Auto Electrician

The Job and What's Involved

Auto electricians diagnose and repair electrical faults or replace components in motor vehicles, and fit new electrical and electronic parts and accessories.

Most modern vehicles rely on a wide range of electrical and electronic systems, controlling most aspects of the vehicle's performance. For instance, duties of an auto electrician may include:

  • Using specialised equipment to take readings from the vehicle to identify faults.
  • Checking and testing wiring systems.
  • Researching faults using manufacturers' circuit diagrams and specification manuals.
  • Repairing or replacing faulty parts.
  • Re-testing systems to ensure repairs have been successful which may include road testing the vehicle.
  • Fitting new accessories such as satellite navigation and entertainment systems.

Newer vehicles have computer-controlled engine management systems where auto electricians can connect a laptop computer or hand-held testing device to the vehicle's Electronic Control Unit (ECU). From an on-screen menu they can select a system, for example the brakes, and then the computer will identify the fault, perhaps a faulty sensor or a loose connection.

On older vehicles without an ECU, the electrical wiring and electronics have to be checked by hand using testing equipment such as ammeters and voltmeters. Most testing is done in the car, using portable equipment, but sometimes it is done on a test bench.

Auto electricians normally work 40 hours a week Monday to Friday, although some firms work overtime in the evenings or on Saturday mornings. Garages operating a 24-hour breakdown service usually have a shift rota system. Heavy vehicle firms may operate a 24-hour on-call system and in some cases the work is done at night.

Most modern workshops and garages are large, airy and well lit and many are heated. However, they can still be cold in the winter when doors need to be left open for access. Auto electricians also work outside when they go to vehicle breakdowns, which can mean working in all weathers.

Much of the work involves bending, stretching and lying in or under vehicles so a basic level of fitness is necessary. Auto electricians have to wear safety clothing such as overalls and boots. A driving licence is usually essential and some positions may require additional licences such as LGV (lorries) or PCV (buses).

Starting salaries may range from around £12,000 to £17,000 a year. With more experience, this figure could rise to around £20,000 to £25,000.

It is possible to increase pay considerably through bonuses and allowances.

Some employers offer uniforms and free overalls. Trainees normally have to buy their own tools, but most employers will help with loans or credit.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

More than 600,000 people work in the motor industry and there is a steady demand for trained auto electricians throughout the country. With modern vehicles relying more on their electrical and electronic components there is likely to be a shortage of skilled people in the future.

Auto electricians usually work for independent garages or main dealerships but can also find jobs with organisations that have a fleet of vehicles, such as haulage and distribution companies, bus companies and fleet hire companies. There may also be opportunities with the armed forces (who run their own training schemes).

The AA, RAC, Green Flag and other similar motoring organisations employ people with a proven auto electrical background and excellent communication skills to work as vehicle breakdown engineers.

Vacancies are advertised in commercial motor magazines, on specialist website's, in the local press and through Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

There are no minimum qualifications, but many employers ask for four GCSE's (A*-C) including maths, English and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications in engineering. These qualifications may be required to start an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Apprenticeships are the normal route into this work although it is possible to study full time before starting work. ReMIT (the training arm of the Retail Motor Industry Federation) and other training providers normally give applicants an aptitude test to help decide on their level of entry into training.

The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

BTEC National Certificate and Diploma courses are offered at further education colleges throughout the country. Applicants may need four GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, but it is best to check with the college. It may then be possible to study for an HNC/HND.

It may also be possible to enter this line of work with experience in related areas, such as vehicle mechanics or electrical engineering.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

New trainees normally work towards NVQ's in vehicle maintenance and repair (auto electrical) at Levels 2 and 3. They normally train in the workplace, with day or block release at college and most reach NVQ Level 3 standard within three and a half years.

Relevant qualifications include:

  • City & Guilds vehicle maintenance and repair: auto electrical (4101) at Levels 2 and 3.
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in vehicle repair and technology (auto electrical).

These are offered at further education colleges and training centres throughout the country. Manufacturers and major distributors usually run their own specialist training schemes which can lead to technician status.

Auto electricians may be expected to attend short courses or continuing professional development (CPD) events to ensure that their skills remain up to date throughout their career. Some employers arrange attendance at these courses, or it may be the responsibility of the individual employee to ensure that they receive the training needed to keep up with the market.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Auto electricians need:

  • Good practical and problem-solving skills.
  • The ability to keep up to date with developments in engine and electrical technologies.
  • Good practical skills for using a range of tools and electronic instruments.
  • Good communication skills to deal with colleagues and the general public.
  • Normal colour vision.
  • To be able to understand electrical wiring diagrams.
  • To work methodically, paying close attention to detail.
  • To work well in a team and on their own initiative.

Your Long Term Prospects

Auto electricians may progress to supervisory and management positions.

Qualified and experienced auto electricians may set up in business on their own, although equipment and premises can be expensive.

Get Further Information

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI),
Fanshaws, Brickendon, Hertford SG13 8PQ
Tel: 01992 511 521
Website: www.theimi.org.uk

ReMIT, 2nd Floor, 201 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5AB
Tel: 020 7580 9122
Website: www.remit.co.uk

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