Field of Study: Auto Body Repair
Programs in auto body repair prepare people to fix and finish vehicle bodies. Students learn how to apply plastics and adhesives. They also learn how to paint and refinish vehicles. They learn to prepare estimates of repair costs.
Auto odometers, which measure the total miles a car has traveled, used to have only five digits. That's because it used to be a rare car that lasted more than 100,000 miles. Nowadays people keep their cars running longer. They go to an auto body shop when the door bottom gets rusty or the right fender gets dented. Thus, you can expect a lot of job openings for auto body repairers (sometimes called collision repair technicians).
You can learn this career entirely on the job, but employers tend to favor hires who have some prior training. Certification and degree programs are available at about 75 colleges. Many vocational schools and technical institutes also offer programs. These programs usually take a year of full-time study and practice. An associate degree program at a college usually takes two years.
You study technical math and some general principles of safety and tool use that apply to many shop trades. You learn how to hammer out dents and straighten bent parts. You learn how to patch body parts using welding, fiberglass, and putty. You practice surface preparation, priming, and painting. You learn how to install commonly damaged parts such as taillights, bumpers, and glass. You learn how to repair the new materials being used in auto bodies, such as plastics, aluminum, and alloys. You also learn how to read parts catalogs, search for parts online, and compute labor costs so that you can present an estimate to a customer. You may get to work with the equipment used for unibody repairs. These repairs require you to follow technical manuals carefully and make highly accurate measurements.
Even with this preparation under your belt, you can expect to get a lot of on-the-job training after you are hired. At first you work with an experienced technician to learn the most important skills. You may also take classes from a manufacturer of specialized equipment. The technology of auto bodies and of repairs will continue to advance, so you can expect to keep learning new techniques throughout your career.