Whether you’re still in high school or are looking for a second career later in life, it’s important to understand the requirements for any job you’re interested in. If you’ve contemplated turning your DIY tinkering into a job as a mechanic, consider what it takes to earn the credentials you’ll need.
What Mechanics Do
The field of mechanics offers a wide variety of options. Basically, anything that has an engine can provide a job opportunity. Mechanics work on cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, tractors, motorcycles, lawnmowers, planes, helicopters, boats, scooters, and more.
Mechanics evaluate systems bumper to bumper or nose to tail, replacing and repairing every part along the way. This includes engine components like water pumps, alternators, belts, hoses, and carburetors, including parts within the suspension and drivetrain, fuel and exhaust system, and braking system, among others.
Mechanics work with an expansive variety of tools, including manual, power, and pneumatic styles. They are trained in specialty tools such as car lifts too.
There are hundreds of job titles within the field of mechanics. While there is some variation from one type of vehicle to another, basic knowledge and understanding overlap from vehicles on land, in the sea, or the air. Some common job titles are automotive mechanic, motorcycle mechanic, airplane mechanic, helicopter mechanic, small engine repair mechanic, diesel technician, engine technician, and automotive technician.
There are endless specialties within the mechanic field, too, with titles like front-end mechanic, transmission mechanic, truck trailer mechanic, tune-up specialists, tire and wheel specialists, or alignment and brake technician.
Mechanics mostly work in a shop environment. If you have your own small automotive shop, this might be your own garage. In contrast, you could work at a car dealership or major repair shop with multiple bays set up with tools ready for automotive repairs.
Some mechanics provide on-site service, which could take you to the marina, the airfield, or people’s places of business.
Education, Licensing, and Certification
The road to becoming a mechanic can come from experience or specialized training. Most often, it’s a combination of both. It might start with repairs on the homestead or maybe in a high school auto-shop class. Perhaps a passion for dune buggies or quads inspired you to learn more about DIY mechanical repairs.
However you got your start and identified your passion, the golden seal within the automotive repair business is a certification through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, known as ASE for short. Earning this certificate starts with a base knowledge gained from practical experience on the job or a trade school. You can also acquire this knowledge in the military.
ASE offers various tests, so you’ll need to identify the one that most closely matches your interests. Then look at what the experience requirements are. While you can complete and pass the exam without completing the experience requirements, you will hold your certificate until you do, so it’s better to fulfill those requirements first. Most tests require one to two years of hands-on experience in a shop environment.
Once ready, take some practice tests online, study, and schedule your exam. Portions of the test include the topics of automatic trans/transaxle, brakes, electrical systems, engine performance, engine repair, heating & air conditioning, manual drivetrain & axles, and suspension and steering.
The proper certification instills trust in clients, opens opportunities for career advancement and pay raises, and ensures your title as a professional. It may even be a requirement for some jobs.
Strong Personal Characteristics for Mechanics
Every job has certain personal characteristics that help the job be a more natural match for the person. Becoming a mechanic requires strong organizational skills, critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, natural curiosity, interpersonal and communication skills, mechanical skills, and time management skills.
Mechanics typically have a passion for working with their hands and take satisfaction in making repairs.
Working as a mechanic comes with constantly bruised knuckles and scraped hands. There are other more serious risks associated with the field, including the damage caused by moving engine parts. In addition to severed limbs, there’s a danger of being crushed by rolling or falling vehicles.
Automotive mechanics in the United States make between $25,000 and $50,000 on average. Shop owners may make more. Those in specialty fields may also benefit from higher pay. Helicopter mechanics garner a median income of $168,000 to $378,00, but can range from $34,000 to $799,000. By contrast, small engine repair mechanics typically bring in $25,000-$61,000, with a median of $39,000.
Mechanics will continue to be in high demand as the population consumes more vehicles of all types. However, the field will continue to shift with the evolution of electric vehicles and even flying cars, so keeping up to date on trends and technology is crucial to success.