How to Become an Auto Mechanic
The clean lines. The rev of the engine. That 0-60 feeling.
If you’ve been excited by cars for as long as you can remember, becoming a mechanic could be an excellent career for you. With drive and dedication, you can easily become an excellent automotive technician with a little education and training.
We’ll cover the hows and whys of becoming a mechanic so you can decide if beginning a lucrative career in this evergreen industry is the right decision for your future.
Why should you become an auto mechanic?
Mechanics can enjoy rewarding careers in a fast-paced environment where they’re able to put their troubleshooting, repair, and mechanical skills to use in a way that helps other people.
As cars and machinery evolve, so does the education and skill that mechanics need to get the job done, so there’s always something new to learn and perfect as a mechanic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 5% job growth through 2024 for the automotive repair industry. Mechanics are also able to work across several different industries, so you can expect solid job prospects as you embark on a career in the industry.
While well over 35,000 new mechanics enter the workforce every year, more mechanics are retiring than entering the business, so there are plenty of jobs to fill for those entering the industry.
While becoming a mechanic requires some training, programs in auto repair are fairly short and inexpensive, especially when compared to other forms of schooling. You can often embark on a career as an auto mechanic in less than two years and begin earning a solid living as soon as you’re certified to work.
How long does it take to become a certified auto mechanic?
A career as a mechanic begins with a high school diploma or GED, and from there, it can take anywhere from 18-months to two years to become a mechanic.
There are several different ways for new mechanics to enter the industry, including trade school, an apprenticeship, community college, or even four-year degree programs. Many high schools offer entry-level courses in auto repair as well.
While a high school diploma or GED is the only requirement, most prospective mechanics choose to receive some additional formal education in order to improve their job prospects and earning potential.
Many auto mechanics enter the industry through a trade, vocational school, or a 2-year university program where they earn an Associate’s Degree in Auto Mechanics. These programs provide foundational coursework that supports technical learning in a repair shop environment.
A trade or vocational school route is one of the most popular ways to enter the industry as a mechanic.
These courses are offered worldwide by accredited facilities, and the courses are taught by seasoned mechanics who have spent years working as a mechanic before becoming an instructor.
One of the reasons for the popularity of trade schools is they can provide certification quickly and get you into the workplace faster than if you studied at a two or four-year college. Many courses can certify you and place you in your first job in as little as eighteen months, which is an attractive timeline for most future mechanics.
Those who are hoping for a more balanced and formal education can choose to study at a college or university before becoming a mechanic.
A benefit of formal education is that beyond the technical education you’ll receive in a hands-on environment, you’ll also study other areas that can make you a more well-rounded mechanic. Beyond technical work, customer service and communication are core tenets of being a quality mechanic, and studying in college can be an excellent way to develop these skills.
After graduating with a degree or certificate, new mechanics can usually enter the industry working for a private shop, dealership, or manufacturer. Graduates may also pursue a career as a technician working in other industries, for airlines, heavy equipment repair, or elsewhere. Some would-be mechanics go on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree to further hone their technical skills or study specialized forms of repair before entering the workforce.
Whether you choose to enter the industry through a college program or not, on-the-job training will often be required to refine your skills and make you a better mechanic.
Many prospective repair workers enter the industry without formal education and learn the ins and outs of auto repair through an apprenticeship at a shop.
Accredited repair facilities are able to train apprentices and provide them with the tools they’ll need to thrive in the industry. After a year or two of work as an apprentice, you can often become certified as a journeyman mechanic.
Even mechanics who have achieved their certification as part of a trade school or degree program receive additional training in a repair shop before they can confidently handle all of the repairs and work that comes through the door at a mechanic shop.
Certifications are the easiest way for employers and customers to identify the skill level and specialization of a mechanic.
Whether you enter the industry through an apprenticeship, trade school, or with a degree in auto repair, getting certified is an excellent way to hone your skills while making you more attractive to potential employers.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is the leading certification body, and its certifications are recognized throughout the country as the mark of excellence for repair personnel. The company offers a variety of certifications for everything from engine or transmission repair to heavy machinery and truck maintenance.
Achieving multiple ASE certifications is an excellent way to build a resume, and it will likely increase your chances of landing one of the highly attractive auto repair jobs at a local or state level.
ASE offers over 50 different certifications in various forms of auto repair. There’s also several practice tests you can take to get a feel for the test and identify areas where you need work.
Their A-series certificates are the most desirable, and they include:
- A-1: Automotive engine repair
- A-2: Automatic transmission and transaxle repair
- A-3: Manual transmission and transaxle repair
- A-4: Steering and suspension
- A-5: Brake repair
- A-6: Electronic system repair
- A-7: Air conditioning and heating
- A-8: Performance modifications
- A-9: Light diesel repair
Within these certifications, there are multiple levels a mechanic can achieve that denotes their level of expertise as it relates to a particular skill. The highest level of achievement in any of these certification areas is the ASE Master Mechanic certificate.
ASE offers these tests year-round at locations throughout the country. Tests are offered at in-person testing centers, and each test carries a small fee. Any mechanic can become certified, provided they meet the requirements for taking a particular test.
Depending on the test, up to three years of experience as a mechanic, parts specialist, or estimator is required before the applicant is able to set up an appointment.
How do you get hired as an auto mechanic?
Mechanics who are new to the industry can enter the field in a variety of ways.
You can serve an apprenticeship or seek an entry-level position after graduating from a trade or vocational school or from a two or four-year degree program.
The easiest way to find a job as a mechanic is often to use online and local resources to find shops or organizations that are looking for a mechanic. Speak with them about their requirements and the best ways to make yourself an attractive hire. You may also want to speak with other mechanics about the path they took to enter the industry to learn more about the best ways to land your first job.
What’s the career path for an auto mechanic?
After an apprenticeship or educational program, most rookie mechanics cut their teeth in a repair shop for several years before considering other career moves.
While it’s entirely possible to spend your entire career working in general auto repair, many mechanics move on to other specializations as their career progresses.
Many mechanics transition to careers in education, collision repair, or manufacturing, while others begin working on more specialized motors and systems.
Auto mechanic specializations you can pursue
The world of auto repair is vast and varied, and there are seemingly endless specializations that a mechanic can pursue. Many trained mechanics find work in one of the fields below:
- General automotive repair
- Diesel repair
- Small engine repair
- Heavy machinery repair
- Aircraft mechanics
General automotive repair people are tasked with making a variety of repairs to the engines and systems of automobiles and small trucks. Diesel repair is quite similar, although these mechanics deal exclusively with diesel engines. Often, diesel mechanics work on larger automotives than a general mechanic does.
Small engine repair is a varied field that includes everything from motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles to some farm equipment and tools. Heavy machinery mechanics spend their time working on heavy equipment such as payloaders, lifts, backhoes, and more.
Finally, aircraft mechanics work on plane engines and systems. Aircraft mechanics is perhaps the most specialized area of mechanics, and it requires a lengthy education and certification process.
Want to find out more?
To find out more about becoming an auto mechanic, or about a career in another industrial job, check out the Rock The Trades app for specialized information about industrial careers.