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Online auto mechanic schools

With the field expected to add thousands of new technicians each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, people may be wondering if they can go to an online auto mechanic school for training. That's a possibility, but students should be aware there are only a limited number of distance education programs in the industry. What's more, since automotive repair is a hands-on field, online studies may be best for those who have previous experience with engine repair, such as through a high school vocational program.

The chart below looks at school options for both autobody collision repair and automotive mechanics technology programs. While there are hundreds of certificate and associate degree options for students, there are only a handful of online auto mechanic schools.

Program

Certificate

Associate degree

Online

Autobody collision repair

381

178

2

Automotive mechanics technology

500+

500+

5

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (2015)

Entry-level auto mechanic programs

Automotive technicians don't need an advanced degree, but they do need post-secondary training to gain necessary skills.

Some states require auto mechanics and technicians be licensed, and students should check for their state's specific requirements before enrolling in a training program. Plus, many employers prefer to hire technicians who have been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). To receive this certification, workers must have two years experience or one year of schooling plus one year of experience.

At the entry-level, students will typically find two similar types of programs:

  • Diploma: Typically awarded by technical or vocational schools, a diploma in automotive repair or mechanics can often be completed in less than a year. These programs may provide general instruction rather than brand specific coursework.
  • Certificate: A certificate could take more than one year to complete, but it may also offer the opportunity to specialize on a specific manufacturer or type of engine. Certificates may be offered by trade schools or community colleges, but you can check out online certificate options, as well.

In both options, classes cover topics such as brakes, electrical systems, suspension and engine performance. Online schools may provide manuals and online lessons as well as suggested hands-on activities for students to complete independently.

Advanced auto mechanic programs

Those who want to further their education and career options may want to consider one of these two advanced training pathways.

  • Associate degree: An associate degree takes two years to complete at a community college. These programs may cover much of the same material as a certificate but offer the opportunity to complete additional classes as well. Those who would like to open their own auto repair shop may benefit from business classes or other coursework offered as part of an associate degree.
  • Manufacturer-specific advanced training: Auto manufacturers use distinct technology and engine configurations in their vehicles, and manufacturer-specific advanced training (MSAT) is often offered by schools in partnership with specific brands. It usually takes less than three months to complete this training, and manufacturers may share a database of graduates with their network of dealers, many of whom may be looking for brand-certified technicians.

MSAT classes may be offered only on-campus, but community colleges may allow students to complete some associate degree requirements online. For example, automotive technology classes may be held on-campus while general education and business classes can be completed at home through distance learning programs.

Q&A with an expert

Bob Kessler, president of the Exton Campus of Universal Technical Institute

What are the most common educational paths for those interested in becoming an automotive technician?

Bob Kessler, president of the Exton Campus of Universal Technical InstituteKessler: I think the most common paths are trade schools and schools that specialize in [automotive] training. As you talk to employers, they will tell you they are hiring graduates from programs that offer hands-on training and that have exclusive relationships with different manufacturers.

Why should someone consider entering this field?

Kessler: First and foremost, I don't think we've ever seen the demand [for technicians] this strong before. The demand is off the charts. Then you have an incredible amount of baby boomers who are retiring in droves. What that speaks to is not only entry level positions [opening up] but also incredible advancement opportunities. I don't know we've ever seen the amount of incentives and incredible compensation packages being offered to graduates. It's very, very exciting.

How can students find the right school for their career goals?

Kessler: Like anything else, it's research and asking the right questions. What I would tell any prospective student is to talk to a school about how they going to support you not only while you're in school but how are they going to help you find employment.

What we like to say is begin with the end in mind. You're not going to school simply to graduate. You're going to this school to get into a great career. How does this school prepare you for that career and then what do they do for you to get you into that career?

At UTI, we take an incredible amount of time and effort in not only training students on technician skills but also preparing resumes, finding work job leads and [doing] interview coaching. We put a lot of time into preparing students into how to ace the interview and get into the career they want.

What should students expect after they enroll?

Kessler: After a student enrolls, they might have anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months until they start. In that time frame, there is a ton of financial aid work that has to be completed. You should expect to do your FAFSA and work with your parents on preparing tax [forms]. There's housing that has to be secured if you're moving. If you're commuting, you have to prepare for that too.

How is the typical program structured?

Kessler: Our core program is 51 weeks long. There's typically no breaks in that. It's a very fast-paced, dynamic program. Each phase is three weeks long. Each course is classroom and hands-on training.

What we try to do is simulate what our students are going to find when they get into their career. We have a pristine, clean environment because that's what dealerships have today. We have some rigid policies and procedures and expectations of our students in terms of their personal presentation, their professionalism and their attendance.

For these programs, it's hands-on, it's very fast-paced and there's a reason for that. Our students don't want to be in school for four years. They want to get into a career.

Types of auto mechanic careers

Obviously, those attending on-campus and online auto mechanic schools tend to go on to become automotive technicians. However, some may choose to work in a different, yet related, field. The table below highlights these jobs along with employment and salary data.

Occupation

Employment (2014)

Average salary (2015)

Expected job growth (2014-2024)

Automotive service technicians and mechanics

739,900

$40,720

5%

Automotive body and glass repairers

169,100

$44,590

9%

Diesel service technicians and mechanics

263,900

$45,160 (2014)

12%

Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians

186,500

$50,080

5%

Small engine mechanics

71,700

$34,520

4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014/2015)

Common misconceptions

The stereotype of auto mechanics is a far cry from the reality of today's working professionals. Rather than working a low-tech job in grimy conditions, automotive technicians often work in clean, brightly lit shops where technology is front and center.

Today's vehicles integrate electronics and microprocessors throughout their systems. That means a mechanic is as likely to use a laptop in his or her work as a wrench. On some levels the work of an automotive technician is similar to that of an engineer, and workers must have critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Master mechanics often have to troubleshoot problems and can't simply implement a fix they find in a book.

One thing is clear: Future automotive technicians need to be as interested in working with computers as they are interested in working on cars. Because in today's hi-tech world, the two go hand in hand.

How can I enroll in an online auto mechanic school?

Applications for automotive technology programs are relatively simple. They may ask for basic contact and demographic information. Some may request transcripts from high school or previous education. For a few schools, applicants will also have to pay an application fee.

However, it is free to request more information prior to enrolling. If you think you want to enroll — whether that be in an online auto mechanic school or an on-campus program — ask for information from a couple different institutions so you can compare your choices. You'll find a list of schools below to help you get started.

Sources:

1. Interview with Bob Kessler, President, Exton Campus, Universal Technical Institute
2. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=all&p=47.0604&pd=1&l=92&id=176008
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition
4. Serious shortage of skilled auto mechanics looming, Chris Woodyward, USA Today, August 30, 2012, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/autos/story/2012-08-28/shortage-of-auto-mechanics-looms/57414464/1

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