Becoming an Automotive Tech or Auto Technician: Education Roadmap

Apr 27, 2020

Learn how to become an automotive service technician. Research the education, career, certification, and experience requirements for starting a career as an automotive service technician.

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Automotive Service Technicians

Automotive service technicians inspect, maintain, service, and repair vehicles. It is their job to ensure that the parts and systems in cars and light trucks are working properly and are safe to operate. Once a vehicle is brought into a shop, an automotive service mechanic will diagnose any problems by identifying mechanical issues, testing engines, performing basic maintenance, and repairing or replacing parts.

The majority of automotive service technicians work on a full-time basis, including night and weekend shifts, depending on the employer. Some technicians are self-employed. Because of the intricacies of working with car and truck engines, there is a higher risk of injury for automotive service techs than for other careers. As long as safety precautions are adhered to, injuries will likely be limited to scrapes, bruises, and other minor incidents. Technicians should expect to work in well-lit, well-ventilated automotive shops.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; some employers may prefer an associate degree
Degree Field Automotive technology
Experience Varies; completion of an automotive training program should be sufficient for entry-level positions
Licensure and Certification EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requires licensure for technicians who work with refrigerants; basic ASE (National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence) certification may be required and other advanced ASE certifications available
Key Skills Attention to detail; manual dexterity; mechanical, troubleshooting, and customer service skills
Salary $42,090 per year (2019 median salary for all automotive service technicians and mechanics)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Postings (August 2012)

Step 1: An Automotive Program

Students can primarily find automotive technology programs available at community colleges and vocational schools. Opportunities are available to pursue both certificate and associate degree programs. While a certificate program may last anywhere from 6 to 12 months, associate degree programs will often require two years of study. In order to prepare for certification in the field, students can take courses in steering and suspension, tire and wheel alignment, brake systems, automotive electronics, air conditioning and heating, transmissions, and automotive engines.

One route to a successful career as an auto technician is to begin taking courses in high school. Some high schools feature an Automotive Youth Education Service program that offers foundational training in automotive repair. This organization works in association with the ASE and can prepare students for a college program.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Internships may be part of an automotive technology program and can give prospective automotive service technicians an opportunity to gain experience in the field. Students will work and learn under the supervision of an experienced automotive service technician and begin applying what they have learned in the classroom in a practical environment. This is also an opportunity to prepare for employment after graduation and develop relationships within the field.

Another way to increase one's opportunities for employment is to enroll in a manufacturer-sponsored program. Some automotive technology programs are sponsored by a specific manufacturer and teach students how to service a certain brand of vehicle. For example, GM, Ford, or Chevy may sponsor a program to prepare graduates for employment in one of their dealerships.

Those new to this career field should also obtain student certification. Students approaching completion of an automotive service technician program are eligible for the ASE Student Certification. This certification can provide students with increased opportunity to gain employment after graduation. Obtaining this student certification does not require any experience, but students do need to pass one or more exams.

Step 3: License for Refrigerants

Auto technicians who work with or are involved in the purchase of refrigerants are required to become licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Technicians need to pass an EPA exam to obtain licensure. Training for the exam is typically available at employer associations, unions, and automotive trade schools.

Step 4: Professional Certification

Obtaining professional certifications can advance a career in automotive technology. The ASE offers the Automobile and Light Truck Certification A1 through A9 tests. Areas of testing include brake systems, engines, and electrical systems. Some employers require technicians to earn a minimum number of certifications once they meet experience requirements.

Earning additional levels of certification is voluntary, but could result in higher salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Automotive technicians who pass the A1 through A8 certification exams receive the credential of ASE-Certified Master Automobile Technician.

When planning a career as an auto technician, prepare to follow up high school with a combination of experience, education, and certifications. Employers will look for individuals with an associate degree or the completion of a training program, relevant work experience, and certifications and professional licensure from the ASE.

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