How Fast do You Want to Go?

How Fast do You Want to Go?

On the radio, you can hear the sweet whine of the engine. You can see the torque and rpm curves climbing strong and tight, on your laptop readout.

How fast do you want to go?  How much money have you got?  --- Anonymous Race Car Mechanic

Beside you in the pit, one of the tire guys is angry, almost in tears, a quiet guy who can lift two tires on each arm, a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with in a bar; he says, “The problem ain’t the motor, dude. And it ain’t the tires.” But you already know what the real problem is.

The logo-painted mass of steel flashes past your pit at 200 MPH. The whole team is upset, your car is falling back, slipping in the turns. Much too soon, the tires are already fried. And the driver keeps yelling, “It’s pushing, it’s pushing!”

If he runs harder, he’ll hit the wall. If he doesn’t, it’s time to go home. And wait for the sponsors to drop you one by one.

“Make him come in and pit,” you tell them. You know that motor, because you built it. But not the chassis. The team owner wanted the flavor-of-the-year, and the team argued against it, and lost. So the chassis came in last last week and hasn’t had enough tuning runs.

You’re an engine guy, sure, but the chassis tech is at a loss. Too many variables. Too many unknowns. You warned them and now they won’t look you in the eye. But you only care about making that car hang in the turns. You think you know what will work. Desperate, they call the car in.

Here comes the car. You can see the Driver’s eyes wild with disappointment, anxiety. A blast of heat hits you with the thunder of the motor, as the car slams into the pit. The tires team is all over the change. And you are inside the shell, adjusting the suspension. All the time, the driver and the team owner are screaming at each other. You ignore them. Because you see the problem. It’s the damping.

The fat sweaty CNN camera dude keeps getting in your way, his bulky lens pointing at your hands, your tool, the damper adjusters. Suddenly you’re finished.

Like a homesick angel, the car launches back out of the pit, into the facing painted masses of steel. You hold your breath and watch the car drift, then hook up and begin to work it’s way back through the pack. In the pit, many hands slap you on the back. The owner throws you a grateful look. That’s rare, for him. But you don’t need his approval. The whole world knows. The crew knows. And you know.

car race

The car keeps catching other cars, and now the sense of relief is a rush, palpable, as the crowds in the stands overhead cheer, some of them screaming in wild disbelief.

But every day isn’t crazy like this.

On your day off, you tuned your dad’s 68 Hemi-Cuda, and changed the timing belt on your mom’s aging Honda Civic. Tomorrow you’ll be back in your own race car shop, writing a remap turbo program on a Subaru WRX, a tasty little sideline that makes you more than you ever thought you’d make even as a full-time wrench.

How did you learn all this?

You spent time and money investing in yourself. You enrolled in training at a racing and high performance school for race car setup, motor-sports performance training and education. You took race car mechanic training, chassis setup, engine building, cylinder head porting, pit crew training and more.

You learned race car mechanics— the construction, maintenance, tuning, and repair of custom designed and built engines. These engines must be tuned for extremely high levels of performance, and reliability under a great deal of stress.

You have a deep understanding of racing theory. During race car mechanic training, you learned to diagnose, service, and repair race cars and to obtain very high levels of engine and race car performance.

You learned basic race car mechanics, as well as more advanced race car mechanics, including use of the latest race car mechanic tools— engine analyzers, hand-held scanners, computerized diagnostic equipment, engines, fuel injection systems, exhaust systems, brakes, suspension systems, pit stop execution, and more.

Trained race car mechanics, like you, have the edge in gaining employment in the exciting world of racing. You know more than how to tune or repair car, you understand every aspect of the operation of their auto’s engine and drive train, and how to squeeze that extra bit of performance out of a race car.

Why? How?

Before you studied race car mechanics, you earned a solid foundation in the basics of auto technology, repair, and maintenance.

Automotive service technicians inspect, maintain, and repair automobiles and light trucks that run on gasoline, electricity, or alternative fuels such as ethanol. Automotive service technicians’ and mechanics’ responsibilities have evolved from simple mechanical repairs to high-level technology-related work. The increasing sophistication of automobiles requires workers who can use computerized shop equipment and work with electronic components while maintaining their skills with traditional hand tools.

Today, integrated electronic systems and complex computers regulate vehicles and their performance while on the road. Technicians like you must have an increasingly broad knowledge of how vehicles’ complex components work and interact. You also must be able to work with electronic diagnostic equipment and digital manuals and reference materials.

When mechanical or electrical troubles occur, technicians first get a description of the problem from the owner or, in a large shop, from the repair service estimator or service advisor who wrote the repair order. To locate the problem, technicians use a diagnostic approach.

Computers are commonplace in modern repair shops. Service technicians compare the readouts from computerized diagnostic testing devices with benchmarked standards given by the manufacturer. Deviations outside of acceptable levels tell the technician to investigate that part of the vehicle more closely. Through the Internet or from software packages, most shops receive automatic updates to technical manuals and access to manufacturers’ service information, technical service bulletins, and other databases that allow technicians to keep up with common problems and learn new procedures.

High technology tools are needed to fix the computer equipment that operates everything from the engine to the radio in many cars. In fact, today most automotive systems, such as braking, transmission, and steering systems, are controlled primarily by computers and electronic components. Additionally, luxury vehicles often have integrated global positioning systems, Internet access, and other new features with which technicians will need to become familiar. Also, as more alternate-fuel vehicles are purchased, more automotive service technicians will need to learn the science behind these automobiles and how to repair them.

engine mechanic

Automotive service technicians in large shops often specialize in certain types of repairs. For example, transmission technicians and rebuilders work on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps, and other parts of transmissions. Extensive knowledge of computer controls, the ability to diagnose electrical and hydraulic problems, and other specialized skills are needed to work on these complex components, which employ some of the most sophisticated technology used in vehicles. Tune-up technicians adjust ignition timing and valves and adjust or replace spark plugs and other parts to ensure efficient engine performance. They often use electronic testing equipment to isolate and adjust malfunctions in fuel, ignition, and emissions control systems.

Automotive air-conditioning repairers install and repair air-conditioners and service their components, such as compressors, condensers, and controls. These workers require special training in Federal and State regulations governing the handling and disposal of refrigerants. Front-end mechanics align and balance wheels and repair steering mechanisms and suspension systems. They frequently use special alignment equipment and wheel-balancing machines. Brake repairers adjust brakes, replace brake linings and pads, and make other repairs on brake systems. Some technicians specialize in both brake and front-end work.

Automotive technology is rapidly increasing in sophistication. Most training authorities strongly recommend that people seeking work in automotive service complete a formal training program in high school or in a postsecondary vocational school or community college. However, some service technicians still learn the trade solely by assisting and learning from experienced workers.

Acquiring National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is important for those seeking work in large, urban areas.

Most employers regard the successful completion of a vocational training program in automotive service technology as the best preparation for trainee positions. High school programs, while an asset, vary greatly in scope. Graduates of these programs may need further training to become qualified. Some of the more extensive high school programs participate in Automotive Youth Education Service (AYES), a partnership between high school automotive repair programs, automotive manufacturers, and franchised automotive dealers.

All AYES high school programs are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Students who complete these programs are well prepared to enter entry-level technician positions or to advance their technical education. Courses in automotive repair, electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics provide a good educational background for a career as a service technician.

Postsecondary automotive technician training programs usually provide intensive career preparation through a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Schools update their curriculums frequently to reflect changing technology and equipment. Some trade and technical school programs provide concentrated training for 6 months to a year, depending on how many hours the student attends each week, and award a certificate.

Community college programs usually award a certificate or an associate degree. Some students earn repair certificates in a particular skill and leave to begin their careers.

Associate degree programs usually take 2 years to complete and include classes in English, basic mathematics, computers, and other subjects, as well as automotive repair. Recently, some programs have added classes on customer service, stress management, and other employability skills.

Various automobile manufacturers and participating franchised dealers also sponsor 2-year associate degree programs at postsecondary schools across the Nation. Students in these programs typically spend alternate 6- to 12-week periods attending classes full time and working full time in the service departments of sponsoring dealers. At these dealerships, students work with an experienced worker who provides hands-on instruction and timesaving tips.

Those new to automotive service usually start as trainee technicians, technicians’ helpers, or lubrication workers, and gradually acquire and practice their skills by working with experienced mechanics and technicians. In many cases, on-the-job training may be a part of a formal education program. With a few months’ experience, beginners perform many routine service tasks and make simple repairs.

While some graduates of postsecondary automotive training programs are often able to earn promotion to the journey level after only a few months on the job, it typically takes 2 to 5 years of experience to become a fully qualified service technician, who is expected to quickly perform the more difficult types of routine service and repairs. An additional 1 to 2 years of experience familiarizes technicians with all types of repairs. Complex specialties, such as transmission repair, require another year or two of training and experience. In contrast, brake specialists may learn their jobs in considerably less time because they do not need complete knowledge of automotive repair.

Training in electronics is vital because electrical components, or a series of related components, account for nearly all malfunctions in modern vehicles. Trainees must possess mechanical aptitude and knowledge of how automobiles work. Experience working on motor vehicles in the Armed Forces or as a hobby can be very valuable.

ASE certification has become a standard credential for automotive service technicians. While not mandatory for work in automotive service, certification is common for all non entry-level technicians in large, urban areas. Certification is available in 1 or more of 8 different areas of automotive service, such as electrical systems, engine repair, brake systems, suspension and steering, and heating and air-conditioning. For certification in each area, technicians must have at least 2 years of experience and pass the examination.

Completion of an automotive training program in high school, vocational or trade school, or community or junior college may be substituted for 1 year of experience. For ASE certification as a Master Automobile Technician, technicians must be certified in all eight areas.

Automotive service technicians and mechanics held about 773,000 jobs in 2006. Automotive repair and maintenance shops and automotive dealers employed the majority of these workers—29 percent each. In addition, automotive parts, accessories, and tire stores employed 7 percent of automotive service technicians. Others worked in gasoline stations; general merchandise stores; automotive equipment rental and leasing companies; Federal, State, and local governments; and other organizations. Almost 17 percent of service technicians were self-employed, more than twice the proportion for all installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.

The number of jobs for automotive service technicians and mechanics is projected to grow faster than average for all occupations over the next decade. Employment growth will create many new jobs, but total job openings will be significantly larger because many skilled technicians are expected to retire and will need to be replaced.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is expected to increase 14 percent between 2006 and 2016, compared to 10 percent for all occupations. It will add a large number of new jobs, about 110,000, over the decade.

Demand for technicians will grow as the number of vehicles in operation increases, reflecting continued growth in the driving age population and in the number of multi-car families. Growth in demand will be offset somewhat by continuing improvements in the quality and durability of automobiles, which will require less frequent service.

Most people who enter the occupation can expect steady work, even during downturns in the economy. Although car owners tend to postpone maintenance and repair on their vehicles when their budgets are strained, employers usually cut back on hiring new workers during economic downturns instead of letting experienced workers go.

Median hourly wage-and-salary earnings of automotive service technicians and mechanics, including commission, were $16.24 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.96 and $21.56 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.17, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.22 per hour.

Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of service technicians

Automotive service technicians who are members of labor unions, such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, may enjoy more benefits than non-union workers do.

Automotive service technicians and mechanics must continually adapt to changing technology and repair techniques as vehicle components and systems become increasingly sophisticated. Opportunities should be very good for automotive service technicians and mechanics with diagnostic and problem-solving skills, knowledge of electronics and mathematics, and mechanical aptitude.

So… you knew that formal automotive technician training is the best preparation for these challenging technology-based jobs. That’s what got you here.

You mastered all the basics before studying race mechanics. You’ve got your bases covered.

If you get burned out in the racing scene, you can open a full service shop of your own, for the public. That’s where the real money is.

But right now, you’re loving the rush, when your team’s car pulls into the winner’s lane. Because everybody knows— from the crew to the driver to the fans to the owner to the CNN camera guy—those were your tweaks that won that race.

For general information about a career as an automotive service technician, contact:

A list of certified automotive service technician training programs can be obtained from:

  • National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, 101 Blue Seal Dr., SE., Suite 101, Leesburg, VA 20175.

For a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools that offer programs in automotive service technician training, contact:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.

Information on automobile manufacturer-sponsored programs in automotive service technology can be obtained from:

  • Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES), 100 W. Big Beaver, Suite 300, Troy, MI 48084.

Information on how to become a certified automotive service technician is available from:

  • National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), 101 Blue Seal Dr. SE., Suite 101, Leesburg, VA 20175.
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