Thinking about becoming a mechanic? Thinking about going to school for such a thing? We’re going to compare the pros and cons of choosing this career path, as per my experience in DMACC’s (Des Moines Area Community College) automotive program.
Giving out the bad news first, we’ll start with a disadvantage of going to college to become a mechanic.
High Up-Front Cost
As with most academic programs post high-school, you’re going to have to cough up some dough to be in the program. But automotive programs are unique because not only are you going to have pay tuition and textbook costs like every other college course, the vast majority of the time you are going to be responsible for purchasing your own tools. Don’t get me wrong, you will get your money’s worth from those tools you purchase by being able to work on your own vehicles, but for a college-aged individual, purchasing hundreds of dollars in tools can cause some second thoughts. During my first semester in the program, I spent over $800 on tools alone, and lost track some time after that.
Paying for tools doesn’t scare you? My advice would be to start with buying only the essentials, and build from there once you know what you’ll find useful.
Now for one of the most attractive advantages of most automotive programs.
Earn while you Learn
One of the most attractive things about the automotive program, at least in my eyes, was the ability to make money while working towards my automotive certification. As a part of the program I was enrolled in, acquiring a “sponsorship” (being an intern at a local dealership) was a requirement, and I spent a huge amount of time at that dealership, all the while getting paid. The program I was enrolled in was a 8-week split, so each 16 week semester I would spend 8 weeks in class, and 8 working full-time. Not only was I paid, but for a college student to be making $12 an hour full-time in the middle of nowhere Iowa, and it felt really good! With many of these programs, you can easily earn the money to pay for both your tools and tuition if you are frugal enough.
It’s hard work, full stop
If this is the career path you choose to go down, be forewarned this is hard work. Your hands will be sore, your feet will ache, and your back might never be the same. However, there is a certain breed of person who lives off that kind of real, fulfilling work. Many shops, like the one I worked in, was not air conditioned, and you will be doing a large amount of your in-shop hours over the summer months. So be ready for 50+ hour work weeks, which you’ll thank yourself for when payday comes around.
You’ll save a fortune repairing your own vehicles
One of the most obvious upsides to becoming a certified mechanic is: you don’t have to go to a mechanic anymore! The vast majority of car problems you experience you’ll have the confidence and know-how to fix your own vehicle, saving you hundreds (if not thousands) in the long-run. Not only that, but you’ll be able to purchase vehicles with minor (or even major) mechanical problems at heavy discounts. Then, you have the option to keep the vehicle you just bought for a great price or sell it for a nice little profit.
The worst part of being a mechanic? Mechanics.
This is a con that a lot of people don’t think about, but many run into. I met very few mechanics who would describe themselves as a “people person”. As a result, mechanics can be some of the hardest people to get along with, especially when you have to work together. That being said, bad coworkers can be found in any industry. However, it is something to look out for, especially if flat-rate is involved, as other mechanics can be very competitive about getting the best jobs.
The best part of being a mechanic? Mechanics.
One of the pros that is also easily looked over is the fantastic people you’ll meet in this industry. You will meet some extremely hard working, humble people that just love what they do. People like this not only make the work environment enriching, but give you something to aspire to. Even if one day you no longer see these people every day, but you will form relationships you can cherish for life.
Is this a pro or a con? Does flat-rate hurt or help mechanics? I would say that is up to you to decide. For those who do not know what flat-rate is, in short, you get paid based on what work you complete. For a just starting out technician, being paid substantially less due not being able to log many flat-rate hours in a work day can be crippling. On the other hand, if you are exceptional at what you do, and pick your jobs carefully, you can make substantially more working on flat-rate. Personally, I’m a fan of flat-rate in most instances but understand why it has its fair share of nay-sayers.
High Demand and Rising
Automotive technicians are in increasingly high demand, growing about 6% a year, and with vehicles getting more and more advanced in their technology, mechanics are only going to get more in-demand than ever. If you know how to fix cars properly, you’ll never really be out of a job. Friends, family, almost anyone you meet will need car help at some point in their life, and they’ll come straight to you. You’d be surprised how much money can be made fixing cars on the side for friends and family.
Are you a car guy?
If you’re a car guy at all, you’ll love this industry. Because everyone you meet is also a car guy! You’ll always have that as common ground with your fellow auto tech students, and your future coworkers. Having something to talk about as a shared interest with your peers helps make some of the long hours not feel so long.
Why Does My Neck Hurt When I Go Like This?
Back problems, knee problems, shoulder problems, you name it. Being a mechanic is a very physically demanding job, with a lot of lifting, pushing, pulling, sliding, bending, kneeling, and time on your feet all day. Definitely not a job for the infirm, but will definitely help keep you in shape! But always be checking to make sure your back is straight while you’re working, you don’t want all those hard-earned dollars paying bills for visits to the doctor for long-developed injuries.
Bang For Your Buck
Many colleges offer many scholarships for their automotive students, and technical schools tend to be less expensive than your average 4-year college to being with. At DMACC as a state resident, I was paying well less than $3,000 a semester for tuition and books. A steal by today’s higher education standards! Just compare that to the state university (Iowa State University) less than an hour from DMACC whose tuition for in-state students is (at the time of this writing) is almost $8,000 for tuition alone.
Being a mechanic is a well-respected position to be in, most of the time. Automotive technicians are a vital, hard-working part of modern society. Without mechanics, a lot of us couldn’t get to work every day! Plus, every guy and gal out there that is in to cars will want to pique your brain about everything you’ve learned on the job. The majority of people you meet (lets be honest, mostly men) have an interest in how cars work. I mean, most people own them and have quite a bit invested in their vehicle, so naturally they have an interest.
So, how much do mechanics make?
Well, the answer is: it depends. I’ve met technicians that barely get by, and several that make well over six figures. To simplify, however; the median annual automotive mechanic I salary is $38,100, as of June 29, 2018. So you will by no means be rolling in the dough, at least not fresh out of college. But that is a decent living and a very useful skillset to have, especially while always having room to improve.
So, after reading all these pros and cons of being an automotive mechanic, is it the job for you? As far as college education goes, it is by far one of the most affordable options. You definitely need to have your heart set on it to be successful and fulfilled in this career, and if you have the aptitude it can make for a very lucrative career. At the end of the day, it is for each individual to decide if pursuing a career as an automotive mechanic is the right choice for them. Whatever you decide, choose wisely and best of luck!