Tuesday, September 7, 2004
Career Focus: Auto Technician

The Gettysburg Times

Gone are the days of grease monkey and the mechanic self-taught by tinkering in the back yard on dilapidated cars. As cars have become more advanced, so too, has the training for those that inspect, maintain, and repair them. A few years ago, only 20 percent of a cars parts were computerized; now more than 80 percent are. Befitting their increasingly technical vocation, the use of the traditional title "mechanic" to describe experts in car repair is becoming a thing of the past. The term now used most often is "technician".

Today, aspiring technicians must be well versed in vocational skills like electronics, not intimidated by computer systems, and willing to adapt to continually changing technology with training and certification. One thing has not changed, though, and that is the challenge of diagnosing automotive problems. While high-tech diagnostic equipment is now as indispensable to the technician as a wrench, the good technician must still be able to use the old standbys: eyes, ears, and even nose to identify car engine malfunctions and even potential hazards.

Technicians run diagnostic tests, using computers, gauges, or a test drive to pinpoint problems. They rule out the components and systems that could not logically be the root of the problem. Once the problem is identified, the technician makes adjustments, repairs, or replacements. Computers are not the only tools used on the job. Technicians still use hand tools, such as wrenches and screwdrivers, and may also use power tools, machine tools, and hoists.

It is becoming more common for technicians to become specialists, concentrating on one aspect of the car, such as engine blocks, transmissions, air-conditioning, radiators, brake systems, front ends, or tune ups. Some work for businesses that have a particular focus, rebuilding blown engines or slipping transmissions. Technicians also provide routine service, inspecting the automobile for indications of potential breakdowns, changing fluids, belts, hoses, and brake pads. Those with an affinity for cars and an aptitude for solving their problems will not soon find a shortage of work. In America, the car is a necessity for most, and the number of cars on the road is increasing.

Skills Required

Technicians need mechanical aptitude and computer skills coupled with good math and reading skills.

Where/How To Get Training

Because automotive technology has become highly sophisticated, those seeking jobs as automotive mechanics and service technicians should complete a formal training program after high school. Some people choose to simply graduate and begin assisting experienced workers. However, more positions, security and upward mobility will be available to those who complete a post-secondary program.

Completion of trade, technical, or vocational school will take six months to a year. The time commitment to a community college will be two years, but the graduate will have an associate's degree and valuable lessons in basic mathematics, English, and computers. Any of these programs typically will entail intensive career preparation with a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Students should try to enroll in a program accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology or the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. Technicians should earn an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, which usually requires two years of working experience and passing an exam. It is the standard credential in the technician's field and most employers want their hires to have this distinction or get it eventually.

Financial Aid
Grants, scholarships, loans and work/study programs are available for college students. For most of this aid, high school seniors must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is available from high school guidance offices and higher education financial aid offices. For more information on federal financial aid programs, or to apply electronically, visit the U.S. Department of Education's Web site at "