According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 276 million registered vehicles drove the highway in 2019. Car mechanics, also called automotive technicians, play a critical role in keeping cars road-ready. They repair damage, fix electrical problems, and perform regular vehicle maintenance.
Knowing how much the average mechanic makes — and how you can earn more throughout your career — can help you determine if it's the right trade for you.
How Much Does a Mechanic Make in the United States?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average mechanic salary in 2020 was $46,760. Mechanics' average salary falls under the national average by close to $10,000 a year.
Many people enter this profession because they have a deep passion for cars, a penchant for working with their hands, and a commitment to learning about new technologies in transportation.
Even though the trade pays less than the national average salary, you can move up in your career as a mechanic and earn more.
Salary Changes Throughout the Career Path
When starting as a mechanic, you might need to complete a semester-long internship as part of your associate degree program. Or, if you begin working right after your certificate or diploma program, you may need to start as an apprentice before being promoted to an automotive technician.
The BLS reports that most repair and maintenance helpers — like apprentices and interns — earn $12 to $19 an hour. That's an average annual wage of $33,960.
According to salary data from Payscale.com, automotive technicians with less than one year of experience earn average hourly wages of $12.68. That rate climbs for technicians who have worked one to four years, reaching $15.24 an hour or $39,250 a year.
As you gain years of technician experience, you can potentially increase your pay by earning certifications. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) develops certification tests widely recognized in the automotive industry. If you pass the highest level of ASE certification, you earn the title of master technician.
The average master technician makes much more than a new mechanic. Payscale.com reports that the average ASE master technician salary is $61,880.
If you have excellent customer service and people skills, you might consider taking on a role leading others. Repair shops and dealers hire former technicians to manage other technicians or coordinate the service schedule.
For example, a shop foreperson assigns technicians to repair work and advises them if they get stuck. The average shop foreman salary on Payscale.com is $60,070.
Automotive service managers supervise all the work in the shop and ensure customer satisfaction. On Payscale.com, the average automotive service manager made $57,940 a year — that's more than $10,000 above the average mechanic salary.
Car mechanics can also become field service engineers or engineering technicians. Field service engineers work for car manufacturers. They travel to different dealership repair shops to help out with new or especially challenging procedures. According to Payscale.com, field service engineers made an average salary of $69,520.
Many, but not all, dealerships prefer to hire field service engineering candidates with a bachelor's degree. So, you may need to return to school to transition into this role.
Outside of cars, mechanic jobs exist for all types of engines and machines. These different jobs require mechanical abilities and diagnostic skills, just like an automotive technician. But, they specialize in certain types of vehicles.
Here are a few mechanic specializations, including average salary data from the BLS:
- Diesel mechanics: $52,090
- Heavy equipment technicians: $57,000
- Rail car repairers: $58,250
To break into one of these specialties, you may not need a postsecondary degree. Instead, you need on-the-job training and experience.
Pay Difference By Location
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Career Opportunities and Job Growth
Over the past several decades, the number of cars on the road has increased. However, today's manufacturers have improved vehicles, making them more durable and reliable. According to a report by J.D. Power, vehicle owners reported 10% fewer car problems in 2021 compared to the year prior.
With more dependable vehicles, car owners need fewer repairs and less frequent maintenance. The BLS projects that employment for mechanics will decline over the next decade, dropping 4%. (For reference, it projects that other jobs will grow by 4%, on average.)
Despite a competitive outlook nationwide, some areas have high levels of projected growth for mechanics, including:
The BLS reported that these cities had the highest average mechanic salary in 2020:
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
California-Lexington Park, MD
Other Benefits of Becoming a Mechanic
Dealerships and large repair shop chains offer benefits to full-time mechanics, including:
- Health, dental, life, and disability insurance
- Participation in a 401k or other retirement plan
- Paid time off
Some employers will offer the added perks of:
- Paid training on new techniques and car models
- Tuition reimbursement
- Tool reimbursement or stipend
- Reimbursement for ASE certification fees
- Sign-on bonuses
- Internal promotion and career development
- Employee discounts
If you work at a smaller private repair garage, you may not have such extensive benefits as you would find at a large franchise. However, you have the perks of a smaller workplace and some benefits, including:
- Sick time
- Paid time off
- Health insurance
- Internal promotion
- A family-run business and close-knit team environment
In addition, you can become a member of a local union chapter for auto mechanics. These unions work to protect mechanic pay and employer benefits, and some offer members pension plans.
Salary for Independent Contractors
As an automotive mechanic, you can work independently as a contractor or small-business owner. This means you buy the parts you need, negotiate your prices with customers, and set your own schedule. You may have to rent space at a shop, own your garage, or operate a purely mobile business.
While independent contractors set their own rates and can control their income by working more or fewer hours, they incur costs, too.
Independent contractors need to cover the costs of:
- Space rental or mortgage
- Tools and tool storage
- Auto parts
- Business insurance and licensing
- Warranties on your repair work
"If you're starting your own business, you need to do things the right way with licensing and insurance," Scott Warriner, ASE-certified auto technician and owner of Kraken Automotive, said.
Warriner began working independently to supplement his income — and his hot-rod repair hobby — after twenty years in the automotive tech industry. He cautions that small-business owners' costs accumulate as their business grows. Warriner warned that tools alone could cost over $25,000.
How Much Does it Cost to Become a Mechanic?
High School Education or Equivalent
You will most likely need a high school diploma or a GED credential. GED fees vary by state but generally cost around $80 to $140.
Certificate and diploma programs range from about $5,000 to $12,000. Associate degrees cost about $5,000 to $12,000 per year.
Each ASE test comes with a $34 registration fee and a testing fee, ranging from $47-$94 depending on the test.
You'll need to purchase your own tools, which can cost around $10,000.
Financial help and other ways to pay
While associate degrees can cost twice as much as certificate programs, you may qualify for financial aid. Learn more about your options by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and contacting your community college.
Major tool manufacturers, such as Matco and Snap-on, provide tool discounts to students.
Salaries for Related Jobs
- Average salary: $61,550
- Cost to become: Up to $1,000 for apprenticeship costs such as books, tools, and licensing fees, depending on your state.
- Average salary: $95,560
- Cost to become: $10,000-$40,000 a year for a bachelor's degree program
- Average salary: $53,410
- Cost to become: $1,200 to $15,000 for a certificate or associate degree.
Lyss Welding is a staff writer who covers career and education topics for Become with Lantern. Since graduating from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in linguistics, Lyss has worked in 21st century skills programs and for companies writing curriculum and training resources for students and job seekers. Her writing has also appeared on Best Value Schools and Grad School Hub.
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