Auto Repair Industry

Just wanted to see if I could get some insight from those in the business. I am 19 and currently enrolled in college for Industrial Electrical Systems and HVAC (I have received section 608 and 609 certs) diplomas (not AAS or anything). Since I have started a new job that will allow me to have a very flexible schedule and more free time to study I have been tempted to go back for a two year. The college I go to has an auto course (two year), if I remember right they do certify in Ford and some of the ASE.

Any way long term I’m looking for a business I can either A. ) work for a great company and retire on doing something different every day or B.) go into business for myself and keep up a great amount of returning customers. I live in South Eastern Iowa if that helps any one that knows the trends by location.

On my Dad’s side the history of cars runs a little deep, until things went south they used to own a shop and made good on it (only a one car garage).


Here’s an idea, but unfortunately it may be too boring for you.

After getting that associate’s degree in automotive, work for a dealer for a few years to gain experience and figure out how things (and the business) work

After that dealership experience, try to get a job with a city, county, etc. They will appreciate your experience and knowledge, and they will give you steady pay and way better benefits than any dealer ever will. And if all goes well, some day you’ll get a real pension, which sure beats a 401k

Here’s another idea: become a heavy duty equipment mechanic. Get whatever degree/training you need to make that happen. It pays better than automotive.

The hvac industry is unionized, licensed, and regulated. I can’t just walk into a place and buy lines and fittings to repair my home a/c system, can I? But any idiot can walk into a parts store and buy brake pads and a fuel pump for his car. Does that make sense to you?

Do you enjoy servicing and repairing cars? If you don’t really enjoy it, stick with the hvac. You’ll make more money and get more respect.

db4690 gave you some good input.

This site has had several conversations on this topic. I’ve pasted a few of them below. Hopefully you’ll find them valuable.

I’m not a pro mechanic, but I second @db4690 's comment about working at a dealer (or an inde that does a big business and specializes in certain makes) for a couple of years out of the box. A dealer shop will provide training and have all the tools and electronic gadgets and you’ll more likely to see obscure difficult to diagnose problems from time to time. Plus you’ll see how to manage risk and organize the work to insure a tidy profit is turned while at the same time most of the customer’s walk away smiling.

If successful after that, why not translate what you’ve learned from the dealer shop into your own inde shop? If I were to start my own inde shop myself, which I’m not, but if I were, I’d only service vehicles that are the most common in my area. Here in Northern California, that would be the consumer models of Hondas and Toyotas. Not that the other makes aren’t worth servicing, but putting limits on what you service allows you to specialize in what you do service, and to obtain all the training, specialized tools, electronic gadgets, and up to date software. Word of mouth is very important in the auto repair business, and if your customer’s have confidence that when you say “this is the problem, this is how much it will cost, and this is how long it will take”, well, even though they may pay a little more at your shop, that is exactly what will happen.

In order to accomplish that, you may have to turn away business. Quite a bit of it maybe. For example, say a customer phones in Friday morning and says “My CEL is on, I need the problem resolved today, since I’m taking this car on a family vacation for a week, leaving Saturday.” You’re going to have to say “Sorry, we’re all booked up today. The next scheduled opening is next Thursday. I recommend you leave the car here at the shop before you leave, and rent a car for your family vacation. We’ll have it fixed up for you and ready to drive when you get back.”

You might want to take a look at this too. If you are able to understand how your customers view the process of getting their car repaired, you can proactively take steps to arrange your business in a way that your customers believe you are on their side.

Please give @asemaster 's advice some serious consideration - every building has HVAC systems, and they’re becoming more complex every year to increase efficiency. Learn the cutting edge technology, that’ll put you in demand. The extensive computer controls systems are a prime area to study.


It takes a fellow pro and lifer to recognize how unregulated and wild-west our business is


You’re well advised to follow the HVAC road. If you work flat rate at a dealer you will discover very quickly that the reality will be much different than what an auto school instructor may have stated.

I’m sort of surprised to hear from the pros here that driveway mechanics buying parts at the auto parts store and fixing their own cars is thought to take away a lot of business. Am I misunderstanding? Here in Northern Calif at least I just don’t see many people who fix their own cars. Many of them could if they wanted, but they are too busy with their jobs, taking the kids to soccer practice, etc and they just don’t have time, so they ask a pro do it for a fee instead. And I don’t see this trend changing. If anything, drive-way-fix-it-yourself-types are even more on the wane. Fixing your own car is very time consuming, requires a significant up-front investment for the basic tools and manuals, is often very physically demanding work, and can be dangerous, especially for the inexperienced.

@GeorgeSanJose: I think the point being made by the pros was more about respect and earnings. I did work a few years in auto repair as a pro, as well as having contributed here for the last six or seven years and can assure you there is generally very little respect for auto mechanics in the eyes of the general public. Many people think shops are out to rip them off, and with the ready availability of discount auto parts, many customers will research prices and make it a point of contention with the shop/mechanic. If you are unwilling to match or beat their eBay/Rock Auto/Autozone price they found for the parts to do the job, you are assumed to be a crook. The inability for a customer to research prices or acquire parts for HVAC systems will greatly reduce the probability of this happening. Many people also still regard today’s auto mechanics as dumb grease monkeys who weren’t smart enough to get a real job, regardless of how complex and difficult the work really is, whereas HVAC techs are seen as educated professionals doing a job nobody else can do. As for pay, I never broke $30k in the auto repair field. During another discussion a few years back, another poster revealed that he topped out around $42k as a BMW certified tech working every bit of overtime and holiday hours he could. I believe the only reason to consider a career in auto repair is if you really, really, really, REALLY like working on cars.


I’m not implying that shadetree mechanics are taking away my business

I am also not demanding that owners no longer be allowed to perform their own repairs.

However, I am stating that I’m extremely disappointed that there have never been strict standards and guidelines established in my industry, in the USA, as to a mechanic’s competency. A mechanic doesn’t legally have to have any certificates, degrees, credentials, experience or schooling.

And those aforementioned individuals are allowed to work on all parts of the motor vehicle

That includes brakes and tires

Think about that

The incompetent hacks, and the dishonest ones, are part of the reason why my business has such a bad reputation. There are many other reasons, as well, though.

In the country I was born in, I had to complete a 3 year automotive apprenticeship. At the end, there was a written exam and a hands-on exam. Only after passing both exams did I receive the certificate which entitles me to work as a mechanic.

When I came here, I realized it was, to a large extent, an unregulated free-for-all. With the notable exception of smog exams. And the NOT ENFORCED requirement to be 609 certified for auto HVAC repairs.

I believe Canada has very strict guidelines concerning professional mechanics, as does Europe in general. I’m not sure about the rest of the world.

That said, I applaud the dealerships and shops which require their mechanics to keep up to date with the various ASE credentials.

Now somebody flag me, please

@GeorgeSanJose, my point wasn’t about lost business. I’ve seen brake pads installed friction side out. I’ve seen a Ford Explorer with the rear brake rotors installed on the front. I’ve seen the wrong tie rod installed with a hose clamp. I’ve seen broken fuel line connectors taped together. And yet every yahoo that’s done these things thinks it’s his right to “fix” his own car and put the deathtrap on the road.

Now I’m not saying that regulation and licensing is the answer, but why is it ok to keep Back Yard Bob from buying materials to fix his a/c or natural gas line but not from buying brake pads or struts? I think some of the reason is that people don’t have as much respect for the auto service industry.

A study from not too long ago revealed that 68% of the people who were polled about an auto repair felt they were going to get ripped off. Not that they actually were; they just felt like it.

It’s very difficult to overcome that perception because most only hear about the bad; never the good.

I applaud your ambition to get an AA, in whichever field, not just because it’s something to get a better job, but because it will leave you better educated. All those other general ed classses and electives are just as valuable as your vocational classes. You might acquire some other interests, maybe a hobby, and you’ll meet people of all ages and backgrounds (if your college is like the one I went to.) You may even decide you’d like to transfer somewhere and get a bachelor’s degree. Stranger things happen all the time. In any case, now is the time to get as much education as you can/want. People think they’ll go work for a while then return to school, but it rarely works out and they almost always regret not staying in school. BTW, schools are also good employers. I worked for both a community college and a major university and they were the best jobs I ever had. They don’t employ a lot of HVAC techs or auto mechanics, but there are some.

A dealer shop will provide training and have all the tools and electronic gadgets and you’ll more likely to see obscure difficult to diagnose problems from time to time

Maybe it’s changed but the friends I had that were professional mechanics all had to buy and supply their own tools.

When you see guys that realized that field was not for them, you see the tool boxes and tools up for sale. It’s a significant investment and not one to be taken lightly. Those guys took a bath on the tools and were basically broke and starting over.

The dealer may have supply the high-end diagnosis equipment…but the mechanics still have to supply their own tools. I know of no dealership where they supply tools to the mechanic.

A dealer shop will provide training and have all the tools and electronic gadgets and you'll more likely to see obscure difficult to diagnose problems from time to time

I’ve always found that the more diverse experience a mechanic has had…the more likely they are to solve an obscure problem. The very best mechanics I’ve ever known were independents. NOT dealers mechanics. In fact I knew of a couple of specialized mechanics who the dealers sent the obscure hard to solve problems to.

I work with a technician that has an HVAC business on the side. He made enough money to buy a new Z06 Corvette. Not bad for a part time job.

Lots of responses. To sum up my responses I love working on cars (I’ve got parts airing out right now as I respond for my Mom’s Taurus). There are a couple of dealerships in town, have considered asking what they require for employment and honestly wound’t mind going up to something bigger long term.

As for staying in the HVAC field kind of hard around were I live. Up in Des Moines they have a ton of HVAC jobs but they require certs I just do not have access to (primary NATE), if I did further my education into auto I have a feeling it may become my specialty.

As I’ve always said, your real education will begin when you work flat rate for a dealer.

Generally speaking, sheer ignorance, stupidity, backstabbing, and politics are the order of the day… :frowning:

" . . . they have a ton of HVAC jobs but they require certs . . ."

In STARK contrast to the auto industry where a pulse is the only requirement . . .

Sad, but true