Auto mechanics inspect, maintain and repair vehicles powered by gasoline, electricity or alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. As cars become more sophisticated, the qualifications for mechanics increase: A job that used to involve relatively simple mechanical repairs now often requires workers to use computerised equipment and work with electronic components. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of auto mechanics is expected to grow 14 per cent between 2006 and 2016, which is good news for mechanics with good diagnostic skills, mechanical aptitude and knowledge of electronics.
Increasingly, employers expect auto mechanics to have completed vocational education in automotive service technology. Such programs are common in high schools, although the quality of those programs varies. Some programs participate in Automotive Youth Education Service, which pairs students with auto manufacturers and auto dealers and prepares students for entry-level mechanic positions, according to the BLS.
Coursework in physics, chemistry, automotive repair, electronics, computers, math and English provides a solid educational background for prospective auto mechanics. Some associate degree programs, which usually take two years to complete, have recently started incorporating additional classes on "employability skills," such as customer service and stress management, according to the BLS.
For some auto mechanics, on-the-job training under experienced mechanics is sufficient to learn the trade. It's also part of most auto-mechanic education programs. Those just entering the field usually start out as trainees and, perhaps after several months, move on to routine service tasks and simple repairs, according to the BLS. It typically takes two to five years of such training for a person to be considered a fully qualified mechanic, able to competently complete more difficult repairs and service. More complex specialities, such as transmission repair, may require another one to two years of experience and training, according to the BLS.
Although certification is not required in the field of auto mechanics, it is increasingly common, especially in urban areas, according to the BLS. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence offers certification in eight areas of auto service, such as brake systems, suspension and steering, and general engine repair. Certification in each area requires mechanics to have at least two years of experience and to pass an exam. Completion of all eight areas allows the mechanic to be ASE-certified as a master automobile technician.
Beyond a thorough general knowledge of automobiles, auto mechanics should be able to quickly and correctly diagnose the source of automotive problems. An aptitude for electronic components is particularly important, as they are responsible for most malfunctions in today's vehicles, according to the BLS. Strong reading, math and computer skills will help auto mechanics learn to use technical manuals. A willingness and ability to keep up with the constant influx of new technology is also important.
Maintaining skills in a variety of auto-repair services makes auto mechanics particularly valuable to their employers, which could lead to increased pay or responsibilities. Experienced mechanics with a knack for administration may advance to be service managers or shop supervisors. Others may open their own repair shops; in 2006, nearly 17 per cent of auto mechanics were self-employed, according to the BLS.