14 Pros and Cons of Being an Auto Mechanic

Auto Mechanic

The significant number of older motor vehicles on the road means a tremendous need for people who can repair them.

According to automotive marketing partner agency Hedges and Company, the average age of noncommercial vehicles on the roads stands at 12.2 years, up from 11.4 as recently as 2013.

In addition, most of these vehicles have sensors and computers, requiring specialized diagnostic tools to repair them correctly. 

Job Description

In the past, auto mechanics could take a vehicle out for a test drive and then decide what needed repair based on how it performed or on any atypical sounds it made.

If the test drive failed to give the mechanic an idea of the necessary repair, the next step would require taking the vehicle apart one system at a time.

For example, like a parent replacing Christmas tree lights one bulb at a time, the mechanic would first remove the hubcaps, lug nuts, and tires to find out why the car was not stopping correctly.

An auto mechanic might also remove, test, and replace one spark plug at a time to diagnose engine malfunctions.

Shade Tree Mechanic Versus Auto Service Technician

Unfortunately, this process of elimination by replacing parts and checking what improvements resulted also led to customers losing trust in their mechanics, a situation made worse by unethical car repair shops who would replace things that did not need repair.

Eventually, however, the rising use of sensors and computers after the 1996 introduction of the Onboard Diagnostics Generation 2 system meant that ethical companies had to rely increasingly upon computerized diagnostic tools.

Knowing how and when to use these digital testing devices distinguishes the traditional, self-trained, or shade tree mechanic from the current automotive technician that every one of these older vehicles needs.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, known as the ASE, stepped in to meet these technical training needs in 1972.

Education Requirements

If you have the good luck to attend a vocational high school with an auto shop program, you receive a jump start into an automotive repair career.

If not, focus on computers and mathematics to the extent that your secondary school provides them.

As soon as you become eligible for concurrent education at a local community college, take as many mathematics, computer technology, and electronics courses as possible to minimize the cost of your post-secondary classes.

If you cannot take advantage of either of the first two options, enroll in specialized certificate programs in brake repair or engine maintenance after high school graduation if you can afford the cost.

Finally, if none of these options work for you, join any military branch that will train you in vehicle maintenance and repair.

Alternately, you might also complete an associate’s degree as part of an auto manufacturer or dealership training program. In that case, your employer typically foots the bill for your education.

Experience Requirements and Salary Expectations 

As of Spring 2021, approximately 243,553 people held ASE certification in the auto repair industry, including 44,247 students.

These specialists find more employment opportunities, receive higher pay rates, and command greater levels of trust than traditional self-trained shade tree mechanics.

Moreover, the auto industry must train and hire 642,000 new certified auto mechanics/service technicians between now and 2024 to meet the demand for expert staff.

Aspiring mechanics can obtain certification in the following categories

  1. Engine Repair
  2. Automatic Transmission/Transaxle
  3. Manual Drive Train & Axles
  4. Suspension & Steering
  5. Brakes
  6. Electrical/Electronic Systems
  7. Heating & Air Conditioning
  8. Engine Performance
  9. Light Vehicle Diesel Engines

Breakdown of the Largest Categories of Employers of Auto Mechanics

Nearly 242,500 mechanics found employment at auto dealerships, while close to 223,000 work in independent auto repair and maintenance shops.

In addition, tire shops and retail auto parts and accessory stores employ an additional 50,290 technicians, while wholesalers of motor vehicle parts and supplies account for another 13.150 mechanics and technicians.

Finally, not including schools and hospitals, local government entities account for 16,150 mechanics around the country.

Consequently, a well-planned auto mechanic career path ought to include at least a few years at each of these five significant employers if you intend to manage or own a shop someday.

Salary Ranges

ASE-certified mechanics may progress from student to Master as they obtain certification in the first eight categories.

Mechanics who have just completed training can expect at least $29,010 to start, while those who have spent a few years in the field and obtained multiple certifications should see a median wage of $46,880.

Master mechanics, however, can command as much as $75,100 as they move up the ladder toward managing or owning a shop.

Pros of Being an Auto Mechanic

1. You can minimize the need for student loans if you participate in vocational education at your high school or attend concurrent enrollment classes with a local community college.

In addition, if you take your ASE certifications through an auto dealership or manufacturer, they sponsor their students through the entire program.

For example, in New Orleans, Delgado Community College partners with the ASSET program sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and the ASEP program through General Motors.

Students in both programs attend supervised in-dealership training for eight weeks and another eight weeks in class.

2. Experience steady employment demand through 2030

The projected need for auto mechanics as of 2022 stands close to 706,000 workers.

As vehicles continue to age and owners avoid the high cost of replacing their cars, service technician demand will remain steady or continue rising.

3. Select your projects

Because shops encourage skill development, you can work on projects you select yourself.

In addition, you can access expensive diagnostic tools and equipment that you might not otherwise afford in a hobby garage.

4. Job Security

Many auto shops operate with a skeleton staff due to labor shortages.

These shops find themselves unable to meet the demand for repairs, turning away customers.

The owners of these shops tend to hire on the spot, so bring your certifications, references, and personal hand tools with you when you apply.

5. Consistent work hours

Since most shops open around 8:00 AM and close by 6:00 PM, auto mechanics can count on being at home for family time.

Many mechanics will have time to drop kids off for school, for example, or attend after-school events with their families.

6. You provide a helpful service

Unfortunately, few people know how to work on their cars.

Fewer still have the time to do so even when they know which repair their car needs and how to perform it.

Instead, they will drop their vehicle off for a thorough inspection and wait for you to provide a detailed estimate of everything their vehicle needs for optimum performance.

7. You do not have to work in an office or a shop

If you choose to provide mobile service, you encounter the owners at home or on the roadside after a breakdown and prioritize getting their vehicle back in operation ASAP.

Cons of Being an Auto Mechanic

1. The job demands intense physical labor

Even with engine block hoists, hydraulic jacks, or four-post vehicle lifts, you will spend up to eight to ten hours a day using your hands, arms, and shoulders to wrench, move, loosen, tighten, and remove parts from vehicles.

In addition, you may spend a large portion of time standing under lifted cars while changing oil, working on brakes, or rotating tires.

2. Low respect

Auto mechanics have a reputation for being less educated, even though most shops hire ASE-certified technicians only. 

The balance toward vocational pursuits instead of college career paths will help offset the contempt some people express.

3. Hearing damage due to high noise levels

Invest in quality ear protection to avoid hearing loss.

Air compressors, tire machines, electric drills, and angle grinders operate at damaging frequencies.

Use earplugs and headphones while running or working near these sources of damaging noise. 

4. Dirty working conditions

Exposure to volatile organic chemicals, grease, oil, and other toxic substances puts you at risk for lung, skin, and eye damage.

Wear a mechanic’s overall and use a degreaser and hand and eyewashes before heading home.

Shower and change clothes as soon as possible after work.

5. Customers blame you for pre-existing problems with their vehicles

Protect yourself by going over the car with the customer before pulling it into a workday.

This documentation includes taking photos and charting known damage ahead of time.

6. Lost weekends

Most people bring their cars for repair over a weekend.

You may have to schedule family time and vacations during the week instead. 

7. Unsafe working conditions

Even the best-operated shop experiences accidents.

Scalds from overheated radiators, battery acid burns, smashed or severed fingers and toes, crush injuries from malfunctioning lifts and floor jacks, and electrocution all happen no matter how carefully you work.

Pros and Cons of Being an Auto Mechanic – Summary Table

Pros of Being an Auto MechanicCons of Being an Auto Mechanic
1. You can minimize the need for student loans if you participate in vocational education at your high school or attend concurrent enrollment classes with a local community college.1. The job demands intense physical labor
2. Experience steady employment demand through 20302. Low respect
3. Select your projects3. Hearing damage due to high noise levels
4. Job Security4. Dirty working conditions
5. Consistent work hours5. Customers blame you for pre-existing problems with their vehicles
6. You provide a helpful service6. Lost weekends
7. You do not have to work in an office or a shop7. Unsafe working conditions

Should You Become an Auto Mechanic?

If you enjoy working with your hands and love automobiles, this job will always fulfill you.

Classic cars, test vehicles, and working with engines to ensure top performance gives many people a sense of pride and satisfaction.

Only you can decide whether the benefits of being an auto mechanic outweigh the drawbacks.

Spend time at an auto dealership or local garage to help you decide.

Jamie Willis