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An auto mechanic (automotive technician in most of North America, light vehicle technician in British English, and motor mechanic in Australian English) is a tradesperson and mechanic with a variety of automobile makes or either in a specific area or in a specific make of automobile. In repairing cars, their main role is to diagnose the problem accurately and quickly. They often have to quote prices for their customers before commencing work or after partial disassembly for inspection. Their job may involve the repair of a specific part or the replacement of one or more parts as assemblies.
An auto mechanic working on a rally car.
Basic vehicle maintenance is a fundamental part of a mechanic's work in modern industrialized countries while in others they are only consulted when a vehicle is already showing signs of malfunction. Preventive maintenance is also a fundamental part of a mechanic's job, but this is not possible in the case of vehicles that are not regularly maintained by a mechanic. One misunderstood aspect of preventive maintenance is scheduled replacement of various parts, which occurs before failure to avoid far more expensive damage. Because this means that parts are replaced before any problem is observed, many vehicle owners will not understand why the expense is necessary.
With the rapid advancement in technology, the mechanic's job has evolved from purely mechanical, to include electronic technology. Because vehicles today possess complex computer and electronic systems, mechanics need to have a broader base of knowledge than in the past.
Due to the increasingly labyrinthine nature of the technology that is now incorporated into automobiles, most automobile dealerships and independent workshops now provide sophisticated diagnostic computers to each technician, without which they would be unable to diagnose or repair a vehicle.
In the United States, many programs and schools offer training for those interested in pursuing competencies as automotive mechanics or technicians. Areas of training include automobile repair and maintenance, collision repair, painting and restoring, electronics, air-conditioning and heating systems, and truck and diesel mechanics. The National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) is responsible for evaluating technician training programs against standards developed by the automotive industry. NATEF accredits programs in four different categories: automotive, collision, trucks (diesel technology) and alternative fuels. NATEF lists secondary and post secondary schools with accredited programs on their website.
Some mechanics are ASE certified, which is a standardized method of testing skill and knowledge level. While it's not required by law for a mechanic to be certified, some companies only hire or promote employees who have passed ASE tests. The technology used in automobiles changes very rapidly and the mechanic must be prepared to learn these new technologies and systems. The auto mechanic has a physically demanding job, often exposed to extreme temperatures, lifting heavy objects and staying in uncomfortable positions for extended periods. They also may deal with exposure to toxic chemicals.
The internet is being applied to the field increasingly often, with mechanics providing advice on-line. Mechanics themselves now regularly use the internet for information to help them in diagnosing and/or repairing vehicles. A popular resource for this type of research is the video website YouTube, where professional and DIY mechanics alike film and share their experiences on vehicle diagnostics and repair. Paper based service manuals for vehicles have become significantly less prevalent with computers that are connected to the Internet taking their position, giving quick access to a plethora of technical manuals and information.
A mechanic usually works from the workshop in which the (well equipped) mechanic has access to a vehicle lift to access areas that are difficult to reach when the car is on the ground. Beside the workshop bound mechanic, there are mobile mechanics like those of the UK Automobile Association (the AA) which allow the car owner to receive assistance without the car necessarily having to be brought to a garage.
A mechanic may opt to engage in other careers related to his or her field. Teaching of automotive trade courses, for example, is almost entirely carried out by qualified mechanics in many countries.
There are several other trade qualifications for working on motor vehicles, including panel beater, spray painter, body builder and motorcycle mechanic. In most developed countries, these are separate trade courses, but a qualified tradesperson from one can change to working as another. This usually requires that they work under another tradesperson in much the same way as an apprentice.
Auto body repair involves less work with oily and greasy parts of vehicles, but involves exposure to particulate dust from sanding bodywork and potentially toxic chemical fumes from paint and related products. Salespeople and dealers often also need to acquire an in-depth knowledge of cars, and some mechanics are successful in these roles because of their knowledge. Auto mechanics also need to stay updated with all the leading car companies as well as new launching cars. One has to study continuously on new technology engines and their work systems.
Pit crews for motor racing are a specialized form of work undertaken by some mechanics. It is sometimes portrayed as glamorous in movies and television and is considered prestigious in some parts of the automotive industry. Working in a pit crew in professional racing circuits is potentially dangerous and very stressful work due to the tight margins for error, and the potential financial losses and gains by the racing teams, but a pit crew mechanics pay is usually high to reflect the extra skill/stress levels.
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