From alternative fuels to GPS navigators, automotive technicians have to be tech-savvy. Find out what it takes to begin a career as an automotive technician in today’s changing world.

“Technician” versus “Mechanic”

Automotive technicians aren’t called mechanics any longer for a reason: the amount of technological knowledge that goes into fixing today’s cars requires more than just a good ratchet set. Automotive technicians still fix and perform preventative maintenance on customers’ cars and trucks, but they also must adapt to quickly changing technology in the automotive industry.

Cars aren’t what they used to be. A great automotive technician needs to understand electronics and how a car’s computer runs mechanical components. A great automotive technician stays up to date on alternative fuel technology, from how to repair the transmission on a hybrid to how to maintain top performance of an ethanol-fueled car. A great automotive technician knows how to access and use digital manuals and understands how computer-aided diagnostics find problems in cars. Sound tough? What you probably don’t know is that great automotive technicians also have great training, usually from a vocational school.

Employment Outlook

Like doctors, automotive technicians use different diagnostic methods to identify problems. Technicians must combine a customer’s description of a noise or smell, computers and sensor equipment, and old-fashioned test drives to locate the source of a malfunction. And like doctors, automotive technicians use a variety of tools to repair those problems, from basic hand tools and drills to grinding machines and lathes.

Because of the emphasis on diagnostics, employers seek automotive technicians with solid reasoning and analytic skills, as well as customer service skills. A background in electronics is important, as is a commitment to keeping up-to-date through continuing education. Math, computer, and reading skills are also a requirement.

For automotive technicians who have the necessary training and skills, career prospects are excellent. The field is expected to grow 14% through 2016. While most work a standard forty hour work week, 30% of automotive technicians work overtime. That overtime usually happens in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate customers’ schedules.

Most technicians earn both an hourly wage and commission. The commission component comes from labor cost included in the price of a repair. If you’ve ever taken your car to the shop and wondered about the “labor cost” on your bill, part of that is going directly to the technician who fixed your car. In 2007, the average annual salary for an automotive technician was $36,480.

Career Possibilities

Like many fields, in automotive technology you have to work your way to the top. Most people who aspire to become technicians start as trainee technicians, technicians’ helpers, or lubrication workers. It can take anywhere from two to five years in the field to become a master technician. For automotive technicians who wish to specialize, it takes another year or two to become something like a transmission specialist or front-end specialist. If you want to become a brake specialist or something else that isn’t as complex, the process can be much faster because you don’t have to know everything about the whole car.

Becoming an automotive technician doesn’t necessarily mean getting your hands dirty, either. Technicians can also become shop supervisors, service managers (who oversee other technicians), and repair estimators for shops or insurance companies. 17% of people working in automotive technology are self-employed, which usually means they own their own repair shops.

Continuing Education

Continuing education can be important in today’s quickly changing world, especially for folks who experience that changing technology first hand. Automotive technicians will often attend in-house training or dealership training sessions to learn about how things like GPS and in-vehicle internet access affect car repairs.

Choosing a School

Employers seek out automotive technicians who have attended vocational schools. Career schools combine classroom training with hands-on experience in automotive technology. Students practice repairing real cars and may complete internships for course credit. Recently, career schools have added customer service, stress management, and employment skills classes to their curriculums to make graduates even more desirable to employers.

JustColleges has listings for career schools across the country that offer programs in automotive technology. Here are some examples, or you can use the location search feature to find a school close to you.

Baker College has campus locations all over Michigan, and offers both associates degrees and certificate programs. With Michigan’s economic downturn over the last several years, the fact that 98% of Baker College’s graduates are currently employed is no small feat.

The Universal Technical Institute has locations in eight different states and offers automotive technology courses as well as company-specific programs. If you know going into school that you want to work for Ford or BMW, the Universal Technical Institute might be the right career move for you. For a career in the fast lane, the NASCAR Technical Institute branch of the Universal Technical Institute colleges offers programs in NASCAR technology. Learn how to build NASCAR engines or work as part of a pit crew.

These are just two examples of the accredited career schools featured at JustColleges that will prepare you for a career in automotive technology.

ASE Certification

Urban areas (and all reputable repair shops) require that you have ASE certification to work as an automotive technician. You can test to get ASE certified in up to eight different areas. In addition to passing the exam, you must have two years of experience in automotive technology to receive certification. Your training at a vocational school will count toward that experience and also be geared toward passing that exam.