How to Become a Mechanic in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a mechanic. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Automobile Repair degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Mechanic?

Mechanics perform repairs, install parts or install systems. They may work on motorcycles, vehicles, heating and air conditioning units, or may focus on small engines, such as those found in lawn mowers. Depending on the area they focus in, they may travel to residences or businesses to install or repair heating systems, refrigeration units, or other systems. They may also work in shops where they perform repairs to vehicles, such as buses, trucks, cars or motorcycles. Other mechanics may work on aircrafts. Mechanics need to be familiar with the mechanical systems in the equipment they work on and understand how to diagnose problems and perform repairs to make the systems work properly. The specific training requirements may vary slightly; some postsecondary training at a trade school is usually preferred.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent
Training Required Long-term on-the-job training is typical
Licensure/Certification Required Licensure and/or certification required in some fields
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 14%, for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers
4% for small engine mechanics
12% for diesel service technicians and mechanics
5% for automotive service technicians and mechanics
1% for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians
Median Salary (2015)* $45,110* for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers
$34,650 for small engine mechanics
$44,520 for diesel service technicians and mechanics
$37,850 for automotive service technicians and mechanics
$58,390 for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Mechanic Do?

A mechanic is responsible for using a variety of tools and computerized systems to maintain, repair and diagnose machinery. In this career, you may specialize in different types of machinery, such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) systems, automobiles, aircrafts or diesel engines.

Step 1: Research Career Duties and Education Requirements

Mechanics repair and replace defective parts on machinery and also perform preventative maintenance. As an automotive mechanic, you would work on cars and gasoline-fueled trucks performing routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tire rotation or using computer systems to perform diagnostic evaluations. You would perform these same functions as a diesel mechanic in addition to maintaining fuel injection systems and checking emission filters on buses, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles.

Working as an aircraft mechanic would involve repairing components, such as landing gear and hydraulic systems, checking for cracks and inspecting aircrafts. If you want to work as an HVACR mechanic, you would replace ducts and filters for air conditioning and heating systems, install compressors and piping for refrigeration equipment, test refrigerants for leaks and perform other functions.

Step 2: Prepare in High School

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most mechanics need a high school diploma or equivalent in addition to a certificate from a formal training program (www.bls.gov). You may consider taking auto shop and electronics classes while in high school to prepare for an automotive or aviation mechanic career.

Taking courses in drafting to understand blueprints as well as courses in chemistry and mathematics can be helpful in working with HVACR systems. Mechanics are often required to read owner's operator manuals when fixing problems, so performing well in English and comprehension classes can equip you to understand complex instructions.

Step 3: Complete Formal Postsecondary Training

With the increasing use of technology needed in diagnosing problems, most employers prefer candidates who have completed a formal training program. You may complete a mechanic certificate program offered at a trade school or community college in your area of specialty. Vehicle manufacturers often partner with colleges and universities to offer training on specific types of vehicles.

Step 4: Work as an Apprentice

Some schools and organizations offer apprenticeship programs where you can receive classroom training as well as on-the-job experience under the direction of a professional. Sponsorship from the company you will work for is usually required to participate in an apprenticeship program. Some apprenticeship programs take up to five years to complete and result in obtaining a license in your area of specialty.

Step 5: Obtain Certification and Licensure

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers certification options that can benefit your automotive mechanic career, including the Automotive and Light Truck and Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis Specialist certifications (www.ase.com). You will need at least two years of experience to sit for these and other ASE certification exams.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers the Airframe and Power Plant certificate, which requires passing oral, practical and written examinations (www.faa.gov). Some states require that HVACR mechanics obtain licensure. Certification may also be required, including the Professional Level and Master Specialist Hands On credentials offered by HVAC Excellence or the North American Technician Excellence's general and specialty certifications.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Electricians perform some tasks that are similar to the work mechanics do. They install systems in buildings and may also need to assess systems to determine why they aren't working properly and replace faulty wiring or perform other repairs. They usually prepare for their career by completing an apprenticeship or some postsecondary training. Plumbers also install and repair equipment in homes and businesses. They focus on the plumbing systems, and prepare for their career through on-the-job training. Boilermakers do not necessarily need any postsecondary training, and they install and repair boilers. Boilers can be used to provide heat to structures.

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