Those interested in auto restoration have the opportunity to enter an exciting career field that combines an attention to detail, precision and creativity. There is something special about taking an old car and restoring to showroom condition. The before and after product is a result of the hard work, training and proficiency of auto restoration technicians. This profession is an exciting way to earn a living and car enthusiasts often embrace the opportunity to be part of this contingent of skilled professionals. Beginning a career in auto restoration can start with some very simple steps that can lead to a lifelong career.

Auto Restoration as a Career Choice

Auto restoration is the process of restoring classic cars or modernizing an older car into a new and improved hot rod. It also involves the restoration of muscle cars. No matter how far gone a car may seem to be, there is always an immensity of possibilities through automotive restoration. However, it is a very detailed process that requires training.  

Auto Resoration on a Classic Car

A trained auto restoration technician has the potential to earn a comfortable salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific data for auto restoration mechanics. Instead, its statistics group together all automotive service technicians and mechanics. Those figures indicate that the average median salary of an auto mechanic stands at $38,470 per year. However, that does not tell the whole story as auto restoration technicians perform a completely different and unique service.

Some reports indicate that auto restoration technicians earn an average salary of around $59,000 annually. Other reports indicate that auto restoration technicians average anywhere from $25 to $45 per hour. There are varying reports, and because auto restoration mechanics are smaller in number, there is difficulty in establishing an exact nationwide report. A lot goes into determining pay rates and that includes the location and type of restoration service. Some auto restoration businesses cater to a more affluent clientele, which means more money for the technicians who actually restore the cars.

Job opportunities for auto restoration technicians seem to be on par with auto mechanics, mainly because this is a type of specialization. Auto restoration technicians are much fewer in number, which makes their services in higher demand. This also enables auto restoration technicians to earn higher pay rates. Classic and vintage car owners are usually willing to spend sizeable amounts of money when restoring their cars. A lot of auto shops have trouble staffing a team of auto restoration technicians, simply because there are just not many of them around.

Auto Restoration Education

Those who aspire to work in the field of auto restoration can look to a variety of training programs to learn the specifics of this trade. This type of specialized training is available through certificate programs and associate degree programs as prospective students may select from either of these options. Both options present the opportunity to learn the fundamentals, procedures and protocol for auto restoration. Certificate programs are usually a little shorter in length. Most certificate programs take about a year to complete while some may be a few months shorter. These certificate programs are offered at community colleges, technical colleges and vocational institutes across the country.

Junior colleges and community colleges offer the option of earning an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in Automotive Restoration Technology. These programs generally last anywhere from 18-24 months. Within these programs, there are detailed courses in auto restoration, along with hands-on training that involves actual restoration work. Students learn by performing the procedures and techniques they learn about in a classroom setting.

There are also some post-secondary schools that offer individual auto restoration courses and regular workshops. When choosing this route, students may need to take several courses to gain a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to function as an auto restoration technician. 

When enrolled in an auto restoration education program, students will learn how to cover every step of the process. Here is a look at some of the concepts that are taught in an auto restoration education program.

  • Introduction to Specialty Tools
  • Welding and Metalworking
  • Suspension and Chassis Work
  • Final Assembly
  • Metal Stripping
  • Metal Fabrication
  • Vintage Woodworking
  • Panel Replacement

Painting skills are important for those looking to embark on a career in auto restoration. This is covered at length in educational programs as the following concepts are taught to students:

  • Detailing and Refinishing
  • Installation of Upholstery
  • Custom Painting
  • Fit and Finish
  • Using Classical Paints

Job Duties of an Auto Restoration Technician

An auto restoration technician attends to the various steps needed to restore a car. Training programs teach students how to restore the entire body of a car. Engine work is taught separately in auto technician programs. Auto restoration technicians attend to the body work involved in restoring a classic or vintage car. There are all different kinds of restoration tasks as some cars will be much further along than others. Meanwhile, some cars may require complete restoration from top to bottom.  Here is a look at some of the job duties of an auto restoration technician:

  • Prepping for the Painting Process
  • Custom Painting and Refinishing
  • Welding and Fabrication
  • Woodworking
  • Post Metal Work

There is also a significant amount of automotive research that is needed to be done. Older cars do not have the same specs and manuals that are available with today’s automobiles. While there are sources of information online, it is important that the research be thorough. Therefore, auto restoration technicians must be skilled in piecing together information about classic, vintage and antique cars.

There may also be some design work involved in the process, depending on the level of skill of a technician. Creative ideas can help to really recreate the restored automobile. Auto restoration technicians go on to display a variety of skills and will typically develop the following attributes:

  • Close attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • Multi-tasking capabilities
  • Visualization of finished product
  • Through research abilities

Auto Restoration Admission Requirements

Not every post-secondary school features an auto restoration education program. For that reason, institutions may be more selective when accepting students. Class size is usually limited and there is an application process that differs among each institution. That may require some prerequisite classes, entrance exams or achieving a certain GPA. Some post-secondary schools only accept new students during certain semesters while other schools have rolling admissions.

Most schools have a program director who is entrusted with the duties of overseeing the daily operation of the program. This director may also be the one who makes the final decision in the admissions process. Some of these directors run job assistance programs in which they help to place students in a full-time position upon graduation. It is important to look into each school’s admission requirements and meet with the program director, if possible, during the selection phase.

Ongoing Education and Certification

There is no formal organization that issues industry certifications for auto restoration technicians. Technicians who have completed an auto restoration education program at an accredited post-secondary school can use their certificate or associate degree as an adequate form of certification. Most employers will require their auto restoration technicians to have acquired some kind of formal training. This is one of the most common job requirements. It is very rare for auto restoration to be conducted by technicians who have not received any formal training in this area.

Ongoing education is available through workshops and seminars offered by industry experts. Unlike traditional auto repair, there is not a pressing need to keep up on the latest computer and electrical systems being implemented in vehicles. There are new auto restoration tools continually being developed and that can prove to be an asset to technicians. However, the technology race is not as important in auto restoration. Learning about what’s new in the industry is generally an individual endeavor that many technicians take upon themselves. It may also prove to be extremely beneficial when looking for new employment or seeking out a pay raise.

Working as an Auto Restoration Technician

The workplace for an auto restoration technician is usually in an auto shop. This workspace should be a properly ventilated area. Private shops are a popular workplace for auto restoration technicians, while others may find work for car manufacturers. Some technicians go into business for themselves, although that typically requires a wealth of experience.

When applying for a position as an auto repair technician, work experience may be required. However, there are a sufficient number of businesses willing to take on new technicians who have just graduated from a training program. As this industry continues to grow, more of an emphasis is being placed on formal training. Shop owners tend to feel more comfortable hiring technicians who have proven themselves capable of completing an accredited training program. This also creates a sense of comfort and confidence in customers.