If you've ever taken apart a car engine and put it back together, you've experienced just how fascinating and intricate automotive technology can be. For nearly 600,000 Americans, this fascination has led to a career as an auto mechanic. Although this remains a male-dominated industry -- the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 1.6 percent of automotive service technicians and mechanics were women as of 2010 -- women who enjoy working on cars and have the right training can build a decent career in the field.
Historically, mechanics were hired out of high school -- sometimes even before they finished high school -- and trained on the job. However, automobiles today are much more sophisticated than they used to be, with increasing reliance on complex computer systems. As a result, most employers now look for applicants who have had some form of postsecondary preparation, ranging from six-month certification programs to two-year associate degrees. Once hired, mechanics still undergo a lengthy process of on-the-job training. According to the BLS, it can take two to five years for new hires to become fully qualified mechanics.
Auto service mechanics perform a variety of duties. In many cases, customers bring their vehicles in so that auto mechanics can perform routine maintenance such as changing the oil and filters and rotating the tires. In other cases, customers need repair work. Mechanics must perform diagnostic tests to identify problems and then fix them. Many service technicians repair and replace all vehicle systems, from tires and brake systems to exhaust systems and engines. Others choose to specialize in a particular area, such as a vehicle's electrical and computer systems.
Average Pay Rates
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that auto mechanics earned an average wage of $18.78 per hour or $39,060 per year as of May 2012. Those employed by local governments reported above-average wages of $23.04 per hour, as did those working for automobile dealerships, who reported an average wage of $20.79 an hour. While the BLS did not publish a breakdown of income by gender, it did report that women in all installation, maintenance and repair occupations earned 94 percent of what their male counterparts earned.
The number of jobs for automotive mechanics is expected to increase by 17 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. That's slightly faster than the average job growth expected for all occupations. This should result in an estimated 124,800 new jobs by the end of the decade. Applicants who have had formal postsecondary training should have better employment prospects than those without formal training.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Automotive Service Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 Wages for Automotive Service Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation and Sex, 2010 Annual Averages
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Median Weekly Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Detailed Occupation and Sex, 2012