How to Become an Auto Body Mechanic in 5 Steps
Learn how to gain the technical knowhow to restore a damaged vehicle to like-new condition. Read an overview of the education and training needed to become an auto body mechanic, and find out about voluntary certification options and advancement potential. Schools offering Automobile Repair degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What Is an Auto Body Mechanic?
As an auto body mechanic, you would be responsible for repairing exterior damage to motor vehicles that have been involved in some type of collision. You could straighten bent frames, pull dents, install new panels and apply fresh paint. Depending on seniority, you might also supervise subordinates. Other duties might include reviewing damage reports, estimating repair costs and maintaining repair records. Pneumatic hammers, hydraulic jacks, grinders, welding kits and spray guns are among the tools you might use in the course of a work day.
Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you might be able to obtain a job with only a high school diploma or GED, especially if your high school offers vocational training in auto body repair (www.bls.gov). These programs teach you how to cut, shape and weld metal, install body panels, prepare a surface and apply paint. If your high school doesn't offer training, you will still need a diploma or GED to enroll in an auto body repair certificate or associate's degree program. Coursework in computers, math, chemistry and physics might be helpful in this field.
Step 2: Complete a Certificate or Associate's Degree Program
Auto body repair certificate and associate's degree programs teach you damage assessment, materials properties and the use of assorted repair tools and equipment. Course topics may also include dent removal, structural repair, welding and refinishing. You can typically earn a certificate in one year. A 2-year associate's degree program will require additional general education coursework.
Step 3: Obtain a Job
The BLS reports that most auto body mechanics work for repair shops and car dealers. You may also be able to find work with vehicle wholesalers, parts suppliers and local government agencies.
A one percent growth in employment opportunities was projected from 2008-2018. The median annual salary for automotive body and related repairers as of May 2010 was $38,130, according to the BLS.
Step 4: Get Certified
Certification is voluntary, but having it can help you advance. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) offers certification to candidates who pass an exam and have either two years of work experience or one year of work experience and two years of formal training. Certification exams in the area of collision repair and refinish include four categories - structural analysis and damage repair, non-structural analysis and damage repair, painting and refinishing, and mechanical and electrical components. If you pass all four certification exams, you're considered a Master Collision Repair Technician. Each certification is valid for five years, after which you must retake the exam.
The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) offers platinum status to technicians in roles such as estimator, structural technician and refinish technician. You must complete three levels of I-CAR training to earn this credential and six credit hours of continuing education to maintain it. Platinum status may be earned in more than one role.
Step 5: Advance Your Career
Your career options expand as you earn credentials and gain experience. Becoming the repair shop manager and then supervisor is one path for advancement. You could also open your own shop if a promotion option isn't available. Finally, if you don't want to run a business, you could transition into working for an insurance company as a damage appraiser.
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