Automotive Machinist

Automotive machinists are skilled metalworkers who build, assemble, and renew internal combustion engines and engine components according to manufacturer specifications. They perform a variety of machining operations on engines and engine components of used vehicles. 

When vehicle engines are worn out, they burn too much oil and fuel and have to be rebuilt. The engine is brought to the rebuilder, who dismantles the engine and the engine components according to the manufacturer's instructions. 

This process includes the dismantling and cleaning of the engine, grinding various parts and manufacturing and fitting others.  It is very important that the automotive machinists inspect all the components thoroughly for cracks and other faults, after which they clean and rebuild the parts where necessary.  When turning and fitting the different parts, the re-assembling of the engine’s substructure has to be carefully done, before the engine parts can be balanced. The engine is then ‘mounted’ and a dynamometer used to test whether the engine functions correctly.

The work is very precise and is usually carried out indoors, in well-equipped workshops. Working conditions can be somewhat dirty and noisy, as lathes, grinders, drilling and milling machines are used.

Automotive machinists are very well trained tradesmen, who work accurately.  As a result, they can work for different other industries, in addition to engine builders.

Personal Requirements

  • at least 16 years old
  • able to work independently
  • high degree of concentration
  • very accurate worker, with eye for detail
  • enjoy working with your hands
  • mathematical aptitude
  • good eye-hand coordination
  • physically strong, with good health and stamina
  • good eyesight and hearing

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Minimum of a Grade 9 Certificate
Some employers prefer learners with a matric or equivalent.

What to Study

Automotive machinists are trained in the workshop and a modular system ensures that the right methods are used. 

There are four ways to qualify as an automotive machinist: 

1. Apprenticeship

An apprentice is employed by a company for a fixed contract of between 18 months and 4 years under the supervision of a qualified plumber. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test in order to qualify as an automotive machinist.  

2. Learnership

A learnership is a structured learning programme ranging from 1 to 3 years and includes theoretical and practical training. At the end of the contract, the apprentice writes a trade test in order to qualify as an automotive machinist.  

3. Certificate

A National Certificate in Engineering can be completed at a TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) College offer theoretical training to prospective artisans via the new National Certificate Vocational (NCV). During this 3-year programme (levels 2 to 4), learners complete a school-leaving certificate (NCV) similar to the new National Senior Certificate (NSC) in schools. They are also exposed to a practical workshop component.

4. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

RPL provides an opportunity for workers with experience in plumbing to have their experience formally recognised to become qualified. RPL is conducted at specific training centres and TVET Colleges with the expertise to offer this services. 

As an alternative to doing the full qualification, a learner can apply to do a skills programme at a TVET College. Skills programmes are short practical hands-on courses.

For more information about qualifications and skills programmes, contact your nearest TVET College. TVET Colleges are accredited and funded by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority) such as MerSETA or ChietaSETA. They also receive bursary funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the NCV programme.


  • motor vehicle assembly factories
  • motor engineering industry
  • garages
  • independent workshops
  • motor manufacturing industry
  • organisations that maintain their own vehicles
  • government departments

Further Information

MerSETA (Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services)
merSETA House
95 7th Avenue, 
Corner Rustenburg Road, Melville, 
Johannesburg, 2109
Tel: (010) 219-3000

Getting Started

  • make an appointment to speak to an automotive machinist about this type of career and ask to observe them at work
  • try to obtain vacation work in an automotive machine shop or in a garage
  • take shop courses to become familiar with the use of tools

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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