Auto Mechanic Career Overview

Automotive mechanics are specialized professionals who perform maintenance, repair, and upgrade functions for various automotive systems. For anyone with a penchant for mechanical systems and a curiosity for understanding how complex moving parts work, pursuing a career as an automotive technician is always a good option.

To help provide more clarity, below is an in-depth guide on what a career in the field entails, along with potential salary, job description, certification, licensing requirements, and steps to becoming one.

Automotive Mechanic Career Overview

Mechanics enjoy many benefits during their careers, including excellent job stability, a direct path for career advancement, and flexibility regarding the work environment.

It is also worth mentioning that given the way automotive systems power the entire world, there will always be a demand for mechanics. Furthermore, becoming an automotive mechanic involves something other than entering into significant student loan debt.

As we’ll see below, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to become a mechanic. The kind of education you do need is relatively more affordable. To make things even more convenient, it is common for students to enroll in apprenticeship programs and earn a decent amount of money while they gain hands-on experience in their fields.

For those interested in expanding their career options, the field of electricians offers another avenue to consider. Electricians are essential professionals responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems in various settings, from residential homes to commercial buildings.

Work Environment

Typically, a mechanic can be found working for an automobile dealer. However, there are other places you’ll find one. Many automotive mechanics work in repair and maintenance shops along with shops that deal in automotive parts and accessories.

Another appeal of the job is that it is possible to work independently either by having your auto store or by adopting a freelance strategy where you only work on projects that appeal to you.

If you’re drawn to careers that offer the flexibility of freelancing, consider a career in home and building inspection for the freedom and practical work. Home inspectors work independently, evaluating properties for clients and choosing projects that match their skills.

During their workday, it isn’t rare to find mechanics working with greasy tools and standing and lying in uncomfortable situations for an extended time.

Certain aspects of the job also require familiarity with computers and electronic equipment, mainly for diagnostic purposes.

How to Become an Auto Mechanic

Below are five straightforward steps anyone looking to become a mechanic may consider. While a couple of these steps are optional, they are nonetheless advisable.

Step 1: High School Diploma/GED

You must acquire specific training from an appropriate institution to become an automotive mechanic. Naturally, these institutions have a handful of requirements, and possessing a high school diploma, or GED, is one of them.

It also helps to have studied courses such as computer, mathematics, and electronic systems in high school. Of course, being familiar with these topics at a high school level is not enough to start practicing as a mechanic, but it goes a long way to set the foundation for what’s to come at a more advanced level.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

The following education requirement for becoming an automotive mechanic is to complete a training program, ideally well-respected. There are a few options in this regard.

The first is to enroll in a community college or vocational school and earn a certificate relatively quickly, usually between 6 - 12 months.

While a certificate is usually enough to start working as a mechanic, it is possible to go for an associate’s or even a bachelor’s degree. An Associate’s degree consists of about 60 credit hours and takes up to two years to completion.

Step 3: Internships and Apprenticeships

The classroom aspect of your training as a mechanic is quite essential, but ultimately all of that must be tested in a real-world work scenario. This is the purpose of internships and apprenticeship programs.

Many institutions already incorporate this aspect of the training process into their curriculum. For others, you may have to do so on your own after graduation.

As mentioned earlier, getting paid as an automotive mechanic apprentice is possible, but the pay is usually minimal.

Enrolling in an apprenticeship program directly without acquiring formal education is also possible. However, a high school diploma or GED is still a mandatory requirement.

Step 4: Getting Licensed and Certified

As an automotive mechanic, you may or may not need to get certified to practice. The primary determinant in this case is the employer. While some require certifications before they hire, some don’t.

An exception to the optional nature of certification is mechanics who work with refrigerants. They are required by law to get certified by the EPA.

For those who would like to pursue certification specific to the field, the most prominent body of interest is the ASE (Automotive Service Excellence), which offers certification for a handful of specialty areas, including automatic transmission, engine repair, suspension, and steering, brakes, engine performance, heating and air conditioning among others.

Step 5: Continuing Education

Lastly, having become a practicing mechanic, it is always a good idea to participate in continuing education programs to keep up with advancements and general changes in the field. Continuing education is also often mandated for license/certification requirements.

Automotive Mechanic Professional Organizations

All the steps above are enough to get you started as a professional automotive mechanic. While on the job, many choose to join professional organizations. These organizations provide a handful of benefits, including continuing education, professional events, license renewal, and resource access.

The following are three of the most popular professional organizations for a mechanic:

  • Automotive Service Association (ASA)
  • Automotive Engine Rebuilders Association (AERA)
  • National Auto Body Council (NABC)

Auto Mechanic Salary & Career Outlook

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that mechanics earned an annual median wage of $46,880 in 2021. Of course, factors such as experience, location, and industry can affect how much you make.

For example, those in the top 10% of these factors earned $75,100, while those in the bottom 10% earned $29,010.

Grouped by industries, mechanics in automobile dealerships earned the highest at $47,950; those in repair and maintenance followed with $46,180, while those working in parts and accessories stores achieved $37,610.