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How to Become an Auto Mechanic in 5 Steps

Learn what it takes to become an auto mechanic. Read on to find out about education requirements, training, salary and job outlook to see if this is the right career for you.

What Does an Auto Mechanic Do?

Auto mechanics, often called auto service technicians, diagnose and repair mechanical problems in cars and light trucks. They also perform routine maintenance to keep vehicles running at optimal levels. When working on a vehicle, auto mechanics test parts and repair or replace parts that are not working anymore. They must also report what was fixed or needs fixing to the customer.

The following chart gives you an overview of the general requirements for this career.

Education Required Certificate or associate's degree preferred; High school diploma or equivalent sometimes acceptable
Certification Certification from the National Institute of Automotive Excellence may increase job options and pay
Key Skills Mechanical skills, ability to diagnose and troubleshoot problems, customer service
Job Growth (2018-2028) 5%*
Median Salary (2018) $37,850*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Auto Mechanic?

An auto mechanic is a technician who repairs cars and light trucks. While you could be a generalist who works on the entire vehicle, you could also specialize in particular systems, such as steering or suspension. Your duties might include conferring with customers about their vehicles' problems; conducting test drives to evaluate problems or assess the effectiveness of repairs; examining vehicles visually and with diagnostic equipment; replacing belts, hoses, filters and spark plugs; performing oil changes and lube jobs; and rebuilding steering systems and transmissions. You also may order replacement parts and maintain records on work orders.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In some instances, a high school diploma or GED might be enough for you to obtain a job. Figures from O*Net OnLine in 2018 show about 29% of auto service technicians had either a high school diploma or equivalent. If your high school offers automotive technology courses, you can begin preparing for employment in an auto shop. Courses teach you the fundamentals of 4-cycle engines and provide you opportunities to work on one or more cars.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate

About 49% of automotive service technicians have some post-secondary education, according to O*Net Online. Certificate programs in automotive technology or automotive maintenance are available from many vocational, technical and community colleges. Certificate programs address the function and maintenance of a vehicle's essential mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems. Classes cover engines, suspensions, transmission and brakes. Some programs also cover air conditioning and heating.

Step 3: Pursue a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that about 648,050 auto mechanics and technicians held jobs in 2018 (www.bls.gov). Figures don't include those who were self-employed. From 2018-2028, employment was predicted to experience little to no change. Auto dealers and auto repair shops are your most likely employers, but you may be able to find positions with parts dealers, tire stores and gas stations. Although industry consolidation has reduced the number of dealerships, growth in the number of cars and trucks on the road will drive demand for your services. The median annual salary for an automotive technician was $40,710 in 2018.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Certification can improve your chances of finding a job, especially in urban areas where competition is keener. Credentials from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence are the industry standard. In their category for cars and light trucks, you can obtain certifications in nine separate areas, including brakes, automatic transmissions, electrical systems and engine repair. Each has its own exam. You need at least two years of work experience to be eligible. Passing all exams except the diesel engines exam qualifies you as a master automobile technician.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Your advancement will depend on your skill and experience, and you could become a head mechanic or senior mechanic. A position as a shop service manager or supervisor is possible if you have experience and a talent for administration. Finally, if you have business sense you could open a shop of your own.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are other alternative career options relating to being an auto mechanic including jobs as an automotive body and glass repairer or a diesel service mechanic. Those interested in automotive body and glass repair work on all glass parts of the vehicle and the frame. They inspect and repair structural damage to the vehicle. Diesel service technicians and mechanics diagnose, repair and maintain vehicles with diesel engines, which primarily include trucks and buses. While some auto body repairers and diesel mechanics can obtain positions with only a high school diploma, postsecondary training is helpful and often preferred by many employers. Certification options are also available for each occupation, which can bolster job prospects.