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Table of Contents
Industry Overview / Trends
When entering the automotive service industry, there are many different types of shops to choose from. This course covers six shop types to help inform a person entering into the industry the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Those that plan to enter the industry should do the research and choose a career path that best matches their personal strengths, weaknesses, and expectations.
The US automotive repair industry is huge with combined annual revenue of about $115 billion and about 160,000 service locations. The independent repair shop sector can compete effectively in this market by providing superior customer service, convenience, and specialized services. For example, the 50 largest automotive service companies generate less than 10% of the market’s revenue, and the independent auto repair industry is estimated to have between 75% – 80% of the market share.
A well run independent repair shop can compete with any other auto repair business, including new car dealerships. Below is a picture of a 62 year old automotive repair business, Connie & Dicks Automotive, that works out of a 13,000 sq ft shop in Claremont, CA. This shop takes on the look and feel of a dealership, minus the car sales component. This shop is owned and operated by an industry influencer, Scott Brown. Scott is heavily involved in adopting hybrid/electric car training and Advanced Driving Assist Systems ADAS training into the aftermarket service industry.
The traditional independent repair shop is most likely locally owned and operates at a single location (or could be part of a multi-shop operation). In most cases, the shop owner started the business or worked in the business as a technician. However, more shops are now being owned and operated by entrepreneurs with no significant automotive hands-on experience.
An organizational chart, common for an independent repair shop, is shown below.
- The owner is often the on-site operator but may be more of an absentee owner with another person that operates the business on a day-to-day basis.
- The front end staff can be much larger with more positions based on the workload of the shop.
- Most larger shops have a dedicated person in the back end that gets involved with “problem” cars. These are cars that are being hard to diagnose or have come back to the shop with customer complaints. This person is likely paid a base pay and in most cases is expected to produce some billable work.
At the basic level, most automotive shops categorize their techs into three levels as shown in the list below. These three levels are covered in more detail in the Shop Careers Lesson :
A Level Tech
“A” level techs have the highest skill sets and typically work with drivability issues, controller area networks (CAN), and emissions diagnostics.
B Level Tech
“B” level techs have mid level skills and perform most of the general repair work. The vast majority of techs in the industry fall into this category. B Techs often work under a team leader which is an “A” level tech.
C Level Tech
C level techs have basic entry level skills. They often perform maintenance and some basic parts replacement jobs.
At larger shops, some techs may be further classified by their specialties such as:
- Drivability/Emissions Tech
- Undercar/Alignment Tech
- Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC) Tech
Service Information Systems
Since this type of shop works on many models and systems, it would typically use an aftermarket information system with broad model coverage. If a tech needed deeper coverage for a specific model it may be possible to purchase short term access to the manufacturer’s service information system. For more information see the Service Information Systems Section in the course.
There was a time when a person could enter the automotive service industry without any training and “figure it out” over time, but those days are gone. Modern automobiles are extremely complicated and include complex mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, and electronic systems. A person entering the industry today without at least some fundamentals training is in for a frustrating career and will most likely leave the industry over time.
One of the best options for fundamentals training is an A.A.S in Automotive Technology (two-year program) from a state-supported community college. Many colleges also offer manufacturer’s programs, such as GM ASEP, Ford ASSET, Toyota T-10, and Honda PACT that place you in the workplace for hands-on training as part of the program.
For more information on post-secondary automotive training programs visit Lesson 53: Public / Not Profit Programs.
Continuing Education Training
A big challenge with an independent shop is how to keep their technician workforce trained in emerging technologies. Without ongoing upgrade training, a shop will ultimately become obsolete. Continuing education training is available but it takes a significant investment in time, money, and planning to keep updated.
An independent repair shop that works on many makes will typically focus on more generic training that covers systems that are typically found on all cars. For a comprehensive list of aftermarket continuing education training, see the Continuing Education Training Lesson.
Employer Training Plan
Some of the points that should be addressed when evaluating a shop as a potential employer.
Written Training Plan
- Does the potential employer have a plan (preferably written) on how to keep the shop’s technicians trained on emerging technologies?
- It is ultimately the shop owner’s responsibility to set the policy on training and a serious commitment to ongoing training should be defined in a written plan.
Training Budget / Funding
- Does the shop fund upgrade training? If so, what costs is the shop willing to pay for?
- The cost to enroll techs in training
- The tech’s travel cost to attend the training
- The tech’s lost wages while attending training held during working hours
- Training Incentives
- Is there an incentive plan for techs to become trained at higher levels?
Fringe benefits in the automotive service industry shouldn’t be much different than other responsible employers in the technical services industry. In reality, the automotive repair industry is in competition with more than just the other shop down the street. They are ultimately competing with other transportation and service-related careers such as:
- Heavy Equipment / Diesel Technician
- Aircraft Mechanic
- Wind Turbine Technician
- Industrial Machinery Mechanic