What is an Auto Mechanic?

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Auto mechanics play a key role in the American economy. It’s their job to help people with car troubles fix the underlying malfunction, and get back to using their vehicle to go to work, pick up their kids, and complete other important tasks.

If you’re someone who’s always loved tinkering with vehicles, you might be interested in becoming an auto mechanic yourself. But before you get started down that path, you might want to do some research to learn a bit more about what the profession entails. 

The good news is, you’ve come to the perfect place for that. Continue reading to learn:

  • What auto mechanics do for their customers
  • How to become an auto mechanic
  • What type of income you can expect to earn as an auto mechanic
  • How to decide if this is the right career path for you

What does an auto mechanic do?

Auto mechanics are responsible for performing repairs, diagnostic tests, and other maintenance tasks on vehicles. They work on a wide variety of cars, vans, and trucks. 

Some auto mechanics specialize in working with a specific type of vehicle or on a specific part of a vehicle, such as its brakes, tires, or engine. Others don’t specialize and provide general vehicle maintenance and repairs to all types of automobiles.

Here are some of the tasks that an auto mechanic might complete during an average day:

  • Communicate with customers to gather information about the problems their vehicles are having
  • Use computerized diagnostic tests to diagnose which parts of the vehicle may be malfunctioning
  • Remove old, worn, or broken parts from a vehicle and replace them with new components
  • Communicate with customers to let them know what work is being done to their car, SUV, or truck, and why
  • Maintain accurate and updated records that document all work performed

Some auto mechanics will complete all of these tasks over the course of an average day, while others might complete totally different tasks! The specific tasks that a mechanic completes will likely vary based on what they specialize in and the company they work for.

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Do auto mechanics make good money?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, auto mechanics in the United States make an average of $44,050 per year or $21.18 per hour. However, a mechanic could make much more or much less than that depending on factors such as where they’re located and how much experience they have.

For example, the average salary for an auto mechanic in the District of Columbia is $64,640. Similarly, auto mechanics in California make $54,540 per year on average. Data points like this show that auto mechanics tend to earn more in parts of the country where the cost of living is high.

How do you become an auto mechanic?

While you probably don’t need to earn a four-year degree to become an auto mechanic, you will likely need some formal training after you finish high school. Here’s a step-by-step look at the average path someone needs to travel in order to become an auto mechanic.

HIGH SCHOOL

If you’re a high school student, you can begin preparing yourself for a career as an auto mechanic by taking the right classes. This isn’t overly complicated, and should likely just involve taking available automotive repair classes that your high school offers. 

It’s also a good idea for high school students to focus on subjects like electronics, computers, and math. Having a strong background in these areas will prepare you to complete your post-secondary auto mechanic training as efficiently as possible.

POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION

Most aspiring auto mechanics will need to complete some type of post-secondary education to gain the real-world skills they need to work on cars. This can mean a few different things. 

As a potential auto mechanic you might pursue a certificate from a vocational school, to help to prepare you for entry-level jobs. These programs typically last around six months to one year and often provide both classroom instruction and hands-on practice.

There are also short-term certification programs that are designed to help a budding mechanic specialize in a certain area. For example, you could get a certification in brake maintenance or engine performance, preparing you for a position that specialized in one of these areas.

Some auto mechanics also decide to complete full associate’s degrees. These programs take 1-2 years to complete and offer more background on key topics such as automotive repair, electronics, and mathematics. 

Some associate’s degree programs will also teach business skills and professionalism with additional classes on topics like customer service. An auto mechanic doesn’t necessarily need to have an associate’s degree to begin working in the industry, but earning one can help you to stand out from other candidates.

ON-THE-JOB TRAINING

Auto mechanics who have completed some form of post-secondary education generally don’t need much in the way of on-the-job training. If this is you, you may spend some time working closely with more experienced technicians to develop the real-world skills you need to excel as a professional auto mechanic.

Some automobile maintenance shops will hire candidates who haven’t completed any post-secondary training. These employees usually start out as technicians’ helpers or trainee technicians. In this position you would receive lots of training from the more experienced employees in their shop.

LICENSES AND CERTIFICATIONS

Any auto mechanic that purchases or works with refrigerants needs to earn a license from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This ensures that you as the mechanic know the proper way to handle refrigerants so that they don’t harm the environment.

Many mechanics will also choose to earn a certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE offers certifications in a wide variety of automobile specialties, including:

  • Engine repair
  • Heating and air-conditioning
  • Engine performance
  • Electronic systems
  • Brakes
  • Suspension and steering

Earning one of these certifications typically brings higher pay for a mechanic. Many automobile repair shops require their mechanics to get a certification from ASE to demonstrate their competence.

Where are the best places to work as an auto mechanic?

The best places to work as an auto mechanic are likely to be areas in which mechanics are both in high demand and well paid. Here are three states that fit this description.

CALIFORNIA

California is home to nearly 60,000 auto mechanics, which is the largest concentration of anywhere in the United States. On top of that, auto mechanics in California earn an average of $54,540 per year. That’s significantly higher than the national average salary of $44,050.

WASHINGTON

Washington state could also be a fantastic place to work if you want to be an auto mechanic. Mechanics here make an average of $52,530 per year — good for third-best in the entire United States. Additionally, there are nearly 11,000 auto mechanics employed in the state, which is much more than many other states.

NEW YORK

New York earns a spot on the list for its ample job opportunities. There are more than 32,000 auto mechanics employed in the state, and they make an average salary of $46,910 per year.

BEST METROPOLITAN AREAS FOR AUTO MECHANICS

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks employment data at a metropolitan-area level, which can provide further insight into where you might want to look for a job in this field.

Here are the metropolitan areas with the most job opportunities for auto mechanics:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA – 28,540
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI – 18,480
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA – 16,320
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX – 13,740
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA – 12,090

What are the top specializations for an auto mechanic?

Vehicles are complex systems with lots of moving parts. Instead of focusing on maintaining all of these systems, some auto mechanics choose to specialize in a specific one. Here are some of the most common specializations for an auto mechanic.

ENGINE WORK

Some mechanics focus solely on vehicle engines. It’s their job to take engines apart when they’re malfunctioning, diagnose the problem, fix it, and then put everything back together.

ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS

Electrical systems provide electrical flow, which allows vehicles to start and provides power to other parts of the car. For example, the ignition and fuel systems both need a working electrical system to function. This is another popular system that auto mechanics can specialize in.

TRANSMISSION REPAIR AND REBUILD

 A mechanic can also choose to specialize in the repair and building of transmissions. Individuals who wish to do this need to be well-versed in diagnosing, servicing, and rebuilding both automatic and manual transmissions.

Thinking about becoming an auto mechanic? We’ve got an app for that

If you are interested in becoming an auto mechanic or have the skills and are in the market for a job, download the Rock The Trades App. We add 50,000 new jobs every month, and that includes mechanic positions. 

After you download the app, we’ll ask you a few questions, and then we’ll start connecting you to employers looking for tradespeople like you right now.

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