Individuals who are interested in auto body repair and painting can complete certificate or associate's degree programs that offer hands-on experience in all aspects of maintaining a vehicle's exterior. Programs are similar, except that associate's degree programs usually require a few general education courses. In addition to auto body courses, students usually get a few business-related classes as well. Graduates can apply to take national certification tests after gaining a few years of work experience.
Certificate in Auto Body Technology
A certificate program in auto body technology trains students in the basics of rebuilding, repairing and refinishing damaged sections of a car body. Students learn about properties of metal, fiberglass, filling compounds and fasteners, as well as ways to work with them. Program content also might touch on the rudiments of order processing and bookkeeping. A certificate program typically can be completed in 1-2 years.
Admission to a certificate program requires a GED or high school diploma. Shop classes are considered helpful in preparing for an auto body program. Some certificate programs might include electives in math and science, but they generally are very focused. The following are among course topics commonly covered in an auto body technology program:
- Sheet metal working
- Basic refinishing
- Welding fundamentals
- Fiberglass repair
- Chassis electrical systems repair
- Color matching
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Associate's Degree in Auto Body Technology
An associate's degree program in auto body technology exposes students to the full process of auto body repair and refinishing. Program content addresses damage assessment and cost estimating, types of shop tools and their uses, materials and structural restoration. Students also learn common repair shop practices and develop the oral and written communication skills necessary to work in a shop setting. An associate's degree typically can be earned in two years.
Applicants need to have earned a high school diploma or GED for admission to an associate's degree program. Schools often recommend high school-level auto mechanics courses, if they are available, and college prep courses in English, math and science. General education courses in composition, technical math and the natural, social and behavioral sciences often are part of associate's degree programs. Curricula include courses found in certificate programs, as well as the following topics:
- Structural analysis
- Cost estimating
- Frame repair
- Body panel replacement
- Intermediate painting and refinishing
- Shop management
Popular Career Options
The training and skills of auto body technicians have applications with a range of businesses that use or service vehicles. Certificate holders might find employment in the following venues:
- Collision repair shops
- Auto dealers
- Car and truck rental businesses
- Insurance companies
- Business fleets
Continuing Education Information
In most cases, credits earned in a certificate program can be applied toward an associate's degree. A number of schools have both certificate and degree programs, wherein the first is a subset of the second.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers certification in collision repair and refinishing to auto body technicians who have at least two years of work experience and pass the ASE's certification exams. Separate exams cover painting and refinishing, non-structural analysis/repair, structural analysis/repair and mechanical and electrical components. Passage of all four ASE exams certifies mechanics as master collision repair and refinishing technicians. Technicians must retest every five years to maintain certification.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Earning an associate's degree in auto body technology qualifies graduates for positions as auto body and related repairers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) projected 9% growth in employment of auto body repairers from 2014-2024. Growth in the number of vehicles on the road was expected to increase demand for repair services, but consolidation in the industry and increased use of productivity-enhancing techniques should partially offset the need for more workers to meet demand. As of May 2015, the median salary of auto body and related repairers was $40,970.
Courses in certificate and associate's degree programs in auto body technology cover topics in auto body repair and refinishing as well as basic business skills such as bookkeeping and order processing. After students have gained experience, they can pursue certification from ASE in collision repair and refinishing.