Aspiring auto mechanics typically kick-start their careers with technical training in the field of automotive technology, where they learn practical skills such as how to maintain, repair, and service modern cars and small trucks. The majority of employers now require mechanics to hold a degree or certification; both are of increasing importance in this age of rapid technological advancement, and will almost certainly improve career prospects.
Whether or not they hold a degree, automotive technicians are generally expected to complete a process of apprenticeship under the guidance of more experienced staff, with a focus on gaining practical and on-the-job working experience. A variety of professional programs are available to prospective auto technicians, starting in high school but also including more advanced 2-year and 4-year college degrees and certificates.
Students who wish to pursue degrees or certificate programs in automotive technology can do so via traditional on-campus programs or through web-based, online programs. Some web-based programs are 100% online while others are designated as "hybrid" because they require additional, hands-on training via on-campus labs or using actual automobiles. Web-based programs often supplement standard lectures with interactive components, animations, and videos, providing distance students with access to training and universities that they would otherwise be unable to attend. Typically available at the certificate and associate degree levels, these programs generally provide more flexible and affordable educational opportunities than their on-campus counterparts, while also allowing employed professionals the freedom to pursue additional qualifications in their off-time, on their own schedules. These benefits aside, students who learn best through hands-on experience should strongly consider enrolling in on-campus or hybrid programs rather than pursuing a fully online education.
Certificates In Automotive Technology
Certificates are usually designed to train students in basic auto repair, or to pass ASE certification for specific aptitudes such as diesel technician, alternative fuels technician, or agricultural equipment technician. They can and do overlap with degree programs, sometimes differing in name only. For instance, a two-year certificate program may offer the same training as a two-year associate program. For this reason it is important to research different programs thoroughly before choosing one. Certificate programs can range in length from 6 months to 2 years, and from 21 to 52 credit hours. Tuition varies widely, from $4,000 to $20,000 per year. Certificate program curriculum should address fundamentals such as introduction to automotive technologies and brake, steering, drive train and engine systems. Students are expected to graduate from a 2-year program with the skills necessary to become entry-level auto mechanics.
Associate Degrees In Automotive Technology
The traditional automotive technology degree is a 2-year associate degree which costs between $10,000 and $25,000 per year. Students learn about transmissions, automotive brake service, climate control, and engine performance. Course curricula is focused on modern automobiles with their advanced electronic systems. Some associate degree programs have fast track options that allow students to complete their degree in as little as one year, while other programs allow existing ASE certifications to be applied towards degree credits to expedite completion time. Graduates of an automotive technology associate degree program are expected to have attained the proficiency needed to pass the required certificate exams and to find employment as automobile technicians.
Bachelor's Degrees in Automotive Technology
4-year bachelor's degrees in this field are relatively uncommon, bu they do exist. Some focus on basic automotive technology, but most concentrate on specific areas of expertise such as diesel technology, a particular automotive brand, heavy equipment, education, supervision or management. Management is in fact one of the most common specializations, and course topics may include marketing and manufacturing, automotive electronics, store ownership and management, and collision repair.
Applicants to bachelor's programs should possess mathematical aptitude in addition to competency with hands-on activities, as course curricula usually includes both general education and technical classes. Bachelor's degree programs typically require students to complete 124-127 credits. Prerequisites for admission may include a high school diploma or GED or an associate degree in automotive technology or a related area. Annual tuition for bachelor's degree programs in this field ranges from $10,000 to $30,000.
Graduates of bachelor's programs are likely to find employment as engineers, insurance claims adjusters, management trainees, technical writers, or automotive technicians at workplaces including service and parts management companies, automobile sales and marketing companies, advanced vehicle systems research facilities, collision repair service institutions, and automotive insurance service companies.
Master's Degrees in Automotive Technology
Master’s programs in this field are rare in the United States, and almost exclusively devoted to engineering. They tend to focus on advanced technologies such as railway systems, car design, and embedded software. Mechanical systems and design are often the main focus. Master's programs usually take between one and three years to complete. Prerequisites for admission will most likely include a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related automotive specialty, with a minimum 3.0 grade point average. Graduates typically find work as designers, testers, and project managers at car and vehicle manufacturing plants.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence outlines over 40 categories of certification for automotive service technicians. Most employers will require prospective auto mechanics to obtain certification, which requires proving proficiency in the following eight areas:
- brake systems
- engine repair
- suspension and steering
- heating and air conditioning
- electrical and electronic systems
- manual drive trains and axles
- automatic transmissions and transaxles
- engine performance
Auto mechanics typically enroll in certificate and degree programs in order to gain the expertise necessary to pass these certification tests. It generally takes about five years to become fully adept in the field of automotive technology. Prospective students should consider what type of degree and focus they want, and research them appropriately before applying to programs.