What Does an Auto Mechanic Do?
More than 90% of American households own a vehicle, so it’s no surprise that the people who keep them running are in demand.
Auto mechanics — also known as vehicle technicians, automotive technicians and auto service technicians — inspect, maintain and repair cars and light trucks. They perform a wide variety of services including computer diagnostics, safety inspections and maintenance tasks like oil changes. They repair brakes, air conditioning, suspension, emission systems and more.
As cars and trucks evolve, automotive technicians increasingly use highly sophisticated equipment and computer software. This equipment helps diagnose vehicle issues, so mechanics and technicians need to be comfortable with the technology that makes working with modern cars possible.
Another trend to watch: Hybrid and electric vehicles are pouring into the car market, creating an opportunity and a challenge for auto technicians and independent repair shops. The most successful technicians and shops will make EV repair training part of their mission. (We’ll get into the details on EV technician training below.)
If you’re good at troubleshooting and have a willingness to learn, becoming an auto mechanic or auto technician could be a rewarding career. Keep reading to learn more.
- Perform diagnostic tests on vehicles via tablet, laptop or mobile device
- Decipher vehicle issues and determine which parts need repair
- Perform preventative maintenance and repairs
- Test-drive vehicles
- Communicate effectively with customers about needed repairs
- Understand wiring diagrams and system tests
How To Become an Auto Mechanic: FAQs
What steps do I need to take?
For an entry-level or apprentice position, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Classes in high school science, math and basic reasoning will help prepare you for training. If you’ve always been interested in cars or trucks, offer to help out at a local repair shop doing detailing or other tasks that place you in the shop environment. You can learn a lot just from being there and asking questions.
Now it’s time to get specialized training. There are several ways to do that, including enrolling in programs offered by trade and technical schools, community colleges, universities, employers or the military.
Community colleges and trade schools offer programs that include coursework and hands-on training. Classes include mathematics, electronics and automotive repair. These types of programs take less time to complete than a four-year degree and give you a head-start on building wealth. (Check out the other reasons to choose trade school instead of college.)
Many of these programs are connected with local employers who run apprenticeship or internship programs. Some independent repair shops provide on-the-job training as the employee works toward certification. Dealerships also offer in-house manufacturer training that's specific to a particular brand of vehicle.
Finally, military training can be an excellent way to prepare for this career. Service in any of the military branches can give you experience working on different types of engines and vehicles. To translate that experience to the civilian world, use the GI Bill to help pay for training and earn the degree or certificate needed for a civilian job.
No matter which path you take, you’ll need to earn certification. National Institution for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is considered the highest standard, and most employers look for this proof of expertise. ASE entry-level certification covers eight areas, including brakes, engine repair and all the major systems.
After you pass the ASE test, you’ll become a certified professional technician.
You can earn additional certifications for specialty areas such as electronics, air conditioning, diesel engines or alternative-fuel engines, such as electric vehicles (EVs). Additional certifications will create additional income opportunities.
Are there any other qualifications?
You’ll need a driver’s license to test-drive vehicles.
How long does it take to become an auto mechanic? What hours do they work?
It usually takes two to four years of training and work experience to become a certified automotive technician. A bachelor's degree takes four years. Continuing education is ongoing.
Most mechanics work in repair shops full-time and during normal business hours.
Do I need EV technician training?
The auto industry is changing. More customers are purchasing hybrid and electric cars, and the need for EV technician training is growing. By 2035, most new car sales will be electric, though combustion engine vehicles will still be around for a long time. This will not be an overnight transition but a gradual one, meaning you have time to prepare!
If you are currently an auto technician or auto mechanic and want to become an electric car mechanic, there’s good news: EVs and hybrids still need routine maintenance and repair. However, the electrical system and drivetrain of EVs and hybrids require specialized training.
ASE offers a specific certification to work on hybrid and electric vehicles, ASE L3-Light Duty Hybrid/Electric Vehicle Specialist. If you are new to the industry, you must have at least two years of hands-on mechanic experience to enroll. The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) also offers training on electric and alternative fuel vehicles. In addition, some EV and hybrid manufacturers offer training specific to the vehicles they manufacture.
If you are currently employed in an auto repair shop, talk to the owner about paying for or splitting the cost of any of these training options. After all, you'll both benefit.
A note about safety: No matter where you are in your career, remember that EV technician training can be dangerous. There is a much higher risk of electrocution with EVs, so the right tools and the right training are important.
Is there a demand for auto mechanics?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts about 73,300 annual openings for automotive service technicians and mechanics from 2021 to 2031.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good auto technician?
Most auto technicians have a lot of interaction with customers. Successful auto mechanics tend to share these traits:
- Good communication skills
- Good attention to detail
- Excellent problem-solving and troubleshooting skills
- Keen sense of hearing
- An aptitude for mechanical work
- Good eye-hand coordination and dexterity