Automotive service technicians and mechanics, often called service technicians, inspect, maintain, and repair cars and light trucks.
Automotive service technicians typically do the following:
Service technicians work on traditional mechanical components, such as engines, transmissions, belts, and hoses. However, they must also be familiar with a growing number of electronic systems. Braking, transmission, and steering systems, for example, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic components.
Other integrated electronic systems, such as accident-avoidance sensors, are becoming common as well. In addition, a growing number of technicians are required to work on vehicles that run on alternative fuels, such as ethanol and electricity.
Service technicians use many different tools, including computerized diagnostic tools and power tools such as pneumatic wrenches, lathes, welding torches, and jacks and hoists. These tools usually are owned by their employers.
Service technicians also use many common hand tools, such as pliers, wrenches, and screwdrivers, which generally are their own. In fact, experienced workers often have thousands of dollars invested in their personal tool collection.
Service technicians sometimes specialize in a particular type of repair that may be subject to specific regulations or procedures. For instance, those focused on air-conditioning system repairs must follow federal and state regulations governing the handling, recycling, and disposal of refrigerants.
In some shops, technicians may specialize. The following are types of service technicians: - Automotive air-conditioning repairers install and repair air conditioners and service parts, such as compressors, condensers, and controls. They are trained in government regulations related to their work. - Brake repairers adjust brakes, replace brake linings and pads, and make other repairs on brake systems. Some technicians specialize in both brake and front-end work. - Front-end mechanics align and balance wheels and repair steering mechanisms and suspension systems. They frequently use special alignment equipment and wheel-balancing machines. - Transmission technicians and rebuilders work on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps, and other parts of transmissions. Extensive knowledge of computer controls, the ability to diagnose electrical and hydraulic problems, and other specialized skills are needed to work on these complex components. - Tune-up technicians adjust ignition timing and valves and adjust or replace spark plugs and other parts to ensure efficient engine performance. They often use electronic testing equipment to isolate and adjust malfunctions in fuel, ignition, and emissions control systems.
Because automotive technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, employers prefer service technicians who have completed a formal training program in a postsecondary institution. Industry certification is usually required once the person is employed. High school courses in automotive repair, electronics, computers, mathematics, and English provide a good background for prospective service technicians.
Completing a vocational or other postsecondary training program in automotive service technology is considered the best preparation for entry-level positions. Programs usually last six months to a year and provide intensive career preparation through classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Short-term certificate programs in a particular skill are also available. Some service technicians get a two-year associate’s degree. Courses usually include basic mathematics, computers, electronics, and automotive repair. Some programs have recently added classes in customer service, English, and other necessary skills.
Most service technicians must complete on-the-job training, often as part of a formal education program. Depending on a new service technician’s educational background, it typically takes two to five years of experience to become a fully qualified service technician. It then takes an additional one to two years of experience for service technicians to become familiar with all types of repairs. New workers generally start as trainee technicians, technicians’ helpers, or lubrication workers and gradually acquire and practice their skills by working with experienced mechanics and technicians. Service technicians must discuss automotive problems—along with options to fix them—with their customers. Because self-employed workers depend on repeat clients for business, they must be courteous, good listeners, and ready to answer customers’ questions.
Mechanical and electronic malfunctions are often due to misalignments or other easy-to-miss reasons. Service mechanics must, therefore, account for such details when inspecting or repairing engines and components.
Many tasks that service technicians do, such as disassembling engine parts, connecting or attaching components, and using hand tools, require a steady hand and good hand–eye coordination. Service technicians must be familiar with engine components and systems and know how they interact with each other. They must often take apart major parts for repairs and be able to put them back together properly.
Service technicians use sophisticated diagnostic equipment on engines, systems, and components. They must be familiar with electronic control systems and the appropriate tools needed to fix and maintain them. Service technicians must be able to identify and fix problems in increasingly complicated mechanical and electronic systems.
Most automotive service technicians work full time for private companies, and about 18% are self-employed. Most work in well-ventilated and well-lit repair shops. Although many problems can be identified and fixed with computers, technicians frequently work with greasy parts and tools, sometimes in uncomfortable positions.