So you want to be an auto technician — Part 1
If you like working with your hands and figuring out problems, you might like being an auto technician. Here are some of the things you should consider before enrolling in a training program.
Will you get a job as an auto technician?
Yes. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) estimates that the dealer auto repair network needs about 76,000 auto technicians annually to replace older technicians retiring (or leaving for other reasons). But U.S. technical and automotive training programs only graduate about 37,000 auto technicians a year, leaving a shortage of 39,000 technicians every year. So you will get a job, especially when you consider that these numbers are put together by the dealer association. It does not include the demand for auto technicians from independently owned repair shops.
2020 Transportation Technician Supply & Demand Report, that reveals the transportation technician shortage continues to worsen.
According to the TechForce Foundation, “Although demand is strong, with 642,000 auto/diesel/collision techs needed between 2020 and 2024, the shortage continues to worsen. The good news is these careers have been deemed essential by the government, and the transportation industry is organizing to do something about the shortage,” said Jennifer Maher, TechForce CEO.
“Recent surveys show an increased interest in transportation technology work, both among younger students and career changers whose jobs may have been lost or furloughed because of the pandemic. Surveys of high school students show that more than half are open to something other than a four-year degree.”
How much do auto technicians make?
I’ll give you average wages in a minute. But first you have to understand that most shops pay their technicians based on a flat rate setup instead of the normal hourly rate. Here’s how that works. The shop sets a wage per hour, but you don’t punch a normal time clock. Instead the shop assigns you a job and pays you a listed number of hours for the repair. The flat rate labor guide shows the average time it should take for a skilled technician to complete each repair. If you’re properly trained and own the right tools, you should be able to complete the job in the time listed in the flat rate labor guide. As you become more skilled, you can actually “beat the book,” which means you can complete the job faster than the flat rate guide. You’ll get paid the flat rate time even if you finish early.
Here’s an example: Your hourly wage is $29.48/hour.
You’re to replace an oil pan on a 2005 Nissan Sentra. The flat rate guide shows that the job should take 6.1-hours to complete ($29.38 x 6.1-hrs=$179.83). But you’ve done this job several times and know which components to remove and in what order, so you don’t have to refer to a shop manual and that saves you some time. You also know what size wrenches and sockets to use, so you save time by eliminating trial and error. You finish the job in 4.5-hrs. You still get paid the $179.83 but it only took you 4.5-hrs, so you’re really making $39.96 per hour. On the flip side, if you’re slow, or run into rusty bolts that take extra time, it may take you longer than 6.1-hrs. and you won’t get paid more than $179.83.
Most skilled auto technicians meet or beat the flat rate guide
Average hourly and annual wages for auto technicians
According salaries.com, as of 5/1/2023 the median wage for technicians is $54,635/year, with a average high of $69,650 and an average low of $39,366. But a technician’s equipment and updates alone costs thousands per year, coming off the top of that payroll check. Then there’s the cost of continuing education and class-book fees.
Auto technicians working in gas stations make less; $19.17/hour or $39,870 per year.
But auto techs working for government shops make more; $25.40/hour or $52,820 per year.
Location also matters
Large metropolitan areas pay more than rural areas, but the cost of living is also higher in those same areas
Chicago, IL median $57,634, average high $73,378
Los Angeles median $61,338, average high $78,094
Mobile, AL median $50,526 average high $64,329
New York, NY median $64,196, average high $86,622
Tampa, FL median $52,001 average high $66,207
What about job satisfaction?
Keep in mind that very few tradespeople say they like their job when asked to participate in a job satisfaction survey. But the auto repair industry has an especially bad reputation. They’re known for treating their technicians poorly and that’s partially why the industry is facing such a severe shortage of qualified technicians. If you’re considering becoming an auto technical you can’t ignore the fact a recent Carlisle survey shows the only one out of every four technicians expressed high overall satisfaction from their job. (AutoNation mines a scarce resource: service technicians—Automotive News July 1, 2019).
See the results from the 2020 Auto Technician Satisfaction Survey here
But that’s changing
The Asbury Automotive Group owns 83 dealerships and employs about 1,800 employees. To attract and keep auto service technicians Asbury is offering stock ownership incentives, paying more for their senior technicians’ health insurance and upgrading locker rooms for a more pleasant workplace. Group 1 Automotive owns 183 dealerships and has announced they’re adopting four-day work weeks at some of their dealerships to provide more days off.
Best place to work
Generally speaking, dealerships pay more and offer the best training, although some independently owned shop pay their top technicians great incentives that dealers can’t match. The advantage to working for a dealer is that you become skilled on one brand and that allows you to beat the book more often. The downside is that if you want to change jobs, your “one brand” experience limits your options.
Pros and cons of becoming an auto technician
Pros: Decent money. Every job is different. Don’t have to deal with the customer. The demand for car repair is fairly steady. Although recessions do cause downturns and layoffs, auto repair is the first thing to come back once the economy improves. Owners can’t put off repairs forever.
Once you obtain your ASE Master and Advanced Engine Diagnostics certifications, you become more valuable to the shop. Those techs tend to make more per hour and have a much higher job satisfaction rating.
Cons: You have to provide your own tools (except for major shop equipment which is provided by the shop). You have to continue your education annually, sometimes at your own expense (although that’s changing too—even the independently owned shops are now starting to pay for training classes).
Like most trades, the work can be hard on your body over your lifetime. Older techs complain of back and knee problems, but that’s also a common complaint from roofer, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, HVAC, masonry workers and other types of manual skill work.
More information in Part 2
©, 2019 Rick MuscoplatPosted on by Rick Muscoplat