Being an automobile mechanic is one of the rare professions in which you can make a nice living without an extensive amount of schooling. Although it is ideal to have at least the equivalent of a high school education, even that is not necessary for all people. If you have an aptitude with tools, can read competently well and are physically fit, becoming an auto mechanic may be the ideal profession for you.
Although a high school diploma or the equivalent of one is not necessary to become an auto mechanic, having one will help create more possible employment opportunities. If you have plans on becoming an auto mechanic, high school is an ideal place to start. Most high schools offer some form of shop class that deals with automotive repair. Other classes to consider include those that deal with math, English, computers and electronics.
Although most typical universities do not offer any classes that help someone become an auto mechanic, there is post-secondary education available, usually at a vocational school. This type of education is considered the best path for someone to take when wishing to become an auto mechanic. These schools offer comprehensive training in all aspects of auto repair and maintenance and some educational programmes are certified by national and international auto mechanic organisations, vehicle manufacturers and automobile dealerships.
Scholastic Training Programmes
Scholastic training programmes usually last no more than 1 year, require passing some form of examination to receive certification and often lead to entry-level employment as a mechanic. For a more detailed learning process, some auto mechanic wannabes remain in school for up to two years. This training goes beyond the hands-on learning related to working on vehicles and includes advanced learning in computers, math, electronics, English, customer service training and related skills. For those people looking to fast track their careers, certificate programmes that last no longer than 6 months are often available as well. In South Africa, some of these programmes include the National Senior Certificate, Further Education and Training and National Certificate Vocational.
When traditional schooling is not an ideal option, it is also possible to learn auto mechanic skills, along with other similar mechanic skills, by joining one of the branches of the military, such as the army. Military hopefuls, once accepted, can request job training as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. Military training in this category follows the same path as someone would find at a vocational school. However, the military path usually requires a minimum of a 2-year commitment.
Although not common, it is also possible to become a mechanic by working lowly jobs at an auto mechanic business or auto dealership. Someone who has natural ability, and was taught how to fix cars while growing up, can sometimes become a mechanic through a path similar to that of an apprentice. Often, if someone shows a knack for being an auto mechanic, the business will help sponsor that person in a training programme of some kind. This process can take as long as 4 years to complete. Many of these apprenticeships are offered through the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services portion of the Sector Education and Training Authority.
Training and Expenses
Although a formal education can help a person begin his or her auto mechanic career, it is by no means the only way. On-the-job training is a constant in this profession as vehicles are advancing mechanically and electronically almost on a daily basis. Mechanics trained 30 or more years ago would be lost when looking under the bonnet of today's cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, ATVs and water sports vehicles.
Once employed as an auto mechanic, this ongoing training usually occurs on an annual or semi-annual basis. In some cases, it is handled in the shop itself while sometimes it is necessary to take training seminars, which are usually offered by the automobile manufacturers or certification organisations.
Auto mechanics initially begin working on menial tasks, such as changing oil, lubricating vehicles and working as assistants to established mechanics. It can take as long as 5 years before someone is considered to be a full-fledged mechanic.
Mechanics who wish to specialise in one particular aspect of the field usually require certification. Specialisations can include areas such as automotive electrician, diesel mechanic, fuel injection technician and motor mechanic. For example, someone who wishes to specialise in air conditioning and heating systems often will need to be certified by the governing environmental agency, due to having to work with refrigerants. Specific regions of the country may also require certification by mechanics to work on vehicles.
In addition to ongoing training, many mechanics are expected to have their own tools. Renting tools is a possibility, and may be a good idea especially for those who are just starting out. Although some shops will supply tools, especially specialty tools, to their mechanics, most prefer to use their own. A full set of mechanic's tools can be a pricey expense. However, having his or her own tools allows a mechanic to freelance during their off time and make some additional money from family and friends in need of their services.
Salary and Hours
The average salary for an automotive service technician is R129 744, as of 2014. This median is achieved from a range that extends from R63 174 to R215 596. As with any profession, salary is wholly based on experience, with veteran auto mechanics earning at the high end of the spectrum. It is not a long-term career, however, as many mechanics move on to another profession, such as shop owner, once they have achieved more than 20 years' service as a mechanic. Mechanics often work business hours, usually from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. Some mechanics take weekends off, but many work on Saturdays, at least until early afternoon.