What do you do for a living?
I am currently a mechanic at a car dealership. Although I’ve also worked at independently owned and chain-store automotive centers.
How would you describe what you do?
I spend most of my time diagnosing problems or complaints people have about their cars. Then come the actual repairs. Maintenance is rare nowadays.
Why is the car is here and what you have to do to it?
After figuring out whats wrong, get parts price quotes, quote labor and bring it to the service writer. He/she then suggests(sells) the repair to the customer. You have about a 50/50 chance of getting to the next step which would be the actual repair. Confirm whatever you did actually fixed the car, bring it outside and start all over again with the next car in line.
What does a typical work week look like?
You show up everyday not knowing what’s ahead of you. You have no idea if you are going to make any money, if its going to be an easy, pain free day or stress-filled leaving you in some epic bad mood. You’ll eventually learn what cars you don’t want to work on, what jobs are more of a hassle than others.
Experience is your education in this field. School, books, company training is just background information and won’t give you the confidence to go elbows deep into something.
At a dealership you deal with warranty jobs that don’t pay you fairly. Each car gets its own little book report, writing down what you did why. Stress builds easily. Independent shops are more laid back, most techs probably will probably feel less “rushed”. Not as many ‘i’ dotting & ‘t’ crossing as a dealership. Chain-stores fit in some where in between.
How did you get started?
Peer pressure from my friends in high school. Somehow my interest grew and eventually surpassed theirs. I pursued it as a career, they went off and did other things.
I should also credit car forums and message boards. Reading online about how people built, modified and customized their own cars scratched the itch because, at the time, I didn’t have the money, knowledge, or resources to do that kind of thing.
What do you like about what you do?
Little. See the “what’s most rewarding” question below.
What do you dislike?
It’s a disrespected, misunderstood job. I don’t eagerly tell people what I do for a living. A lot of stereotypes still exist. It’s expensive, not that many people realize how much tools cost, $5-10,000 for just the box, you can open a small drawer and they’ll be $1k worth of tools in there. Very high level of stress on a daily basis. Too easy to break something expensive, damage, or injury yourself/others. Although I feel I’m paid fairly at the moment, there are no rich mechanics, definitely not a lucrative rewarding career. I also take issue with flat rate, the system of how we are actually paid.
How do you make money/how are you compensated as an auto mechanic?
Majority of mechanics are flat rate. You are given an hourly rate, but not paid 8-5. Each specific repair has a time associated with it dictating how long it ‘should’ take you to complete that job.
A brake job might have a labor quote of 2.0 hours. If you finish that brake job in 1 hour, you just made double your hourly rate (for that one hour). The idea being, if you can be efficient and productive you’ll benefit. Glamorous isn’t it? Now into account you wait for approval to do the brake job, so that 1 hour that it really takes you to complete turned into 1.5, half an hour waiting for the customer to call back. But you also have to test drive before and after.. now add 10mins… go get parts.. close out the paper work.. all the small things add up.
There also isn’t an abundance of work, some magical never ending line of cars that need to be fixed. There are plenty of slow days you show up to work, only touch 1 car and make less than 1hr even though you were there all day. Warranty jobs not only have a ridiculous and unfair flat rate time, they also take time out of your day where you could have been working on something that is actually going to make you money.
Also worth mentioning the other ways mechanics can get paid: Regular hourly, clock in and out, no matter what you do during the day you going to get a paycheck. These obviously aren’t going to offer anywhere near a competitive pay compared to a flat rate tech. Smaller, independently owned shops are probably the only places that still pay guys this way. A combination of a flat rate with a base hourly pay. You make near minimum wage hourly but every job you do is worth a different amount (4 tires pays $1.00 an oil change .50 cents for example) on top of the hourly pay. This is done mostly at chain-stores. Some do a base hourly pay plus a small % of the total bill. Few but some flat rate shops give an hourly guarantee. Either 35/40hrs of guaranteed pay if you had a slow week.
How much money do you make as a auto mechanic?
Difficult to compare one to another. Where you live and what type of place dictates what you will actually make. Currently aged 25 $18/hr flat rate at a dealership where the range for flatrate techs are from $16-25/hr. Higher than the average for the area, I’d say. Also depends on the brand of cars you work on, luxury brands will tend to pay more. Dealerships usually more than most independents.
Some places rate you A,B,C tech. ‘A’ would be a master technician does everything, B probably can do everything just lacks the experience, C is entry level. There’s no standard so the letters can mean different things at different workplaces. I don’t think they’re used much anymore to be honest.
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How much money do you make starting out?
Starting at a dealership may not be the best choice. It will take forever to climb up the ranks. I suggest a chain-store or a local independently owned shop. Be humble, you’re probably not as good as you think. Experience is your education in this field. School, books, company training is just background information and won’t give you the confidence to go elbows deep into something.
If you are really dead-set on being at a dealer, the foot in the door position would be a lot-attendant. Expect minimum wage there. Next spot up would be a oil change guy, maybe $9-12 hourly. Don’t go for flat rate pay when you first start out, if any place is foolish enough to offer it to you.
Unfortunately it seems the easiest way to get a pay increase in this career is to job hop. After a while you can use your experience at one place and try to gain a higher wage when applying somewhere else. After 3 dealerships, 1 chain, 1 independent I know a lot about job hopping… I also move around lot, there are other reasons I kept leaving my jobs.
What education or skill are needed to do this?
Completion of a typical one year automotive course at any-school, anywhere, is sufficient to start. Its just a piece of paper- your skill level comes from ability to perform the needed work and just overall experience. ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Certifications are industry recognized. Although the material they test on is very outdated, they are still useful to have and sometimes a requirement. Also if the state you work in does annual safety and emission inspections, you obviously need those licenses.
I don’t know of any car manufacturer that doesn’t offer “their own” training. Either online courses, or physical schools you get sent to for about a week at a time. They want you to learn about the cars you are working on. If you are able to do this from the beginning jump at the opportunity.
What is most rewarding about this job?
If I ever end up doing something else in life, I’m very grateful that I am mechanically inclined. Not that many are, and without growing up around it, it usually doesn’t happen naturally. I’m my own electrician, my own plumber, I’m able to determine and see the value of quality craftsmanship in just about anything.
But more specifically, struggling to figure something out and then finally completing the repair successfully is pretty rewarding. That’s about it, it’s not like anyone “thanks” a mechanic, not that I expect it.
What is most challenging?
Noises and drive-ability complaints. A customer is in their own car everyday, they are going to immediately notice some small minor problem. When we get the car, its a “first impression” everything is happening all at once. Its difficult to isolate every little thing.
Going to work everyday knowing I don’t want to is also pretty challenging.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
The big named tech schools that have commercials running claiming growth in the industry, still a need for techs, blah blah blah will only see your enrollment to their school as their paycheck. You get out of them what you put in, no one is going to hold your hand to help you to succeed.
Mechanics are a dime a dozen, to stand out from the rest you have to be well educated and motivated to actually do work! Try to find a community college that offers at least an associates degree with their automotive classes. Depending on your future plans, a one year tech school obviously isn’t going to prepare you well enough to open your own business, and a college degree is almost a requirement for any type of management job.
How much time off do you get/take?
1 week per year/ 2 weeks in 2 years pretty standard but its going to vary depending on where you work. Most places are open Saturdays and some even Sunday. Usually they will let you take a day off in the middle of the week if you have to work a Saturday.
What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?
We’re all crooks and thieves of course! People are scared of what they don’t understand. Their car disappears into the building, after a way-too-long of a period of time goes by, they’re forced to empty their wallet. I would love nothing more then to explain and educate a customer about the operation of the evaporative emission control system and why it’s currently not working in their car, but no one wants to hear any of that. We’re also not salesman.
The service adviser/writer is though, if you feel you are being “upsold” something you don’t feel is necessary unleash a barrage of questions. Ask to physically go see what’s wrong on your car, ask why its necessary, ask them to break down the bill, what does the part by itself cost, etc.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
To do something more important, but still automotive related. I refuse to go back to school (for an actual degree) so the light at the end of my tunnel is pretty dim.
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
In the automotive world, you normally get what you pay for. Dealerships are expensive, just about everywhere is, but maybe they are for a reason. I have since learned that reason, but I realize it’s difficult for other people to see it. I don’t understand how you justified that the quality of your car is somehow “worth” what you paid, but to fix it quality just isn’t important, the “worth” part disappears?
Dealerships have resources that no outside repair shop can compete with. I’ve been on both sides, knowing what I know now if I was unable to do it myself, I wouldn’t be bringing my car to the “good enough” repair shops.