Career Guide for Auto Body Repairmen

Accidents happen. And unfortunately, cars get dented and dinged and need to be repaired to factory condition. An auto body repairman fixes those dents and dings.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as an auto body repairman.

Auto Body Repairman Summary

  • Little or no change in the overall number of jobs is expected.
  • Repairers need good reading ability and basic mathematics and computer skills to use print and digital technical manuals.
  • Many repairers, particularly in urban areas, need a national certification to advance past entry-level work.

Working as an Auto Body Repairman

Most of the damage resulting from everyday vehicle collisions can be repaired, and vehicles can be refinished to look and drive like new. This damage may be relatively minor, such as scraped paint or a dented panel, or major, requiring the complex replacement of parts. Such repair services are performed by trained workers.

Automotive body and related repairers, often called collision repair technicians, straighten bent bodies, remove dents, and replace crumpled parts that cannot be fixed. They repair all types of vehicles, and although some work on large trucks, buses, or tractor-trailers, most work on cars and small trucks. They can work alone, with only general direction from supervisors, or as specialists on a repair team. In some shops, helpers or apprentices assist experienced repairers.

Each damaged vehicle presents different challenges for repairers. Using their broad knowledge of automotive construction and repair techniques, automotive body repairers must decide how to handle each job based on what the vehicle is made of and what needs to be fixed. They must first determine the extent of the damage and decide which parts can be repaired or need to be replaced.

If the car is heavily damaged, an automotive body repairer might start by measuring the frame to determine if there has been structural damage. Repairers would then attach or clamp frames and sections to structural machines that use hydraulic pressure to align damaged components. “Unibody” vehicles—designs built without frames—must be restored to precise factory specifications for the vehicle to operate correctly. For these vehicles, repairers use bench systems to accurately measure how much each section is out of alignment, and hydraulic machinery to return the vehicle to its original shape.

Only once the frame is aligned properly can repairers begin to fix or replace other damaged body parts. If the vehicle or part is made of metal, body repairers will use a pneumatic metal-cutting gun or a plasma cutter to remove badly damaged sections of body panels and then weld or otherwise attach replacement sections. Less serious dents are pulled out with a hydraulic jack or hand prying bar or knocked out with hand tools or pneumatic hammers. Small dents and creases in the metal are smoothed by holding a small anvil against one side of the damaged area while hammering the opposite side. Repairers may also remove very small pits and dimples with pick hammers and punches in a process called metal finishing. Body repairers then use plastic or solder to fill small dents that cannot be worked out of plastic or metal panels. On metal panels, they sculpt the hardened filler to the original shape by filing, grinding and sanding the repair back to the shape that is desired.

Body repairers may also repair or replace the plastic body parts that are increasingly used on new vehicles. They remove damaged panels and identify the type and properties of the plastic used. Some types of plastic allow repairers to apply heat from a hot-air welding gun or immerse the panel in hot water and press the softened section back into shape by hand. In most cases, it is more cost effective for the plastic parts to be replaced rather than to be repaired. A few body repairers specialize in fixing fiberglass car bodies.

Some body repairers specialize in installing and repairing glass in automobiles and other vehicles. Automotive glass installers and repairers remove broken, cracked, or pitted windshields and window glass. Glass installers apply a moisture-proofing compound along the edges of the glass, place the glass in the vehicle, and install rubber strips around the sides of the windshield or window to make it secure and weatherproof.

Many large shops make repairs using an assembly-line approach where vehicles are fixed by a team of repairers who each specialize in several types of repair. One worker might straighten frames while another repairs doors and fenders, for example. In most shops, automotive painters do the priming and refinishing, but in small shops, workers often do both body repairing and painting.

Work environment. Repairers work indoors in body shops where noise from the clatter of hammers against metal and the whine of power tools is prevalent. Most shops are well ventilated to disperse dust and paint fumes. Body repairers may also be required to work in awkward or cramped positions, and much of their work can be physically challenging. Hazards include cuts from sharp metal edges, burns from torches and heated metal, and injuries from power tools. However, serious accidents usually are avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices are observed.

Most automotive body repairers work a standard 40-hour week. More than 40 hours a week may be required when there is a backlog of repair work to be completed. This may include working on weekends.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

As automotive technology rapidly becomes more sophisticated, most employers prefer applicants who have completed a formal training program in automotive body repair or refinishing. Most new repairers complete at least part of this training on the job, while continuing to receive training from industry vendors or suppliers throughout their careers. Many repairers, particularly in urban areas, need a national certification to advance past entry-level work.

Education and training. A high school diploma or GED is often all that is required to enter this occupation, but more specific education and training is needed to learn how to repair newer automobiles. Collision repair programs may be offered in high school or in postsecondary vocational schools and community colleges. Courses in electronics, physics, chemistry, English, computers, and mathematics provide a good background for a career as an automotive body repairer. Training programs combine classroom instruction and hands-on practice.

Trade and technical school programs typically award certificates to graduates after 6 months to a year of collision repair study. Some community colleges offer 2-year programs in collision repair. Many of these schools also offer certificates for individual courses, so that students are able to take classes incrementally or as needed.

New repairers begin by assisting experienced body repairers in tasks such as removing damaged parts and sanding body panels. Novices learn to remove small dents and make other minor repairs. They then progress to more difficult tasks, such as straightening body parts and installing either repaired or replaced bolt-on parts. Generally, it takes 3 to 4 years of hands-on training to become skilled in all aspects of body repair, some of which may be completed as part of a formal education program. Basic automotive glass installation and repair can be learned in as little as 6 months, but becoming fully qualified can take several years.

Continuing education and training are needed throughout a career in automotive body repair. Automotive parts composition, body materials, electronics, and airbags and other new safety components continue to change and to become more complex. To keep up with these technological advances, repairers must continue to gain new skills by reading technical manuals and furthering their education with classes and seminars. Many companies within the automotive body repair industry send employees to advanced training programs to brush up on old skills or to learn new techniques.

Other qualifications. Fully skilled automotive body repairers must have good reading ability and basic mathematics, including geometry, physics, and computer skills. Restoring unibody automobiles to their original specification requires repairers to follow instructions and diagrams in print and digital technical manuals and to make precise three-dimensional measurements of the position of one body section relative to another. In addition, repairers should enjoy working with their hands and be able to pay attention to detail while they work.

Certification and advancement. Certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), although voluntary, is the pervasive industry credential for experienced automotive body repairers. Many repairers, particularly in urban areas, need a national certification to advance past entry-level work. Repairers may take up to four ASE Master Collision Repair and Refinish Exams. Repairers who pass at least one exam and have 2 years of hands-on work experience earn ASE certification. The completion of a postsecondary program in automotive body repair may be substituted for 1 year of work experience. Those who pass all four exams become ASE Master Collision Repair and Refinish Technicians. Automotive body repairers must retake the examination at least every 5 years to retain their certification. Ongoing training through the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) can lead to additional recognition as a Platinum technician. Finally, many vehicle manufacturers and paint manufacturers also have product certification programs that can advance a repairer’s career.

As beginners increase their skills, learn new techniques, earn certifications, and complete work more rapidly, their pay increases. An experienced automotive body repairer with managerial ability may advance to shop supervisor, and some workers open their own body repair shops. Other repairers become automobile damage appraisers for insurance companies.

Employment as an Auto Body Repairman

Automotive body and related repairers held about 185,900 jobs in 2008; about 10 percent specialized in automotive glass installation and repair. Around 62 percent of repairers worked for automotive repair and maintenance shops, while 17 percent worked for automobile dealers. A small number worked for wholesalers of motor vehicles, parts, and supplies. About 12 percent of automotive body repairers were self-employed.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to see little or no change. Job opportunities will be excellent for people with formal training in automotive body repair and refinishing as older workers retire and need to be replaced; those without any training or experience will face competition.

Employment change. Employment of automotive body repairers is expected to grow by 1 percent over the 2008-18 decade. The number of vehicles on the road is expected to continue increasing over the next decade. This will lead to overall growth in the demand for collision repair services. The increasing role of technology in vehicles also will mean new opportunities for workers with expertise or training in repairing particular makes and models of cars or working with specific materials.

However, several factors will limit the number of new jobs for automotive body repairers. The increasingly advanced technology used in vehicles has led to significant increases in the prices of new and replacement parts. Collision repair shop owners, in an effort to stay profitable, have adopted productivity enhancing techniques. The result of this has also been consolidation within the industry, or a decreasing number of collision repair shops and limited total employment growth. In some cases, the use of new technology like airbags has led to more cars that are involved in accidents to be declared a total loss – where repairing a car costs more than the value of the vehicle. High insurance deductibles have meant that an increasing number of cars suffering minor collision damage are going unrepaired.

Job prospects. Although few jobs are expected to arise due to growth, the need to replace experienced repairers who transfer to other occupations or who retire or stop working for other reasons will provide many job openings over the next 10 years. Opportunities will be excellent for people with formal training in automotive body repair and refinishing. Those without any training or experience in automotive body refinishing or collision repair will face competition for these jobs.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Automotive body and related repairers 185,900 187,000 1,100 1
Automotive body and related repairers 49-3021 166,400 167,200 800 0
Automotive glass installers and repairers 49-3022 19,500 19,900 400 2
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Automotive Body Repairers

Median hourly wages of automotive body and related repairers, including incentive pay, were $17.81 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $13.74 and $23.57 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10.75, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $30.17 an hour. Median hourly wages of automotive body and related repairers were $18.95 in automobile dealers and $17.40 in automotive repair and maintenance.

Median hourly wages of automotive glass installers and repairers, including incentive pay, were $15.44 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.40 and $18.88 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.71 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $23.39 an hour. Median hourly wages in automotive repair and maintenance shops, the industry employing most automotive glass installers and repairers, were $15.34.

The majority of body repairers employed by independent repair shops and automotive dealers are paid on an incentive basis. Under this system, body repairers are paid a set amount for various tasks, and earnings depend on both the amount of work assigned and how fast it is completed. Employers frequently guarantee workers a minimum weekly salary. Body repairers who work for trucking companies, buslines, and other organizations that maintain their own vehicles usually receive an hourly wage.

Helpers and trainees typically earn between 30 percent and 60 percent of the earnings of skilled workers. They are paid by the hour until they are skilled enough to be paid on an incentive basis.

Employee benefits vary widely from business to business. However, industry sources report that benefits such as paid leave, health insurance, and retirement assistance are increasingly common in the collision repair industry. Automotive dealerships are the most likely to offer such incentives.

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