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Automotive Technician Schools, Careers, and Tech Insights

Schools for automotive and diesel mechanics

Auto mechanics fix or repair vehicles including cars, trucks or motorcycles. Some automotive mechanics, such as diesel mechanics, work on large industrial equipment. Once the simple Chevy short block was replaced by modern, technologically tuned engines, auto mechanics had to change with the times as well. Auto mechanics now need to understand how to use a computer, diagnose electrical systems and  repair electronically controlled safety systems, in addition to the traditional troubleshooting that comes with repairing an engine, transmission, suspension or cosmetic damage.

Increasingly, auto mechanics are working with electronic diagnostic systems that utilize the on-board computers in many cars today to diagnose vehicular issues (BLS.gov, 2012). Additionally, for vehicles with computer-controlled fuel injection or driver inputs such as steering, braking or acceleration, problems can be resolved through the use of computers (barring a physical failure).

Auto mechanics use hydraulic lifts to access the undercarriage of a car and pneumatic power tools to expedite the removal of bolts and tires or the application of paint. Like electric power tools, these simple automotive tools are powered by something other than the tool's operator -- in this case, pneumatic tools use air pressure. An air pump provides hundreds of pounds of air pressure, which the operator releases to remove bolts, drill holes or polish paint. These mechanisms are among the many tools automotive professionals must become familiar with.

Qualities of an automotive mechanic

While not every mechanic works at the corner auto-body shop, a number of similarities exist between the various types of automotive mechanics. For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov, 2012), auto mechanics may benefit from the following qualities:

  1. Attention to detail
  2. Customer-service skills
  3. Dexterity
  4. Mechanical skills
  5. Technical skills
  6. Troubleshooting skills

Mechanics work with their hands using a range of tools, which can include pneumatic drills, jacks and hoists, computer diagnostic equipment and cutting torches. The work may be loud and involve greasy parts and tools, but repair shops are typically well-ventilated and lit. If you enjoy getting your hands dirty, literally, this may be an enjoyable career path.

According to the BLS, automotive service technicians are employed predominantly in automotive repair centers and dealerships (BLS.gov, 2012). In contrast, diesel service technicians work primarily for freight trucking services, which sometimes requires mechanics to perform repairs roadside or at work sites. Some diesel mechanics may work at 24-hour repair and maintenance centers, and 18 percent of diesel mechanics, as of 2010, are unionized (BLS.gov, 2012).

Are all auto mechanics the same?

All mechanics are not the same. Not every mechanic can repair a diesel engine or work on a motorcycle. The mechanic at the auto shop on the corner won't necessarily understand a two-stroke engine or be able to repair a hemispherical (HEMI) engine block. That's to say nothing of the auto mechanics that specialize in auto body repair, brake systems, wheels, suspension, air conditioning, tune-ups or transmissions.

There are various types of engines. HEMI engines use hemispherical combustion chambers, while traditional engines may use flathead chambers, and modern engines may have a pentroof design. Four-stroke combustion engines differ from two-stroke engines -- which are usually found in lower-power devices such as mopeds -- and diesel engines actually compress fuel until it explodes. All these differences in mechanical systems can complicate diagnoses for mechanics. Simply put, the cause of one engine running oddly won't necessarily be the cause of another engine's troubles.

Some mechanics are required to follow federal or state regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency requires automotive mechanics working with vehicle AC units to be certified in accordance with EPA standards (EPA.gov, 2013). Other mechanics simply specialize, and are certified, in a specific type of repair or maintenance.

The ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) is one of the largest automotive credentialing agencies and offers the standard credential for automotive service technicians (BLS.gov, 2012). The ASE has a standing cohort of more than 339,000 currently certified service professionals. Certification generally requires two years of work experience and the passing of a certification exam. To keep pace with the evolving automotive market, the ASE is developing alternative fuel certifications. While hybrid and electric vehicle certifications are still in the works, the ASE does offer a compressed natural gas vehicle certification.

How to become a mechanic

According to the BLS, employers of automotive service technicians may prefer auto technicians who have completed a formal training program beyond what is taught in high school classes or while on the job (BLS.gov, 2012). Automotive technician training programs can take from six months to a year. In contrast, diesel technician programs can last six months to two years, at which point the mechanic has the potential to advance to journey-level diesel mechanic status, the BLS reports. Both types of technicians can pursue an associate degree, which usually takes two years of full-time study to complete (BLS.gov, 2012).

Formal education programs mix classroom instruction with hands-on training. Diesel mechanics learn about diesel technology and repair techniques and are then given time to put their education to practice. Automotive technicians mix practical training with classes in mathematics, electronics, English and, recently, customer service (BLS.gov, 2012).

Both types of auto mechanics also receive additional on-the-job training and have the option for certification. Diesel mechanics are required to take/pass the initial certification exam every five years to remain certified (BLS.gov, 2012).

Sources and further reading:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diesel Service Technicians & Mechanics, 2012
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Automotive Service Technicians & Mechanics, 2012
Environmental Protection Agency, Section 609: Technician Training & Certification Programs
National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

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