While it is not technically necessary to have formal education and training in the field before being hired in this field in California, you are unlikely to be hired unless you have such education and training. One reason for this is the growing importance of advanced technology in the day to day work of an automotive technician. Employers generally want prospective employees to have a relevant certificate, diploma, or even associate’s degree from an accredited program before applying for work.
Finding and Completing an Automotive Technician Educational Program in California . You can find automotive technician educational programs in California at vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Automotive technician educational programs include classroom instruction in addition to significant hands-on practice. It is likely that your program will require you to complete formal practical experience in a workplace (a practicum or an internship). Automotive technician educational programs are usually around six months to two years in length.
You might find that the vocational school, community college, or university at which you complete your program will offer you help in finding a job, as well as connections to the industry. Once you have completed your program, you should take one or more of the available certification exams in order to obtain Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification. Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is granted by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. There are many ASE certification tests to choose from, each testing your knowledge in a specific area. You must one at least once test and have two years of experience before getting your full ASE certification. Certification is required to be renewed every five years.
It is advisable to take numerous ASE tests as you progress through your career, as they are useful stepping stones in making you more and more highly prized by your employer(s), and will make it easier for you to command higher wages.
Once you have taken eight tests in a specific test series, you will be granted Master Automobile Technician certification.
In the United States as a whole, the median annual salary for automotive technicians is $37,850. Automotive technicians working for automobile dealerships tend to have the highest salaries, with a median salary of $42,360.
The job growth rate in the field of automotive technology and repair is average compared to other occupations. You can increase your chances of being hired significantly through constantly engaging in lifelong learning and keeping up to date with all the latest technology. Completing a program of formal education in the field and having ASE certification will make you much more likely to be hired than otherwise.
What about the job market specific to California? Below is a list of the median salary for automotive technicians in several California cities and towns (note that these numbers do not include possible benefits and bonuses of any kind):
San Diego: $38,587
Daly City: $44,288
Los Angeles: $39,765
Santa Barbara: $38,380
San Francisco: $44,288
Below are factors which will make it more likely you will find a job as an automotive technician in California:
• You have automotive repair classroom training, including collision repair training and repair technology training courses (which include diagnostic software)
• Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certification (you will be in an even better position if you achieve Master Mechanic certification)
Other factors that will give a job seeker an advantage include:
• Work experience (in California) in the parts specialist field and service consultancy. Two years of at least one of these is especially prized.
• On-the-job training gained at automotive dealers in the state
• Certifications specific to individual car manufacturers (for example, BMW, General Motors, Mercedes, or Chrysler)
In most states, automotive technicians are often paid through the “flat rate” system. This means that they are paid by the task. The problem with this is that regardless of how long the technician actually took to complete a given task, he or she will be paid only for the number of hours in which the employer expected it to be done. Luckily, California adheres to the policy and practice of “unapplied time.” This means that while it is true that an automotive technician might be paid on a flat rate system for the jobs he completes, he will also be paid for “unapplied time,” which is the time he spent at work, whether or not any work was done. This means that California is an especially advantageous state to be an automotive technician.