Finding an Auto Repair School: 6 Critical Questions to Ask

The best place to start your search for an auto repair school in Virginia is by visiting the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) to search their list of certified postsecondary schools. NATEF is an unbiased, independent organization that sets very high standards for training programs. If an auto repair school is not NATEF certified, you start your formal education already a few steps behind students attending one of Virginia’s 16 NATEF-certified schools. Other questions to ask a prospective school (besides the obvious and important questions about their snack machines) follow.

Why is NATEF Certification Important to Your School?

NATEF certified auto tech schoolA school that prizes its NATEF certification should know why that award is significant. A curriculum based on Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and NATEF standards will prepare you for any entry-level position in any automotive repair shop in the country. A curriculum based on anything else leaves you at risk of missing important subject matter and skills. Any worthwhile school will value its NATEF certification almost as much—or very possibly more than—it values the last two Sno Balls stuck up there in the rack on D3.

How Old is Your Shop Equipment?

Automotive test equipment is expensive, so some auto repair schools will hold onto relics long after they should be in a car museum. Diagnostic equipment should be no more than ten years old, because the pace of automotive computer systems changes rapidly. Besides up-to-date test equipment, a good school should have working examples of typical shop machines:

  • Brake lathe
  • Tire changer and balancer
  • Two-post lift
  • Laser alignment system
  • Sand blaster
  • Air compressor
  • Welder
  • Air conditioning service equipment
  • Tubing bender

As a general rule, food items in the break room snack machine should be no older than the oldest crowfoot flare nut wrench in the shop.

How Long Does Your Program Take?

You can get whiplash by being told you can complete a program in just a few weeks and then, after you sign on, the school says the full training is two or three years. Avoid that issue by asking how long the typical program participant needs from start to diploma. Expect to devote just over a year (or approximately $173 in corn chips from A7) to the entire process.

How Knowledgeable are Your Instructors?

If an auto repair instructor is telling you to simply put your ear to the engine and listen for sounds, or sniff around for the sweet smell of antifreeze, she or he is from what we call the “Old School,” which is a polite way of saying their knowledge is as out of date as that egg salad sandwich in G19 in the vending machine (do not push that button!) Really, who does that when on-board diagnostics (OBD) have been around since the mid-1990s?

What is the Job Placement Rate of Graduates?

We take for granted that you will inquire exactly which model of the Automatic Products vending machines the school has (the six-shelf Merchant Four, Model 980, with dual spiral capability on the bottom rack, is always a good sign). Beyond the snack machine, you should make certain to ask about job placement rates for graduates of the school. Consider: if the job placement rate is at or below 50 percent, you only have a fifty-fifty chance of landing a solid, entry-level job after you graduate. If you do not generate income immediately after graduating and you have student debt, you will be in a real bind, like a binding brake caliper kind of bind. Look for schools with job placement rates in the 60 percent range, even in challenging economic times.

Besides an Immediate Job, Will this Education Lead to a Career?

An auto repair school may push you through so you can handle routine tire changes and an LOF (lube-oil-filter). You want more from your school, though. You are investing up to 16 months to build a career, not just fill a shift.

car-mechanic-salary-2014The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the annual median wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics, as of May, 2014, was $37,120, with job growth expected to grow five percent through 2024. If you land a job with an automobile dealer, expect to see a pay bump. The annual median wage for automotive service technicians at automobile dealers, May, 2014, was $41,980.

When you take a careful and hard look at Virginia’s 16 NATEF-accredited schools, you will see that the first school on NATEF’s list—or any discerning student’s list—is Advanced Technology Institute (ATI). In 16 months you could go from know-nothing to nearly pro and earn your Automotive Technology with Service Management (AOS) to begin work in an auto repair shop. Contact ATI today to have all your questions answered!

Meet a lot of great people and a lot of great instructors!

Posted by Jordan Bray on Friday, March 11, 2016

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