I’m looking to change careers and have always had some interest in becoming an auto mechanic. Is it hard to make a decent living as a mechanic? Is it a good long-term job for somebody who want to have a family and few financial worries?
This is a tough one to answer. You can’t simply become a mechanic; you have to have a mechanical aptitude and a love of nuts and bolts to keep at it.
Many people go to trade school for a couple of years, float a 10 grand loan to get started on the tools, and become disillusioned within a year or two, followed by selling their tools at a loss and going in a different direction.
It’s challenging to say the least and will contribute to headaches and high blood pressure, especially if you get into working for a car dealer. The “system” can be stacked against you and can put a serious crimp in the paycheck. Much of this revolves around doing warranty work and the flat rate pay system.
Think of it this way. You may spend 2 hours performing a warranty repair and the book allotment is only going to pay you half an hour for example. Kind of puts the hurt on that seemingly good per hour wage you’re allegedly drawing, huh?
Work slows up and you’re standing there waiting for something to be dragged through the door means you’re standing there for free.
In most cases, I would never advise anyone to go into the field but that varies by the individual, etc.
Guess that did not clear anything up, huh?
The right way is to own the business. Otherwise, you will be broke and dirty. You have to get a huge loan. The other way out is to specialize in dirt cheap ventures. Learn how to change tires and run a used tire business. Don’t buy too many or they will just rot in the yard. Auto upholstery is also a good one because your stock is impossible for anybody else to inventory. You get a lot of cash business. Watch out for the jobs that take too long. Take payments in advance so the customers don’t kill you by not paying. You have to get something for your work if the people can’t pay. Learn how to bet on crap games because the casino will be your best income.
Don’t work for a muffler shop. It’s exhausting.
Or a horn shop - it blows.
Or a suspension shop - it’s shocking!
If you like to work with your hands, have a good aptitude for solving mechanical and electrical problems, and like working on vehicles you should do well. Getting some good approved training is needed. If you can learn to work with basic elecricity and electronic circuits well you will have a big plus going for you I believe. I think there is still a large gap for techs needing basic training on electrical problems and vehicles get more and more dependent on electrical circuits every year.
Check out jobs in your area and see how well they are paying techs. Some get paid very well after they have some good experience and are sharp at what they do. Heavy equipment service is another area you may want to consider also and may pay better yet.
If you want to do anything, start off small. Start off by doing oil changes and tire rotations to get in the habit of working and being around vehicles. Doing oil changes gets you underneath the car, looking at stuff, asking questions, and getting in the routine of checking things over the way it should be. Doing tire rotations gets you in the habit of dealing with checking brakes and possibly replacing them if need be. Most large car dealerships hire people like this who want to get started. Most of the time they prefer SOME experience but not all the time. Its up to you. Its not a bad career.
I don’t know of any wealthy auto mechanics. Plumbers, masons, electricians, yes, but not auto mechanics. You can get very tired of getting your hands and clothes dirty every day. I am not a pro but get a taste of this by doing much of our own vehicle repair stuff. As was said, who wants to be constantly judged against the Flat Rate book.
There was a valuable discussion on this topic in the old board about 2 years ago. I agree with the replies so far on this thread.
I went through an excellent 2-year auto mechanics school in Boston in the early 70s, then worked for several years in new car dealerships, on heavy equipment repair, and in independent repair shops. I really loved working as a mechanic. I was making more money than most of my friends, and it was more than enough money to pay for my ‘young-and-single’ social life.
What got me nervous, however, was seeing mechanics who were 50 and 60 years old who were still turning spark plug wrenches for a living - and they made it clear that their love for fixing cars had diminished years ago. There were other mechanics who were raising a family who couldn’t afford the $2 to throw into the beer kitty after washing the floors on Friday afternoons. It also bothered me in the dealerships that when no cars came in the door to be fixed, I was making $0 (zero dollars) per hour.
I ended up moving back to my parents home so I could start schooling at a local college for engineering. It’s much harder to go back to school when you’re older, but somehow I was able to do it. I paid for it by working part-time mechanic jobs during weekends and vacations.
That mechanical knowledge has come in very handy over the years (from picking up a few extra bucks doing repairs, to being able to fix most things rather than paying to get them fixed).
I have seen many mechanics who got into the business because they had an incredible passion for learning how to fix cars and learning how cars worked. It was common to see that passion wear off within 10 years. It happened to me.
Use my story as only one data point. There are many regulars on this board who have their own unique backgrounds that may help you reach a decision. Place a high value on their input, as they have years of experience and speak honestly from the heart.
Good luck in your decision.
you cant just say im a mechanic, you need years of practice and knowledge. go to howstuffworks.com
and go to auto and under the hood. read and read everything there, start taking motors apart (lawnmower) and name all the things there, put it back together and get it running you will need many years of practice, and thats half of the journey may i suggest a partner
i completely agree with tj
I am not a mechanic but do have 6 semesters under my belt at the local voc tech.
The feedback I have gotten from the teachers there, who use to be mechanics in various capacites range in extreme from:
- Why the hell do you want to do this job, people will spend $50k on their house but complain and moan when they have to spend $500 on their car.
- Learn as much as you can and if your motivated you will do very well.
No doubt working for yourself will be the most lucrative but you need alot more skills to do that successfully than just being a good mechanic.
I would agree will every thing posted and if you are motivated you can do well. If it is in your heart go for it.
You want to look for a work environment that is supportive and not negative. Like anything else, if you work for dishonest or unorganized management you will eventually get disenchanted.
Here’s the rationale behind my decision:
The three shops I worked at each had a 60-70 year old guy working for a couple of bucks an hour more than I was right out of high school. Two of them got fired while I worked there because they were just getting too frail for it, but they couldn’t afford to retire. That definitely affected my decision not to pursue it as a career.
That said, my elderly co-worker’s problems were mostly due to poor retirement planning or other financial hardships. With careful saving and investment, you can work as a mechanic and live comfortably. It is not, however, nearly as lucrative a career path as popular opinion would suggest.
It pays well enough at the lower levels (compared to comparable jobs you can get with equivlent experiance in other fields), but the pay seems to plateau 10-years or so into it. Maybe 30 years ago, that plateau would have put you firmly into the middle-class, but not today.
This mostly applies to dealers, chains and the larger “chain-like” independants. But this is where the vast majority of mechanics work, and most of them contend with the conditions described above. Small independant shops are a differant situation, with the mechanics usually owning or partially owning the shop. They have to contend with the risks of owning a buisness, but they actually do have a chance of making somewhat better money, plus they accrue some equity that can give them flexiblity later in life that my old friends could have really used.
I think a big part of why auto mechanics turns into such a bum deal is that there’s a lot of high-school seniors who graduate every year with a certain amount of automotive knowledge who figure 10 bucks an hour at Jiffy Lube is better than 7 bucks an hour at McDonald’s, which combined with general perceptions of mechanics making good money, leads a lot of them to think its the career for them. Once you get out of entry-level, though, the market is glutted.
Flat rate also strongly reduces a shop’s incentive to hire seasoned mechanics at significantly higher pay rates-- they get the same cut on a job no matter how long it actually takes the person to do it. If a shop can hire one person for, say 20 bucks a flat-hour that can do a brake job in an hour or another one that works for 35 that can do it in 45 minutes, even assuming a constant supply of brake jobs, the shop’s cut will usually do better with the less experianced tech. Of course, what usually happens is that the more experianced one ends up settling working for the 20 an hour because no one will pay him what he’s worth.
Once a mechanic accrues enough experiance that he can do most repairs and that he’s not going to be a liability concern, he has become about as attractive as he is going to be to a typical flat-rate shop in terms of raw economics-- hence the pay plateau. Only very busy, very high-stress shops are going to really pay someone significantly more, and you get too old for that fast.
And that is why I am not a mechanic. I will definitely say I’m glad I started my abortative mechanical career with the “start at the ground floor” method rather than the “big investment in training and tools” method. Among the many mechanics I knew and talked to, it seemed that someone with two years experiance at a shop starting out changing oil and tires, but actively seeking more experiance, was on an equal footing with someone who spent two years in trade school in terms of job placement. But if the guy from trade school decided his long-term prospects aren’t very good, he’s sort of stuck in the industry, whereas the ground floor person (me) was able to take tools I paid cash for and leave.