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The Automotive Workplace

Work Environment
Basic, entry-level, employment with salaries projected to range from $25,000 to $45,000 per year.

While most automotive service technicians worked a standard 40 hour week in 2006, 30 percent worked longer hours. Some may work evenings and weekends to satisfy customer service needs. 

Generally, service technicians work indoors in well-ventilated and well-lighted repair shops. However, some shops are drafty and noisy. Although many problems can be fixed with simple computerized adjustments, technicians frequently work with dirty and greasy parts, and in awkward positions. They often lift heavy parts and tools. Minor cuts, burns and bruises can occur, but technicians can avoid serious accidents if safe practices are observed.

How do they do it?
When mechanical or electrical troubles occur, technicians first get a description of the problem from the owner or, in a large shop, from the repair service estimator or service advisor who wrote the repair order. To locate the problem, technicians use a diagnostic approach. First, they test to see whether components and systems are secure and working properly. Then, they isolate the components or systems that might be the cause of the problem. For example, if an air-conditioner malfunctions, the technician might check for a simple problem, such as a low coolant level, or a more complex issue, such as a bad drive-train connection that has shorted out the air conditioner. As part of their investigation, technicians may test drive the vehicle or use a variety of testing equipment, including onboard and hand-held diagnostic computers or compression gauges. These tests may indicate whether a component is salvageable or whether a new one is required.

During routine service inspections, technicians test and lubricate engines and other major components. Sometimes technicians repair or replace worn parts before they cause breakdowns or damage the vehicle. Technicians usually follow a checklist to ensure that they examine every critical part. Belts, hoses, plugs, brake and fuel systems, and other potentially troublesome items are watched closely.

Nature of the Work
Automotive service technicians' and mechanics' responsibilities have evolved from simple mechanical repairs to high-level technology-related work. The increasing sophistication of automobiles requires workers who can use computerized shop equipment and work with electronic components while maintaining their skills with traditional hand tools. As a result, automotive service workers are now usually called technicians rather than mechanics.

Required Skills
Employers look for people with strong communication and analytical skills. Technicians need good reading, mathematics and computer skills to study technical manuals, to keep abreast of new technology and to learn new service and repair procedures and specifications. Trainees also must possess mechanical aptitude and knowledge of how automobiles work.

In addition to classroom training and certification, those most successful in this industry will possess the ability to diagnose the source of a problem quickly and accurately requires good reasoning ability and a thorough knowledge of automobiles. Many technicians consider diagnosing hard-to-find troubles one of their most challenging and satisfying duties. Training in electronics is vital because electrical components, or a series of related components, account for nearly all malfunctions in modern vehicles.

Most employers regard the successful completion of a vocational training program in automotive service technology as the best preparation for trainee positions. Experience working on motor vehicles in the Armed Forces or as a hobby also is valuable.

Description of Typical Work Activities/ Transferable Skills:

    * Rotates, balances tires and aligns four wheels as necessary.
    * Examines vehicles, and discusses repairs with service writers and customers.
    * Installs and repairs accessories, such as radios, mirrors, and windshield wipers.
    * Diagnoses and repairs fuel systems, ignition systems,and emission systems
    * Evaluates and replaces generators, starters, pumps, and coolant systems.
    * Inspects and replaces parts, such as crankshafts and cylinder blocks.
    * Repairs and overhauls defective automotive units, such as engines, transmissions and differentials.
    * Repairs and replaces engine parts, such as pistons, rods, gears, valves and hoses.
    * Repairs, replaces and adjusts brakes, shocks and headlights.
    * Rewires ignition systems, lights and instrument panels. Using electrical/electronic testing instruments
    * Using mechanics hand and power tools
    * Repairing mechanical objects
    * Read and interpret technical writing and following written repair work orders
    * Observing and diagnosing mechanical problems
    * Operating computerized diagnostic equipment to diagnosis brake, transmission, suspension, body and engine control module


Automotive technology is rapidly increasing in sophistication and most training authorities strongly recommend that people seeking work in automotive service complete a formal training program in high school or in a postsecondary vocational school or community college.

Computers are also commonplace in modern repair shops. Service technicians compare the readouts from computerized diagnostic testing devices with benchmarked standards given by the manufacturer. Deviations outside of acceptable levels tell the technician to investigate that part of the vehicle more closely. Through the Internet or from software packages, most shops receive automatic updates to technical manuals and access to manufacturers' service information, technical service bulletins and other databases that allow technicians to keep up with common problems and learn new procedures.

High technology tools are needed to fix the computer equipment that operates everything from the engine to the radio in many cars. In fact, today most automotive systems, such as braking, transmission and steering systems, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic components. Additionally, luxury vehicles often have integrated global positioning systems, Internet access and other new features with which technicians will need to become familiar. Also, as more alternate-fuel vehicles are purchased, more automotive service technicians will need to learn the science behind these automobiles and how to repair them.

Tools of the Trade
Service technicians use a variety of tools in their work. They use power tools, such as pneumatic wrenches to remove bolts quickly; machine tools like lathes and grinding machines to rebuild brakes; welding and flame-cutting equipment to remove and repair exhaust systems, and jacks and hoists to lift cars and engines. They also use common hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches, to work on small parts and in hard-to-reach places. Technicians usually provide their own hand tools, and many experienced workers have thousands of dollars invested in them. Employers furnish expensive power tools, engine analyzers and other diagnostic equipment.

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