Career and Job Search Guide

Automotive Service Technician and Auto Mechanic

Auto mechanics or technicians inspect engines and other auto systems and perform repairs. Technicians now incorporate state of the art computer technology into their work since newer vehicles utilize computers and other sophisticated electronic parts. Because of the importance of technology in automotive diagnostics, these professionals are often referred to as technicians instead of mechanics.

Sophisticated computers and electronic systems control modern vehicle functions, so technicians need the necessary knowledge and training to repair these vehicles. They need the ability to operate diagnostic equipment and locate information in a reference manual.

Before performing any repairs, technicians ask for a detailed description of the automobile's problems from either the service advisor or car's owner. To diagnose problems, technicians perform tests to determine whether parts are functioning properly and then isolate the questionable part or system to conduct further tests. Technicians drive an automobile and use diagnostic equipment to isolate and locate problems. After tests have been performed, technicians can determine whether to replace or repair parts.

During scheduled preventative maintenance inspections, technicians lubricate moving parts and test the automobile's major systems, or in some cases, replace parts to prevent future problems. During these routine inspections, brakes, spark plugs, hoses, belts, and other systems are usually examined.

Technicians use many tools to diagnose and repair automobiles. Power tools, machine tools, hand tools, welding equipment, and hoists are a few examples of tools utilized by technicians to complete repairs. Technicians often use their own tools to perform repairs while most shops purchase expensive diagnostic equipment and power tools. After a technician has worked for years, he or she usually has purchased thousands of dollars worth of tools.

Computers are increasingly being utilized in more shops. Technicians print the results during diagnostic test and compare the results with the manufacturer's recommendations. When there are great variations between the tests and manufacturer's recommendations, more tests are conducted. Repair shops are able to download updated diagnostic software and get access to service information from auto manufacturers through the internet.

Equipment utilizing modern technology is required to repair problems with computerized components within an automobile since most systems including transmission and braking systems are controlled by computers. Moreover, technicians should familiarize themselves with GPS systems and other modern automotive technology since many luxury cars are equipped with this technology. As consumers purchase more cars powered by alternative sources of energy, technicians will need to learn how to maintain these vehicles.

Technicians working for large repair shops usually specialize. Many shops hire transmission technicians to repair gears, couplings, and sometimes rebuild an entire transmission. Technicians specializing in tune-ups improve engine performance by replacing spark plugs and altering ignition and valve timing. Air-conditioning technicians replace air-conditioning systems and repair compressors and other air-conditioning components. Since chemicals are used in air-conditioning system that can harm the environment, these technicians must understand state and federal disposal regulations. Front-end technicians repair steering and suspension components and perform tire alignments. Technicians specializing in brakes replace warn out brake components and perform general brake maintenance. Certain technicians are experts in both front ends and brake maintenance.

Work environment. In 2006, most technicians spent 40 hours a week working but about a third worked more hours. To accommodate customers, some technicians work nights and weekends. Technicians usually work inside brightly lit shops with very good ventilation equipment, but repair shops can also be loud with poor ventilation systems. Many malfunctions can be repaired with adjustments made on computers but technicians often replace components coated with dirt and grease while positioned awkwardly to access hard to reach areas. Technicians usually lift heavy loads and experience minor injuries. If technicians follow safety procedures, serious injuries can be avoided.