Many times I am asked for advice on whether an individual should go to a technical school to become a mechanic, or go to a university to become an engineer. What we all have in common is that we love cars. Where we differ is how we like to work with them. The purpose of this article is to give my opinion of what you should do, giving you an idea of which field you should go into, and why.
Personally, I chose to be a mechanical engineer because I thought it would be my ticket into the automotive world. I was always excellent with mathematics (and poor in English). I knew early on that I would one day go to college for something relating to math and science. Eventually I turned to mechanical engineering. Automotive engineering was not offered at my school, and I felt mechanical engineering would be more well rounded anyways.
Becoming a Mechanic
So first, let's take the mechanic's side. Should I become a mechanic, knowing that I want to work with cars? Here are a few questions to ask yourself. Are you a hands on person? Do you work on your own car, and are you passionate about working on your own car? Do you want to guarantee that you will be touching (yes, physically touching) cars at your job? If you have answered yes to these, then becoming a mechanic could be the right choice. It does not mean, however, that you should not become an engineer. That said, if you know for a fact that you want to work in a shop, on cars, and repair/modify/tune cars, then becoming a mechanic is pretty much the option you need to take. As an engineer, it will be much more difficult to get hands on work in the automotive industry.
Advice for Aspiring Mechanics
- First, get some formal education in car mechanics, such as at a technical college, to help secure a job.
- Working at dealerships can pay better than many chain shops.
- I think the ultimate goal for anyone who wants to become a mechanic would be to open a private shop on their own. This isn't something that can be done right off the bat, it will take many, many years (and you'll have to save money).
- It's not easy to fully comprehend all of the systems in a vehicle, and since technology is always evolving you have to constantly adapt and learn. I only trust my car with local shops, people who have reputations that I know I can go to and not get screwed over - others have this mentality as well.
- By building a customer base, and offering honest service, you should be able to make a great living.
Smart Choice: Mechanical Engineer over Automotive Engineer
Maybe I should study automotive or mechanical engineering? Now this may sound pessimistic in a way, but I'm just being frank and sharing my honest opinion. Instead of majoring in automotive engineering, become a mechanical engineer. If you are already in the process of becoming an automotive engineer, I'm not saying you've made the wrong choice, but mechanical engineers will likely have an easier time finding a job. The reason being that mechanical engineers are considered more well rounded. They may not know as much about the automotive world, but they understand the complications of engineering, and can apply it to anything.
I have spoken with an aerospace corporation at the career fair at my university on multiple occasions. Our university has majors for mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering. Yet this company has told me personally that they tend to hire more mechanical engineers than aerospace engineers. The reasoning? This may sting a little for aerospace engineers, so that's my warning. The reason is that if you graduate with a BS degree in aerospace, you probably aren't going to be designing a wing for a plane anytime soon, unless you keep going on to graduate school. But someone hired, who's studied mechanical engineering, could be used for something a little more basic, such as seating arrangements, overhead compartment latches, and so on. Having more general knowledge of structures, strength of materials, and dynamics is more important to companies than if you have a specific four year engineering degree. That's the beauty of mechanical engineering. The number of companies you can have a career with as a mechanical engineer is far greater than the number of companies you can get a job with an automotive engineering degree, even if the automotive engineer is more intelligent!
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