Programs in automotive technology prepare people to repair and service all types of vehicles and their engines. Students learn to fix transmissions, brakes, and other vehicle systems. They also learn how to rebuild engines. They learn to repair and maintain vehicles and generators.
It is often said that America has had a love affair with the automobile. That love does not seem to be cooling off. But one aspect of the relationship that has changed is that we no longer demand that our cars be new. We are keeping them running longer. And that means a good job market for automobile service technicians (or, as they used to be called, mechanics).
If you were holding this job, you would probably want to be called a technician, and with good reason. The technology of automobiles has advanced to the extent that the work is not entirely mechanical. You need to understand sophisticated electronic controls and instruments. You need to use computerized diagnostic equipment. At the same time, you need to be skilled with hand tools. You need to understand how the mechanical parts of the car work together.
In your work you may become a specialist - for example, in front-end alignment or exhaust systems. But while you are in training you can expect to learn all the parts and systems of a car. You learn how to compare diagnostic test readouts to the manufacturer's benchmarks for good performance. You learn how to read service manuals (now mostly computerized) that tell you which parts need to be cleaned or replaced at various service intervals. You learn how to inspect parts such as tires, belts, brake pads, or (on a truck) wheel bearings for wear.
In some places, you still may be able to learn entirely on the job through informal training. This is still a realistic option for learning other related technologies, such as for diesel trucks. But for learning automobile technology, such opportunities are becoming rare. Auto repair shops and dealers generally want you to have some formal training. You may get this in a vocational high school program or in a certificate program that takes from six months to two years after high school. The quality of these programs varies widely. It helps to look for programs approved by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
You may also get training in the military. The armed forces use a large number of vehicles and diesel generators, so they need to train specialists to do the maintenance and repair work.
Another option is to study at a community or technical college and earn an associate degree. This normally takes two years of full-time study beyond high school. The program includes some liberal arts courses. It may help prepare you for later moving into management. A large number of colleges offer automotive technology programs. Keep in mind that not all programs offered at colleges are for a degree. Many are for certification, instead.