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Old 01-15-2009, 11:14 AM
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Auto Tech vs. Auto Body Career?

I'm having a little trouble thinking about what career path in the auto field I'd like to get into. I'm trying to decide between taking a career path for just a regular Auto Mechanic or going into the Auto Body field.

I've always been interested in cars, but just haven't really gotten a chance to learn or work on them as much as I would have liked. I always thought I'd like to be a mechanic, but as I've thought about it more I'm not sure whether that's the best fit for me. I have a friend who works at a Cadillac dealership. I've helped him with his cars sometimes and he's helped me with some car issue's before. When I'm with him I always feel a little "in-over-my-head" because there seems to be so much that goes into a car and I just don't seem to understand it. He's always talking about things I don't really understand. I always feel a little overwhelmed by the complexity of cars!

Than I thought if being a mechanic won't be right maybe I should consider an Auto Body career, which probably would better suite me. My whole family is pretty artistic and I guess I would consider myself artistic as well. I've always been good with colors. It actually took me a long time to learn color names because if I saw a "blue" that was a little bit lighter than the "blue" that my teacher was showing us, I would assume it was different color.

Honestly though I've heard mixed things about going into an Auto Body career. People say its a lot harder than just being a regular mechanic sometimes. There's good pay, but it can be a difficult job. Being a mechanic has it's downsides as well. Of Course people will always need mechanical work done on their cars, despite these economic times. It doesn't seem that way in the Auto Body field.

The auto classes at my local Community College start at the beginning of February. So I'll need to decide quickly in what I want to do. Currently though the Auto Collision program is just getting up and running. The program isn't as well setup as the Auto Tech programs. They don't even have facilities and equipment yet and are using a high school's shop.

What do people think? Is one career path better for certain types of people? What skills are good to have in being a Auto Mechanic vs. Auto Bodyman? What are people's personal experiences in the fields? Would you suggest one or the other? I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice.

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Old 01-15-2009, 11:28 AM
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I may have an interesting perspective for you. I have been in the autobody industry for my whole adult life, one week after graduation of highschool I went to work full time and havn't had many days without work waiting for me me in the last 33 years. It has been wonderful and provided for my family well, along with remaining interesting for me.

My brother who is five years older than me, did the exact same thing but with mechanical repair. He would likely tell you the same thing. He did get a little overwelmed with all the computer stuff and ended up now just doing restoration or repair work on older cars. He is 56 years old, has a nice shop he just opened in a new town and is doing very well. So the work is always there in both body and mechanical.

I think it really comes down to what makes you happy, what feels comfortable?

Brian
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Old 01-15-2009, 02:23 PM
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Brian covered it good but I take from your post you think the painting or bodywork is less technical, maybe 20 years ago but not today as it is a never ending education, be it working on a new Hybrid (without turning into a barbecue) to where the spot welds go.

Both jobs are great and both should be looked at as high on the technical knowledge list.
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Old 01-15-2009, 08:33 PM
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I think these guys have nailed it. I think it all boils down to what you want to do. Knowledge comes with experience no matter what you are going to do. Although I don't work either field, I took classes in both mechanical and body. They are both equally challenging in their own right. How much you make is based on your knowledge and drive to perform well in both fields as well. I prefer body work to mechanical although I have a good bit of aptitude for both. The amount of tools you will need to own will vary between the 2 as well. Go look at a body man's cart and then look a mechanics cart, some guys go way overboard when it comes to tools and tool boxes, but a mechanic will have many more specialized tools and possibly more hand tools and depending on the shop they are in, they may have had to purchase a very expensive diagnostic scanner on their own to aid them in their work (heck, I have a Snap-On MT2500 because I can't stand the thought of paying someone to fix my stuff).
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Old 01-15-2009, 09:44 PM
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Not to bring you down, and this is just where I live, keep in mind.

Autobody Repair Technicians are the lowest paid Apprenticeable, Ticketed Trademan in the province. 40 years experience earns most painters >$25, and bodymans average wage is $23. What we were told in College about this industry has (again, locally) to me been deceiving. Up here, we don't have a union, and our Insurance companies, training facilities and the government do not work hand in hand. The amount of poisons a painter and even bodymen are exposed to is insane. I know alot of older guys say this and that, but it boils down to the truth. I just recently got into the trade, and I honestly can't say I would do it again.

On the flip side, I've just begun. Who knows where things will go.

At the end of the day, you can look at something and say "I did THAT". A sense of pride when you take trash and turn it into trophy winners is pretty cool. So is turning someones ruined investment and making it proper again.

Or I could be an electrician and make $20 as a first year apprentice.

Regarding tools, a Autobody Repair Technician needs a HUGE array of tools. If you are doing pulls, replacing mechanical components, and dissasembling every make and model on a daily basis, you NEED to have the right stuff. All three bodymen Ive ever worked with have at LEAST $100,000 invested into tools. Painters can easily spend 600-700 dollars on ONE paint gun.
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Old 01-16-2009, 09:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MARTINSR
I think it really comes down to what makes you happy, what feels comfortable?
I agree! The problem is to know what you really feel comfortable with you really need to enroll in one of these programs. That's the only way to really get any experience nowadays. Shops don't want to hire people or apprentice people without experience (unless they are in a program). Just knowing what my interests are and the type of person I am I think being a Autobody Tech would be a good fit for me.

What BMM has said is something I've heard before. Generally the pay, depending on what you do, isn't as good in the Auto Body Field. Where you live can be a major factor! I live in a major city so I don't think finding work or decent pay would be as big a problem. Of course I would like to move!

Did you just get certified or our of school? I mean you could definitely move up in pay quickly. I know even in these times my mechanic friend is doing well. The Auto Collision Program I would enroll in has mechanical courses as well. I assume it was the same for you. There's no way to really get around learning mechanics when being a Body Technician.

The thing is that I've personally found that there are lots of people who can work on cars, but few who know about mechanics and bodywork. Obviously the way the car looks isn't as important as if the car mechanical runs, but you'd be surprised at how many people always seem to want to fix dents, scratches, scuffs, etc. on their cars. Those problems can be a real turn-off when selling a car.

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Old 01-16-2009, 08:17 PM
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Mgold, I took an ELT Course and and am now in my second year as an apprentice...making 15 buckaroos, our 'journeyman' painters making $18 I beleive. With the average cost of a house $500,000, things aren't looking to up.

In regards to what you said, it is true. Proper brakes are USUALLY more important than the way a car looks. Strucural repairs however are not to be taken lightly.

But it is amazing how important things are when people are paying for them. Think that little tiny rock chip you missed won't be noticed by anyone? And good on the customer for keeping guys honest.
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Old 01-17-2009, 02:41 AM
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Autobody or Automechanic

I'm an autobody tech, or more plainly, a bodyman. Our shop is conjoined to a popular mechanic shop here in town, and we often find ourselves 'next door' to bum equipment, ask advice, or drink their coffee. Often in my work, I may need to replace struts, bearings, tie rods, radiators, wiring harnesses, water pumps, etc. The part that stinks is that the insurance companies pay us about half of the going rate that the mechanics would draw for the same job. We need the body tools on hand to repair the sheet metal and such, while also having enough mechanic-type tools to do the job. We are lucky to have a source next door to us for most else, but very seldom do they need to borrow the 40 thousand dollar frame machine, forty-thousand dollar paint booth, or other such specific equipment. It don't sound so good, but I feel we are a lot more rounded in the overall sense of things, and after a few years in the field, you can be ready for employment in either auto-tech or auto-body areas of the market.
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Old 01-17-2009, 08:58 AM
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You brought up an interesting point about the difference between autobody and mechanical. The autobody-mechanical line is awful gray, while the mechanical-autobody is pretty clear. Autobody techs will do MANY other things concerning the mechanical, interior, chassis, glass, of the car while the mechanic will never fix a dent.

As a body tech, I fully understand general steering geometry and do alignments, that in it's self is a profession. I understand general A/C and discharge and charge A/C on a regular basis, again that is in it's self a profession. I have a cut out tool and can cut out and urethane set glass (though we gave up trying to do this on all the jobs and just have the glass guy do it) and again, it is in it's self a profession. I swap suspension components all the time, that in it's self is a profession. I have pulled up vinyl tops and re-attached them, replaced covers off seats, pull head liners all the time, yep, another profession. Pulled and reset air bag systems (again, we just let the air bag guy do that though) another profession.

So within the typical autobody technician there are many other techs! Most bodymen could walk into a number of other positions, alignment, ac, etc and have a job! That is pretty cool!

Around here we make as much as the mechanics, and without a doubt the demand for good autobody techs is getting hotter. Kids are just not "growing up" doing this stuff like when I was a kid. I am seeing way more guys who have no "passion" at all for it, they don't give a crap, it is just a job. Someone who wants to learn, has a passion for it, will have a job for years to come.

Brian
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Old 01-22-2009, 08:14 AM
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I went to the facilities yesterday and talked to the guy who runs the program. He seemed like a good guy with a lot of experience. He emphasized that there really will always be job growth and opportunities in the auto field. The classes now only have about 5 people since it's just getting started. However the class that I would be enrolled in would have someone with no teaching experience. So that's a little bit of a crap-shoot.

He also iterated what Martinsr said about having to know about mechanics. He said he can do most mechanical jobs on his own cars, but he doesn't like to and usually just pays someone else.
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Old 01-29-2009, 01:10 PM
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I just looked up the cost of the AutoBody program at the Community College. It's $1260 for the semester, not including lab fee's and books. Does that seem high to people? It did to me!

I noticed they did a tricky thing which is on paper have 2 classes down at the same time which you have to sign-up for. So basically they charge the credit hours twice! Obviously though they aren't teaching you the different classes during the same time slot.

I'm thinking about maybe doing the mechanics classes now since those are a little more reasonable. I can still sign-up for some of those classes now.

Last edited by mgold; 01-29-2009 at 02:17 PM.
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Old 01-29-2009, 09:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgold
I just looked up the cost of the AutoBody program at the Community College. It's $1260 for the semester, not including lab fee's and books. Does that seem high to people? It did to me!
.

1260 is cheap, i paid almost 6000 a semester, not includding all the tools we needed to buy.


Let me throw this out there, what most people dont realize is that the auto body industry is about 95% insurance work, the key is to get into a larger shop that deals with insurance companies, im in a small rural area, so most of the work goes to dealerships, currently the one i work at, is so booked with collision repairs, we cants even get another vehicle in until Feb 28th. and thats changing every day, monday it was the 24th, were working monday-saturday right now.

Another thing you need to realize for the most part both fields pay flat rate, meaning you get paid by job, not hours, if you take 8 hours to do a 2 hour job you get paid for two, but if you do a 8 hour job in 2, then thats how u make money. i've only been out for about a year, and i made 46,000 in my first year, but there's another gentleman who started with me, that made 24,000 last year, he just doesn't work efficiently.

Also you need to realize that pay can really depend on your area, generally the larger the population the more work you can get and the more you can make, i know of 1 guy from my graduation class is working at a collision repair center in Lancaster, pa, where their techs average 100,000-150,000. i also have talked to other techs locally who work at small mom and pop shops that have a hard time cutting 25,000. This field is truly all about skill and where u get in, and you need both to make a good living.
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Old 01-30-2009, 12:31 PM
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I took 2 years of Auto Mechanics in HS vocational school, then another year at Technical school.
Tech was to prepare you for the real world garages, chain stores, dealerships etc... I also took a short body shop course to introduce me to it to help decide a field.
After all that I decided I didn't want the mechanical part. Working at Goodyear, Ford or where ever fixing whatever came in had no appeal to me.
The local garage owners I was friends with offered low pay and rough work conditions. Performance shops were extremely tough to get into and paid even less.
I almost went the body shop route because it seemed easier to get into and advance, it was easier to get a reputation as a good body guy than a mechanic. Plus you got to see your work.

In the end I did neither and used my mechanical knowledge to get into machinery maintenance and eventually machine design and engineering. But I did put my auto knowledge to use as my hobby.
If I could do it all over again I'd probably do the same thing but add a little more body work schooling.

Whatever you do, keep an open mind. Most knowledge can cross over into various fields.
If possible take a few extra class room courses for math, business or whatever you think might apply. I did since I was already at school and those credits paid off down the road.
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Old 01-30-2009, 12:52 PM
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I almost forgot, One of the big things that persuaded me to get into auto body rather than mechanics, was the retirement thing, Lets face it your bodys only going to hold up to that work for so long, and more than likely it wont last until retirment on either route. With auto body alot of insurance companies LOVE to hire former body men, because they know their going to be alot more accurate in their estimates for wrecked cars than people who they just trained out of a book. And wrong estimates can be very costly for a insurance company, if so and so looks at the car and see's $3000 in damage on a car worth 5000 they'll fix i, well if so and so is wrong and it turns out to be 6000 worth of damage, now their stuck fixing it because they've already paid the shop 3000 of it. in fact the gentleman i replaced is now one of the insurance estimators that comes into the shops for all state i believe. although he doesn't pull in the money he was doing auto body, its alot easier on his body and has easier hours.

Im not sure if theres another route for a mechanic or not, other than the auto parts store.
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Old 01-30-2009, 03:03 PM
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ive worked in small auto repair shops,also a small town chev dealership which had a busy autobody shop which i worked in when they needed extra help
in other words i went back and fourth alot
for me i didnt have the paitence for the body shop and im not a perfectionist
a lot of it is your personality
i later ended up as a diesel mech at fleet shop,and that means we do it all
and trucks are just big and simple to work on
i liked that job the best
its really hard to say what would be best for you,i would say try alittle of them all if you can
however i took my tools home and just drive trucks localy now its alot easier on the old body no more crawling around on my hands and knees
and i like working on stuff at home now, because it was getting to where i did it all day at work so ididnt want to at home
mechanics car is the worst one on the road, was me
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