Weird noises. Stalled engines. Ominous black smoke. Anyone who ever had major car trouble likely appreciates the value of a good auto mechanic. These professionals not only fix cars and trucks in need, but perform the regular maintenance to prevent major blow-outs down the line. Knowing how to tend to these tasks takes some serious auto know-how, however. While a lot of auto mechanic get their start tinkering with their own vehicles, many refine their skills in automotive vocational schools. Some may even choose to specialize their training, as in the case of auto body or diesel engine specialists. This training, whatever its scope, borders on essential: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that as automotive technology becomes more sophisticated, more employers may require formal training.Here is a quick review of some of the different types of careers available in the auto field, and what future professionals can expect once in them.
To say auto service technicians and mechanics fix cars would be an oversimplification. Yes, many techs do specialize in car repair and maintenance, but some choose to specialize in a particular area of the field, or in working with a specific type of vehicle. The following specializations are just a few of those available to future techs, as reported by the BLS.
- Brake repairers. Brake repairers examine, adjust and repair brake rotors and pads.
- Front-end mechanics. These technicians align and balance wheels, steering mechanisms and suspension systems.
- Transmission technicians and builders. These professionals examine, repair and replace gear trains, hydraulic pumps, and other elements of a vehicle's transmission.
- Drivability technicians. Drivability technicians are extremely knowledgeable in the areas of engine management, fuel, emission, electrical and ignition. They often use diagnostic systems or electronic systems to examine cars and diagnose problems.
- Diesel mechanics. Diesel mechanics specialize in working with diesel engines, including big trucks and watercraft.
- Auto body and glass repairers. Auto body and glass repairers restore, refinish and replace vehicle bodies, frames, and window glass.
Note that many professionals who graduate from automotive vocational schools go on to seek professional certification (or multiple certifications) in the areas above while actually working in the field.
Certifications and degrees
There are a number of different types of credentials students can earn through automotive vocational schools and industry-related professional organizations. Though many programs offer associate degrees, The College Board reports that post-secondary certificates remain one of the most common credentials. Automotive repair technicians who already hold a certificate or degree can often go on to earn additional professional certifications, too. These certification programs allow techs to specialize their training, which may, in turn, improve their earnings and employment prospects.
Though automotive vocational schools vary tremendously in scope and availability, they do tend to offers many of the same courses. The following are a few of the most common classes, as reported by The College Board:
- Auto repair fundamentals
- Auto-body welding
- Major collision repair
- Conventional frame analysis and diagnosis
- Mechanical and electrical repair
- Steering and suspension problems
- Structural and non-structural repair
- Body shop management and estimating
- Auto paint fundamentals and color matching
Salary and career outlook
It can be difficult to say precisely how much those who graduate from automotive vocational schools will earn, how easily they will find work upon graduation. A number of variables influence these trends, including experience, education and even geographical location. The following examples give a sense for what graduates can generally expect.
- Automotive service technicians and mechanics. Because this category of service repair technicians includes auto, big truck and diesel engine specialists, earnings can vary wildly from one position to the next. With this in mind, the BLS reports that auto mechanics earned a median national salary of $36,710 annually in 2013. The BLS projects that employment of these professionals will grow by 9 percent across the board between 2012 and 2022, but emphasizes that prospects may be best for candidates who have acquired formal training through automotive vocational schools.
- Automotive body and glass repairers. These professionals tend to earn salaries comparable to those of auto service technicians, but are generally in higher demand. The BLS reports that in 2013, auto body and glass repairers earned a national median annual salary of $38,850. The BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by about 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, and that those with formal training may enjoy the best prospects.
- Bus, truck and diesel engine specialists. Diesel and large engine specialists tend to have a bit more training than many auto service technicians, so tend to earn slightly more. The BLS reports that these professionals earned a national median annual wage of $42,730 in 2013. As with auto mechanics, the BLS projects that demand for diesel specialists will grow by 9 percent between 2012 and 2022. Once again, candidates with formal training through automotive vocational schools are expected to enjoy the best career prospects.
Note that all of these figures tend to change regionally, especially with respect to career outlook. For example, Projections Central reports that demand for auto service technicians will grow the fastest in Utah, Colorado and Puerto Rico between 2010 and 2020, while employment of diesel engine specialists will grow the fastest in Utah, Nevada and Washington D.C. over the same period. Demand for auto body repairers, meanwhile, will be strongest in Utah, Colorado and Hawaii.
Finding the right fit
This guide may provide a summary of the different types of automotive repair careers and credentials available, but it is only a start. We recommend researching careers and automotive vocational schools more thoroughly before enrolling in any particular program. In most cases, you can contact schools directly to request more information about a program, or visit the BLS online to learn more about particular career.
Automotive Body and Glass Repairers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes493021.htm Automotive Body and Glass Repairers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-body-and-glass-repairers.htm
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes493023.htm
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm
Bus and Truch Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes493031.htm
Diesel Service Technicians and Mechanics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/diesel-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm
"Major: Automotive-Body Technology," The College Board, Big Future, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/mechanic-repair-technologies-vehicle-maintenance-repair-automotive-body-technology
Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm