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How to Become a Mechanic

Responsibilities, working hours, what to expect and qualifications needed

Career guides » How to Become a Mechanic

What does a mechanic do?

Mechanics are sometimes also known as vehicle technicians. They inspect, diagnose, maintain, service and repair vehicles, such as cars, vans, HGVs and sometimes motorcycles. Some may specialise in other types of transport, such as aircraft, trains, quad bikes, scooters, bicycles, and other equipment, plant and machinery. Therefore, what a mechanic does will depend on their specialisms. In this article, we will focus on motor (vehicle) mechanics.

A mechanic’s main aim is to ensure customers’ vehicles are legal, running efficiently, and are roadworthy and safe for them to use. If they are not, they can put drivers, other road users, pedestrians and others at risk of injury. Overall, an inefficient vehicle can be more costly, and an unsafe one can cost lives and result in criminal action against the driver and the mechanic.

Mechanics will carry out many tasks, including talking to customers and advising them of any problems, inspecting vehicles and diagnosing issues, estimating costs, carrying out repairs, servicing and MOTs, road testing vehicles, installing vehicle accessories, monitoring stock, ordering parts, etc. The role may also involve record completion, computer work and cash handling.

Mechanics can work and liaise with many people. In larger businesses, they usually work with managers, supervisors, other mechanics and support staff. They may also need to liaise with external stakeholders, including customers (private and commercial), other road users, manufacturers, suppliers, retailers and government departments, e.g. the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), local authorities, etc.

A mechanic can work in different-sized establishments, from small businesses, such as independent garages and repair shops, to larger national organisations with a few hundred employees, e.g. service and repair centres or car dealerships. There are also roles with the Armed Forces. Some mechanics may choose to be self-employed and have their own business in a workshop/garage or provide mobile services. They may also find freelance work, be part of a franchise or work with recruitment agencies on a temporary or contract basis.

Responsibilities

A mechanic’s responsibilities will depend on where they work and their specialisms.

Some examples of common duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Adhering to relevant health and safety legislation.
  • Speaking to customers about their vehicles and the issues they are having.
  • Informing customers on what the problems are and the repairs required.
  • Estimating the cost and time it will take to do the job.
  • Inspecting vehicles, diagnosing faults and making assessments to identify problems, sometimes using computers, tools and equipment.
  • Using diagnostic equipment to check the quality of work.
  • Carrying out repairs, which can include faulty or damaged part replacement.
  • Changing tyres, wheels, brakes, discs and windscreen wipers.
  • Installing vehicle accessories, such as radios, speakers and alarms.
  • Carrying out periodic servicing and maintenance.
  • Checking repairs by road testing vehicles to ensure they are working properly.
  • Rebuilding and renovating vehicles.
  • Conducting pre-MOT checks.
  • Carrying out MOTs to specified guidelines.
  • Monitoring the level of stock and parts and ordering where necessary.
  • Maintaining a clean and tidy work area.
  • Completing records, e.g. work logs, vehicle services and MOT certificates.

Working hours

A mechanic can expect to work 38–45 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role. Those who are self-employed will usually set their own hours and have more flexibility.

Being a mechanic is not a 9–5 job, and they often have to work unsociable hours. There may be occasions to work evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

Some mechanics may have to travel locally, regionally or nationally as part of their role, especially if they offer mobile services. There may also be some overseas work opportunities for some mechanics.

What to expect

There are many positives to being a mechanic, especially if an individual is practical and enjoys working with their hands. The role would suit someone passionate about vehicles, helping people, and who loves to fix things.

Finding out what is wrong with a vehicle, fixing it and seeing happy customers can be rewarding for mechanics, particularly if the issue could impact drivers’ and others’ safety. Mechanics can also be life savers as they can spot and rectify faults or damage that could cause accidents, injuries and potential fatalities.

Mechanics are skilled professionals. Therefore, there are plenty of roles available across the country. There are various vehicles and mechanic jobs to specialise in, and individuals can choose to work for a company or themselves. Regular hours are available, which can help individuals to achieve a decent work-life balance.

The long-term job prospects are good for this career, as people are always likely to need their vehicles repaired and maintained. With more competence, they can earn decent salaries, particularly when self-employed.

Mechanics are unlikely to get bored, as their work is very varied. They could be doing a service and MOT and then investigating and diagnosing a vehicle fault. Some mechanics may travel, and they will get to meet many people during their working day.

Even though there are positives to being a mechanic, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:

  • Health and safety risks – working as a mechanic can be dangerous, and they will face many hazards in this job. Some examples include hazardous substances (e.g. fume, dust, grease, fuels, oil, battery acid, fluids, etc.), noise, vibration, manual handling, work at height, falling objects, use of tools, equipment and machinery, driving, fire/explosion, slips, trips and falls, confined spaces, etc. Individuals must be aware of the risks and how to protect themselves and others. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has further information on health and safety in motor vehicle repair.
  • Physical demands – being a mechanic is physically demanding, and they will need to be physically fit and strong. They will be manual handling vehicle parts, sometimes working in cramped conditions and on their feet for most of their day in a noisy and dirty working environment. There may also be intricate work requiring concentration, which can cause fatigue. Some mechanics may work outdoors in all weather and have to wear protective equipment, which can be hot and uncomfortable.
  • Mental demands – being a mechanic is also mentally demanding. They will deal with customers who are sometimes stressed, upset and angry when something goes wrong with their vehicles. They will also expect their vehicles back quickly, so there can be a lot of pressure to identify and fix faults and damage. Meeting tight deadlines can be stressful, especially if things do not go according to plan.
  • High level of responsibility – mechanics have a lot of responsibility. If they make mistakes, it can mean unsafe vehicles on the road and potential harm to drivers and others. However, mechanics receive a lot of training and supervision to ensure they are competent.
  • Low starting salaries – when starting as a mechanic, the earnings can be low compared to other careers. However, they can be competitive with experience, with some earning over £35,000 a year.

 

The number of women mechanics is relatively low, and approximately 10% are female (WhoCanFixMyCar.com 2011). However, it should not put off women who want to enter the profession.

Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable career. The role is physically and mentally demanding, and there are health and safety risks. There is also a high level of responsibility, and the starting salaries can be low. However, there are many positives too, and individuals who become mechanics love working with vehicles, investigating and fixing problems and helping people.

When considering whether to be a mechanic, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a mechanic

Some of the personal qualities a mechanic requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Manual dexterity and enjoys working with their hands.
  • Physically fit with stamina, strength and endurance.
  • Honest, trustworthy, patient, empathetic and have integrity.
  • Knowledge of various vehicles, e.g. electric, hybrid and fuel, and parts.
  • Knowledge of health and safety.
  • Knowledge of science, mechanics, engineering and technology.
  • Communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Customer service skills.
  • Administrative skills.
  • Concentration skills.
  • Investigative and problem-solving skills.
  • Critical thinking and analytical skills.
  • Practical and technical skills.
  • Being thorough, accurate and having excellent attention to detail.
  • The ability to use, maintain and repair various tools, equipment and machinery.
  • The ability to work well with their hands.
  • The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to work well with others and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to work quickly and efficiently, prioritise different demands and meet tight deadlines.
  • The ability to work in cramped and sometimes confined spaces.
  • The ability to work unsociable hours.
  • The ability to be flexible and adapt to change.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to use IT and software packages.

Qualifications

There are many routes to becoming a mechanic, and individuals do not require formal qualifications. However, to help them when applying for jobs, they could go to college, enrol on a course with a private training provider, apply for an apprenticeship or apply directly to companies. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.

College/private training

Undertaking a college or private training course can help individuals become a mechanic.

Some examples are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):

 

For those who want to specialise in electric and hybrid vehicles, there are also the following courses:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Auto-Electrical and Mobile Electrical Operations.
  • Level 3 Diploma in Auto-Electrical and Mobile Electrical Principles.
  • Level 3 Award in Electric/Hybrid Vehicle System Repair & Replacement.

 

Individuals usually need:

  • Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
  • Level 2 – two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
  • Level 3 and T Levels – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent (including English and maths for a T Level).

 

Always check the entry requirements before applying, as each college and training provider may differ.

Some colleges and private training providers also offer short mechanic courses (face-to-face or online) that may be more cost-effective. There are usually no specific entry requirements for these courses, and they are a good option for beginners to get a feel for the activities a mechanic will carry out and the associated equipment they will use.

Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge.

Apprenticeships

There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become a mechanic, e.g. advanced motor vehicle service and maintenance technician apprenticeship. Individuals will usually need four or five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths or equivalent.

Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.

Also, look at the Armed Forces:

Applying directly

Some organisations offer mechanic trainee or internship roles where they will train individuals on the job and may also pay for them to do relevant qualifications. It can be a good route for those struggling to pay for courses, as they can sometimes be expensive. Individuals will still need a good education and demonstrate a passion for vehicles, engineering and mechanics. Some opportunities may require practical work experience, i.e. in a workshop environment, and a full driving licence.

Mechanic taking work experience

Work experience

Relevant work experience (whether paid or voluntary) can help individuals become mechanics. They could apply for paid assistant roles in a garage or workshop where they could also help and shadow mechanics or take on smaller jobs after training to gain experience.

It is beneficial to have practical hands-on experience in relevant areas, such as maintenance, repair, electronics, engineering, etc. There may be volunteer opportunities that could help individuals gain transferable knowledge and skills, e.g. with charities, motoring groups and car museums. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and Indeed.

Even community courses can help, e.g. introduction to motor vehicles and customer service skills. Any experience with tools, equipment and machinery can be helpful, including having knowledge about different vehicle models and makes.

Mechanic taking training courses

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.

In addition to qualifications, some examples of courses that may be useful for mechanics include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Level 2 health and safety.
  • Lead awareness.
  • Fire safety.
  • DSEAR.
  • Electrical safety.
  • Driving safely.
  • Hazardous substances (COSHH).
  • Work at height.
  • Confined spaces.
  • Noise and vibration.
  • Work equipment (PUWER).
  • Work-related stress.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Abrasive wheels.
  • Welding.
  • Manual handling.
  • First aid.
  • Customer service skills.
  • Data protection and the GDPR.
  • COVID-19 awareness.
  • Business management (if self-employed).
  • Time management skills.

 

Professional bodies, federations, institutes and associations, such as the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF), the Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA), the National Body Repair Association (NBRA), the Independent Garage Association (IGA) and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become mechanics and give those already in the job the means to continue their professional development.

The type of training required will depend on the organisation an individual works for (or if they want to be self-employed) and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs can be found on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Motorsportjobs.com, British Automotive Jobs and other job sites, e.g. Kwik Fit Careers, Halfords Careers and various vehicle breakdown/recovery firms. Also, look at recruitment agencies and franchise opportunities for mechanic roles.

More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as it is a legal requirement and keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date. Some associations require members to do CPD to continue with their membership.

Being self-employed

There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed.

Mechanics must:

  • Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability, car/van and business. If employing anyone, employer’s liability insurance will be required.
  • Register with HMRC.
  • File tax returns.
  • Register with the ICO to hold personal data, e.g. customers (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).

 

Further advice and guidance on being self-employed can be found on GOV.UK.

If an individual decides to be a self-employed mechanic, they will need to factor in certain costs, such as:

  • Workshop/garage or spacious vehicle (if mobile) and running costs.
  • Training.
  • Good-quality tools, equipment and machinery.
  • Computer and mobile phone.
  • PPE.
  • Stock, e.g. parts.
  • Marketing and advertising.
  • Insurances.

 

They should also research and decide on the area, market, competition and services to offer customers.

Becoming a member of an association can also help self-employed mechanics gain more business.

Criminal records checks

Mechanics may be required to undergo a criminal record check. A criminal record, caution, warning, or conviction may put off prospective employers. It can even affect association membership. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:

Driving

Mechanics usually need a full driving licence (preferably with no points), especially when road testing vehicles. Those self-employed or freelance workers will usually need access to a suitable vehicle, such as a van, and have business insurance, etc.

Mechanic working at car repair company

Where do mechanics work?

Mechanics can work for various organisations (private and public), such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Car service and repair companies.
  • Breakdown and recovery companies.
  • Vehicle manufacturers.
  • Independent garages.
  • Vehicle specialists.
  • Car dealerships.
  • Car rental companies.
  • Engineering groups and companies.
  • Vehicle fleet management businesses.
  • Public transport companies, e.g. taxis, buses and coaches.
  • Postal service and courier companies.
  • The Armed Services, e.g. the Army, the RAF and the Royal Navy.
  • The National Health Service (NHS) and ambulance services.
  • Water and waste management companies.
  • Motorsport and classic car companies.

 

They will typically work in garages but may also work in workshops and auto/service centres. These tend to be open, well-ventilated environments. Mechanics can work underneath vehicles if they are on ramps or over pits.

Some mechanics are mobile and will spend most of their day travelling to different customers. They may also work outdoors in all weather, e.g. when working on vehicles.

Jobs are available nationally, and mechanics can work in cities, towns or villages. There may also be opportunities to work overseas.

Apprentice mechanics

How much do mechanics earn?

What a mechanic earns will depend on their working hours, services offered, specialisms, location, qualifications, experience and whether they are employed, self-employed or freelance.

According to Check-a-Salary (these figures are a guide only):

  • Mechanics, on average, earn a minimum of £18,000 per year.
  • The average mechanic salary in the UK is £26,500 per year.
  • Mechanics, on average, earn a maximum of £35,000 per year.

 

The salaries for self-employed mechanics will be variable, as they will set their own fees. They will also need to consider expenses, e.g. tax, insurance, tools and equipment, parts, PPE and vehicle/garage, etc.

As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.

Mechanic specialising in vans

Types of mechanic roles to specialise in

Many mechanics will generalise, but there are many areas in which they can specialise.

They can focus on certain fuel types, such as:

  • Electric.
  • Hybrid, i.e. electric and fuel.
  • Fuel, i.e. diesel or petrol.

 

They can also focus on specific vehicle types, such as:

  • Cars.
  • Classic cars.
  • Sports cars.
  • High-performance vehicles.
  • Luxury vehicles.
  • Vans.
  • Buses and coaches.
  • HGVs.
  • Armed forces, military vehicles.
  • Agricultural vehicles, e.g. tractors.

 

Mechanics can also specialise in certain vehicle makes and models, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, etc.

There are also additional roles in which to specialise, e.g. (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Light vehicle mechanic – maintains, services and repairs vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes, e.g. cars, vans and even motorbikes.
  • Heavy vehicle mechanic – maintains, services and repairs vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, e.g. HGVs and trailers.
  • Heavy vehicle mechanic – maintains, services and repairs vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, e.g. HGVs and trailers.
  • Auto-body repair mechanic – specialises in vehicle bodies, such as repairing dents, removing scratches, replacing body panels, respraying paintwork, etc.
  • Plant mechanic – specialises in diagnosing, repairing and servicing industrial, agricultural, construction and mining plant and machinery, e.g. dumper trucks, diggers, telehandlers, tractors and cranes. They will usually require knowledge of 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines.
  • Mobile mechanic – will travel more than others and visit homes, businesses and other locations to attend to various vehicles. They may also offer breakdown and recovery services.
  • Roadside mechanic – helps people who have broken down at home or elsewhere and can work from the roadside, car parks, drives, etc. They will need to have knowledge of different types of vehicles, e.g. electric, hybrid and fuel.

 

Various mechanic roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All mechanics must have practical skills, be able to use and maintain tools and equipment and know their way around various vehicles. They must also have a passion for the automotive industry and helping people. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for (if employed) and the type of role an individual wants. Further qualifications may be necessary for specialised work, e.g. hybrid and electric vehicles.

Mechanics not competently carrying out their roles can result in problems not being fixed, potentially damaging a business’s and a mechanic’s reputation. In severe cases, dangerous faults and damage may be missed or repairs not carried out properly, increasing the risk of accidents. Therefore, whatever the type of role, mechanics must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.

Keeping up to date with laws

Professional bodies

Standards, laws, vehicles, equipment and technology are regularly changing. Therefore, mechanics must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to ensure they carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives them the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities, be legally compliant and progress in their careers.

Joining a professional body, federation, institute or association (as mentioned previously) can help individuals enhance their skills and overall career. They offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events. If self-employed, having a recognised membership can attract more customers.

There is an opportunity for career progression for mechanics. With more qualifications and experience, they can specialise in different mechanic roles, e.g. mobile, roadside, electric, hybrid and HGV. They could become a supervisor, manager or head/senior technician or train to be an MOT tester. Alternatively, they may work for a national company, move from a small organisation to a large one, work for an agency or become a self-employed mechanic with their own business.

Knowledge, skills and experience from being a mechanic can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could go into teaching or training at colleges or private training providers. They may decide to move into other areas and get involved in vehicle manufacturing or modification.

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