Auto body repairers work in the automotive industry. They repair, restore, refinish, and replace vehicle bodies and frames, windshields, and window glass.
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Auto body repairers typically do the following:
Auto body repairers can repair most damage from everyday vehicle collisions and make vehicles look and drive like new. Damage may be minor, such as replacing a cracked windshield, or major, such as replacing an entire door panel. Repair technicians use many tools for their work. To remove damaged parts, such as bumpers and door panels, they use pneumatic tools, metal-cutting guns, and plasma cutters. For major structural repairs, such as aligning the body, they often use heavy-duty hydraulic jacks and hammers. For some work, they use common hand tools, such as metal files, pliers, wrenches, hammers, and screwdrivers. In some cases, repair technicians do an entire job by themselves. In other cases, especially in large shops, they use an assembly line approach in which they work as a team with each repair technician specializing. Although repair technicians sometimes prime and paint repaired parts, automotive painters generally perform these tasks. For more information, see the profile on painting and coating workers. Auto body and related repairers, or collision repair technicians, straighten metal panels, remove dents, and replace parts that cannot be fixed. Although they repair all types of vehicles, most work primarily on cars, sport utility vehicles, and small trucks. Automotive glass installers and repairers remove and replace broken, cracked, or pitted windshields and window glass. They also weatherproof newly installed windows and windshields with chemical treatments.
Most employers prefer to hire repair technicians who have completed a formal training program in automotive body repair or refinishing. Still, many new repair technicians begin work without formal training. Industry certification is increasingly important. High school, trade and technical school, and community college programs in collision repair combine hands-on practice and classroom instruction. Topics usually include electronics, physics, and mathematics, which provide a strong educational foundation for a career as a repair technician.
New workers typically begin their on-the-job training by helping an experienced repair technician with basic tasks. As they gain experience, they move on to more complex work. Some workers may become trained in as little as a one year, but generally, workers may need 3-4 years of hands-on training to become fully qualified repair technicians.
To keep up with rapidly changing automotive technology, repair technicians need to continue their education and training throughout their careers. They are expected to develop their skills by reading technical manuals and by attending classes and seminars. Many employers regularly send workers to advanced training programs. Although not required, certification is recommended because it shows competence and usually brings higher pay. In some instances, however, it is required for advancement beyond entry-level work. Repair technicians must be able to evaluate vehicle damage and determine necessary repair strategies for each vehicle they work on. In some cases, they must decide if a vehicle is “totaled” or too damaged to justify the cost of repair. They must discuss auto body and glass problems, along with options to fix them, with customers. Because self-employed workers depend on repeat clients for business, they must be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions. Repair technicians must pay close attention to detail. Restoring a damaged auto body to its original state requires workers to have a keen eye for even the smallest imperfection. Many repair technicians’ tasks, such as removing door panels, hammering out dents, and using hand tools to install parts, require a steady hand and good hand–eye coordination. Repair technicians must know which diagnostic, hydraulic, pneumatic, and other power equipment and tools are appropriate for certain procedures and repairs. They must be skilled with techniques and methods necessary to repair modern automobiles.
Repair technicians work indoors in body shops, which are often noisy. Most shops are well ventilated to disperse dust and paint fumes. Repair technicians sometimes work in awkward and cramped positions, and their work can be physically demanding. Auto body repairers held about 170,900 jobs in 2010. About 61% worked in automotive repair shops, 16% worked for automobile dealers, and another 16% were self-employed.
The median annual wage of automotive body and related repairers was $38,130 in May 2010. The lowest 10% earned less than $22,990, and the top 10% earned more than $64,320. The majority of repair shops and auto dealers pay repair technicians on an incentive basis. In addition to receiving a guaranteed base salary, employers pay workers a set amount for completing various tasks. Their earnings depend on both the amount of work assigned and how fast they complete it. Trainees typically earn between 30% and 60% of skilled workers’ pay. They are paid by the hour until they are competent enough to be paid on an incentive basis.