Tell us a little bit about your path and why you decided to become an auto mechanic?
Back in high school the only vehicle I could afford was an old, beat up Datsun that needed a ton of work. I didn’t make too much money so I had to learn how to change my own oil and make other repairs. I got a job at a local gas station service center and learned the basics from the older mechanics that worked there.
How long have you been in the industry?
I was a master tech in the Toyota/Lexus dealer network for 12 years
How long does it take to become an auto mechanic?
Worked at a local gas station service center for one year, completed a two year technical course at a community college and completed my ASE tests in order to become a certified technician
What do you like most about your job?
The best part of the job is the satisfaction of a completed project or the proper diagnosis and repair of a tricky engine management problem.
Could you give us an idea of your education in the field and what training and you needed?
Initially the most helpful information was from older mechanics I worked with over the years. They gave me helpful hints and shortcuts that made diagnosis and repair much easier. After becoming a master tech, the manufacturer would occasional send us to training facilities in Oregon and California to learn about hybrid systems and new vehicle features for the upcoming model year.
What are some specialties in the automotive field?
Specialties I was involved with during my time changed with my skill set. I was head of the NVH division (noise, vibration and harshness), I was lead in vehicle accessory installation for a year and I was one of two in the region that solved lemon law recalled vehicles for the factory.
What is the difference between an auto technician & auto mechanic?
An automotive technician is trained and certified by ASE (automotive service excellence) and the SAE or Society of Automotive Engineers. ASE certification comes with passing grades on 8 tests the cover engine mechanical, engine management and performance, body electrical, HVAC, brakes, suspension and automatic and manual transmission.
An auto mechanic can be a journeyman ‘wrench’, a lube tech or oil changer, or a tire and brake repairman with no specialized training.
Could you give us an idea of the licensing and certification required in your field?
There are 8 main tests needed for basic certification, a master diagnostic test for someone that wants to be shop lead as well as a hybrid special systems test that is manufacturer specific.
Do you feel like there is a lack of qualified individuals for the field?
I think there is a good ratio of skilled technicians to basic mechanics in the dealer network. As far as private shops go, unskilled mechanics are necessary because they are cheap labor which keeps the shop labor rate low enough to compete.
How has technology affected your field?
The biggest advances in vehicle diagnostic technology over the last twenty years is the adoption of the CARB (California Air Resources Board) and the OBD II diagnostic port used for the manufacturer specific scan tool. It is used to diagnose all emissions related issues, engine management problems and body electrical faults.
Has technology had an affect on the tools needed to do your job?
Before scan tools and digital multimeters, most diagnostic tools involved test lights and knowledge of systems. Vehicles built before the 90’s had either one or two computers controlling the vehicle called engine control modules (ecm) or powertrain control modules (pcm). After more strict regulations and smaller microprocessors, vehicles can have up to 200 or more of these that control everything from headlights and mirrors to catalytic converter efficiency.
Have you seen a shift in the industry through out the course of your career?
When I started as a mechanic, vehicle systems were very different and engine diagnosis was not very accurate. Luckily I learned and became certified during the emergence of hybrid systems and much more complicated diagnostic techniques so that I had the proper tools to succeed and keep up with changing aspects of how cars were made and how the new engine systems worked together.
What makes a good auto mechanic?
A good mechanic or technician takes their time to fully understand the system they are working on and always references the factory repair manual. Doing things too quickly or trying to remember things that are very technical or that need to be exact can get them into unneeded trouble and will make a tough diagnosis even worse.
Is it hard to find work as an auto mechanic?
If the person is continually working to be better and learn more, there is always a shop that will pay. The only time a tech loses their job or does not get hired is their attitude and a failure to be open to learning new things.
What is the potential pay or salary for an auto mechanic?
A mechanic starting out as an oil changer, lube tech or tire guy can make between minimum wage and $10-12/hour. A certified technician can make between $16-25 depending on their level of certification, and a master diagnostic tech can make anywhere from $30-50/hour depending on which manufacturer they work for or the type of speciality shop they run.
What does a normal day consist of for you as an auto mechanic?
There are several types of shops that each have different schedules that plan out the day differently. A dispatch shop, like is most dealership service departments, consist of a dispatcher that gives out work based on the technicians skill level. A team system setup that some larger, independent shops use where a team leader gets work directly from a service writer or manager and dispatches them to their team members based on skill. Another system is general work order which is used in smaller shops. The customer brings in a vehicle and basically whomever is there begins working on the car. A typical day in a dealership service department consists of working on between 3-8 vehicles depending on the work. A less skilled worker might work on more routine maintenance jobs while a higher trained tech might see one car and work on it all day.
What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the automotive field?
Have patience and always be open to learning new things.
What should they look for in an automotive company or employer?
When applying for a job, try to find out how the service manager speaks to his employees and the level of cleanliness in the shop. If tools are all over the place and the manager talks down to the other techs, it’s a definite red flag.
What are the biggest mistakes you see other mechanics make in the profession?
The biggest mistake is not asking for help, not admitting when you need help and not consulting the service manual.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your career and profession?
Over time I found the work to be much better than the job. It’s always a good idea to have long term employment on your resume, but being in the right shop can change the satisfaction of the work. I found moving to different shops and working under different service managers with different cultures helped me grow as a technician.