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Automotive service schools. What should I be looking for?

I am currently looking to change careers and have decided that it’s time to go back to school. I’ve got the G.I. Bill at my disposal and it’s use it or lose it time. I have a strong interest in becoming a mechanic.

I’ve read several other similar posts on the forum with a deluge of responses detailing the negatives of the industry and am considering going ahead anyway. What should I look for in a school? There are quite a few different programs out there and I want to learn as much as possible, prepare myself for certifications and so on. My primary concern is that I will enroll in a program that moves at a snail’s pace and leaves me with nothing but a basic overview of automotive training.

So, for those of you who have been in my position and don’t mind sharing your experience: what should I look for in a mechanic school and what should I avoid? Any lessons learned? Any and all advice/warnings welcome and appreciated.

First post, accidently placed in the wrong area of the forum. My apologies; moderators please relocate to general.

The auto repair business is so specialized these days, I would think starting at a dealership of your interest and working your way up might be a better alternative to taking a class and expecting the world to open it’s doors for you.

Is the implication here that having formal training is not especially valuable from an employer’s standpoint? Is the industry such that two applicants, one with formal training and one without (who the employer can pay less and train on the job) are on equal footing?

I entered the field in 1972 with only High School auto shop (and a keen aptitude)I will not say it is impossible to enter the same way I did, just less likely. If you have the desire and a keen aptitude, 4 semesters at community college will get you your “bona fides” and perhaps provide you a link to a job. I say 4 semesters as this is the time required for a degree (unless you want to take 18 credit hours per semester over 3 semesters) BMW had a program called “step student” that ran for perhaps 15 yesrs. These guys would graduate from a BMW specific school with good training (and a large debt load) but almost all of them would get picked up by a Dealer and the Dealer would pay the schooling, this is not the case anymore as there are enough trained mechanics with experience so as that BMW does not need to tap into the step student program anymore.

Speaking as a retired school counselor with 30 years of service in that position, my major recommendation is to AVOID any of the “For Profit” automotive schools. That includes the likes of Lincoln Tech and other corporate entities.

Your best bet, in terms of both low cost and excellence, is an automotive program at one of the community colleges in your area, particularly if the program is affiliated with one of the auto manufacturers. The “affiliated” programs utilize both cars and equipment from the manufacturer for the classroom phase, and the student is also assigned to a dealership where he/she works (in a paid apprentice-like position) part-time.

In my area, depending upon which community college someone attended, he/she could choose from programs affiliated with GM, Ford, Toyota, and Chrysler. Or, at least that was the situation when I was last involved with these programs a few years ago.

The work assignments at the dealership are keyed to the level of training that the student has completed. Ergo–after you complete the “Basic Servicing” course, you can perform maintenance. After you complete the “Brake Service” course, you can do brake repairs, and so on, and so on…

Graduation from one of these “affiliated” programs results in employment at a dealership (usually the one where you apprenticed). The cost is far lower than what you would find at the “For Profit” schools, and the instructors are far more knowledgeable about modern technology than at the Lincoln Techs of the world.

You might go to a few shops and ask mechanics there where they went to school and how well the training prepared them for the work. And as was mentioned already, it is beneficial to narrow down the scope of work that you try to take on. Whether limiting yourself to one make and/or to one specialty such as drive trains, driveability, suspension/steering. electronics, etc., there seems to be more opportunity for better pay when someone is exceptional at a few things. Best of luck to you. Semper Fi.

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of information I was looking for.

You need to have a certain mechanical knack for things and a real desire for nuts and bolts to be in this line of work.
As to those for profit schools (Lincoln Tech, WyoTech, and my favorite whipping boy UTI along with others) you should avoid them like the plague.

They feed people lines of BS aboud demand, chart your own course, earn a 100 grand a year, etc. and it’s all a crock.

You will enter the world of flat rate pay scales and this is going to be a real eye opener for you; especially if you went to work for a new vehicle dealer where you have to perform warranty work.

Spending an hour on a repair and getting paid for 15 minutes, or less, is not a rare thing at all. Mechanics get paid in tenths of an hour. (.1 = 6 minutes, .2 = 12 minutes, etc.)
Example below although I can’t remember the car make.
Inspect brakes. (by the book measurements, etc.) .8 of an hour. (Sounds great, huh?)
Replace front brake pads. .1 hours.
Replace rear brake pads. .1 hours.
Replace BOTH front and rear brake pads. .1 hours.

Think about that 1.5 minutes per wheel and consider that time also includes getting the car from the lot, putting it on the rack, standing at the parts counter, wrestling the paper work, etc. Pretty convoluted huh? :slight_smile:

Personaly I think the “scope limiting” actitives should take place after you get hired OUR is the move away from a “bumper to bumper” technican already complete? The scope limiting idea will only be applicable at Dealerships as indys and chains (chains for sure) work on anything and everything. At the start of things for me I did work at several “VW only” indy shops but it seems that business model has run its course.

I went to Franklin Institute of Boston’s 2-yr automotive program back in the early 70s. It is a non-profit college (founded by Ben Franklin’s trust). It was a high quality top-notch program back then, and I understand it has maintained that reputation.

I agree with OK4450 and VDCdriver with their concern on the “for profit” schools. They will promise you the world. Be careful.

If you have the G.I. Bill and can afford private “non-profits” like Franklin, they are worth exploring. However, if your funding is limited, I would check out the automotive programs at your local community colleges. Some of them are outstanding (at favorable tuition prices). I’m talking about the dedicated programs with well-stocked labs/shops, and not the ones who simply offer a few automotive courses.

As for “on-the-job-training”, it is one way of doing it. However, I’m a big believer in getting the formal training first if it’s at all possible. You will never regret the fundamental skills you’ll gain.

I do encourage you to explore if the automotive profession is for you. This forum is filled with knowledgeable resources who can help you understand the pros and cons of choosing such a field. I worked as a mechanic for several years before returning to school for engineering - yet to this day, I still feel fortunate for what I learned at Franklin and in those subsequent years in the field.

It isn’t just the pie-in-the-sky claims of astronomical salaries and lifetime job placement that these corporate entities are notorious for. On several occasions, I had former students come back to visit in order to share their tales of woe regarding Lincoln Tech, and to tell me that they wished they had taken my advice to go to a community college instead.

What these students all told me, over a period of several years, was that the facilities at Lincoln Tech were inadequate, in terms of both workspace and tools/electronic equipment. These students and/or the Federal Government’s Pell Grant program were paying something on the order of $12k per year, only to be told to “observe”, rather than actually do any hands-on repair work on at least half of their school days. I was told that their instructors seemed…less than interested in teaching them. Additionally, I was informed that the electronic test equipment in the shops was old, outmoded, and frequently non-functioning.

By contrast, those who attended programs at a community college paid…probably about $3k per year…and had nothing but positive things to say about their instructors and the facilities where they were taught.

I am quite sure that the fees I mentioned above are no longer valid at either the “for profit” schools or community colleges. More than likely, the “for profits” are now charging closer to $16k per year, and the community colleges are probably charging over $5k per year.

Those must of been the days. I pulled max Pell Grant last financial aid year at 5200 and this year it will drop a bit. Pell Grants never totaly cover the coat of any thing but Community College and a “for profit” like Univeristy of Phoenix (which has a student enrollment of more than the Ivy League schools combined) you are going to be maxing out you susidized and unsubsized loans (these are loans that you can get if you have bad credit,you must pay them back,with intereset) but you will be heavy into private money,most likely with a co-signer.

Flipping on the TV one weekend to catch the Musclecar show I came in on the tail end of a 30 minute infomercial about UTI. At the end of the show while promising the universe to prospects this infomercial showed the bulletin board at one of their facilities. There were a number of small ads and one huge poster board.

This poster board was for a large multi-line dealer that I actually worked for (and the last one I ever worked for) and it promised great working conditions, state of the art facilities, great pay and benefits, AND a 5,000 dollar sign on bonus. All of that is utter BS.

Some of you may remember my posts about working for a dealer where the mechanic got fired because of a car falling off of a faulty lift, having to overhaul a manual transmission on the bench by using a troublelight due to 3/4 of the overheads being burnt out, the fire marshal citing the place for numerous violations, refusing to allow their insurance to cover the cost of stolen tools when almost every mechanic there lost their top boxes when someone broke in one weekend and drug them off into the back of a new pickup, which they also stole, and the worst parts department in the universe.
(Take a deep breath after that sentence.) :slight_smile:

That dealer is the one and same as the one on the poster board at UTI.

What do you expect from a school named for Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?


Our Sunday paper (todays paper) carried the stats concerning new hires in the “automotive sector” since the last time this group made the same type of report here in Tucson. Simply to stay out of the “I use big words” club I will keep my report short (which as you see is pretty easy to do), there were no new hires to report about.

I think I’d rather have a UTI or an STD before going in hock with those guys. Here’s a paragraph about UTI and it’s not hard to understand that it’s all about shareholders and playing the Federal grant and student loan game. UTI cashes in and graduating students leave with stars in their eyes and a bag full of debt.

At a time when the economy and credit markets are in disarray, UTI?s programs are expensive, with tuition for its typical 16-month program averaging roughly $30,000. To top it all off, the company’s stock hardly appears cheap. At a recent $15.80, the shares are down nearly 70% from their 2004 high but still trade at 32x consensus 2009 earnings estimates.

A local trade paper that circulates here with various things for sale generally has a few ads running at any one time advertising a Snap-On tool box and full(?) set of Snap-On tools in like new condition for X dollars.
I’ve often wondered how many of those tool sets belong to a UTI, MMI, or Wyotech grad who found that reality was far different than what they were told during their school days.
Another thing I’ve often wondered about is just how many people they ever flunk out of their schools. (My unscientific estimate is zero…)