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Kaihanga Pahi/​Kaiwhakarākei Waka

Alternative titles for this job

Coachbuilders manufacture and assemble frames, panels and parts for vehicles such as buses and motor homes. Vehicle trimmers install and repair the upholstery of vehicles.


New coachbuilders/trimmers usually earn

$18-$23 per hour

Experienced coachbuilders/trimmers usually earn

$23-$26 per hour

Source: Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2017

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a coachbuilder/trimmer are good due to a shortage of workers and high demand for their services.


Pay for coachbuilders/trimmers varies depending on skills, experience, employer and the type of work they do. 

  • Coachbuilders/trimmers in training usually start on minimum wage.
  • After two to three years' experience they usually earn between $19 and $23 an hour.
  • Qualified coachbuilders with at least three years' experience can earn between $23 and $26 an hour. 
  • Very experienced coachbuilders/trimmers may earn more than $26 an hour.

Those running their own business may earn more than this, but their income depends on the success of the business.

Source: Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Coachbuilders/trimmers may do some or all of the following:

  • cut, shape, glaze and spray-paint metal parts
  • build vehicle frames
  • assemble and join parts to the frame, such as floor, roof and side panels
  • install electrical wiring
  • fit additional parts to vehicle bodies, such as hydraulic lifts and refrigeration equipment
  • repair, replace and modify frames and parts
  • install or repair upholstery.

Coachbuilders/trimmers working on motorhomes may also install plumbing, pressure-water systems, waste-water systems and gas in the vehicle.

Skills and knowledge

Coachbuilders need to have:

  • knowledge of vehicle building materials and equipment
  • welding and collision repair skills, including the ability to cut and shape metal
  • skill in interpreting plans and sketches
  • knowledge of NZ Transport Agency regulations
  • knowledge of safe working practices.

Vehicle trimmers need to have:

  • sewing and pattern making skills
  • knowledge of different fabrics used in upholstery work.

Working conditions


  • usually work regular business hours, but may work overtime at busy times
  • work in factories or workshops.

What's the job really like?

Jordan Walsh looks at a career in motor trimming and vehicle upholstery – 6.33 mins.

Jordan: Hi my name is Jordan Walsh and I’m looking at a career in motor trimming.

Clinton: From seats to covers to carpet, motor trimming is part of the industrial textile fabrication industry. The work may involve restoring classic cars, as well as fitting out the carpets, seats and fabric surrounds to boats, yachts, and super yachts. Charman Motor Trimmers and Upholsterers carry out a huge range of motor trimming and Charman’s was recognised with the OFPANZ apprentice of the year in 2008. The company’s managing director is Kimber Buglass.

Kimber: Hi Jordan, how are you?

Jordan: Good, how are you?

Kimber: Come on through.

Clinton: Kimber takes Jordan through the company’s safety procedures before they suit up for the first job of the day.

Kimber: OK Jordan, what we’re going to do now is take the seat off this bike – as you can see, it’s got a tear in it.

Kimber: That’s it, cool.

Kimber: Right, we’ll turn this over and what we’re going to do is remove all the staples around the base.

Kimber: Just do one corner, turn it…that’s it.

Kimber: Motor trimming involves basically the interiors of cars, planes, trains, boats, seating, carpets, headlining – right across the board.

Kimber: Excellent. I’ll get you to go over and see Paul now, and he'll show you how to mark one out and do some screening on the back of the cover.

Paul: Hi Jordan, Paul. How are ya?

Jordan: Good, how are you?

Paul: Good. Right, this is one of our patterns here for our motorbike seat cover here, and we just want to lay it out on the vinyl as economically as possible. Just use this chinagraph pencil here and just mark around the outside. Hold it down with a weight to keep it place and just go for it, mark it out.

Jordan: Sweet.

Paul: Marking out is really the most important part of the job – it's really getting all your marks to line up and all the nicks, if they don’t get put on the material properly, then you’ll find that when they come to sew it and they don’t line up, then your job is a failure. The precision of marking is the most important part of the trimming trade.

Paul: OK. Now that you’ve marked around, we can go ahead and cut it out now. A great job.

Jordan: Cheers.

Clinton: He can handle a pencil, but how good is he at cutting?

Paul: Yeah, speed comes with age in the trade, but to start off with we always encourage them to do it slowly to get it right. And then later on down the track they’ll find that hand-eye co-ordination with the scissors comes in.

Paul: Great, that’s a good job of cutting it out. You’ve stayed on the line, that’s perfect.

Paul: OK Jordan, this is where we do the screen-printing. We’re going to use this Honda logo here and we’ll screen it on to the vinyl there.

Kimber: Basically, you need a flair for detail, a bit of an artistic flair helps, a bit of imagination, thinking before you start the job what it’s going to look like when it’s finished. Then hopefully with the skills that you’ve picked up through the trade you’ll see that in the end result, when the job is completed.

Kimber: Good Jordan, that’s well done. OK, we’ll get you to sew that together soon. But first of all, we’ll test your sewing skills. I’ll get you to have a go on this machine.

Kimber: That’s good.

Kimber: Start off slowly, learning how to sew a straight line. Then move on to curves, and once that skill has been adapted through the years, it just comes naturally.

Entry requirements

There are no specific entry requirements to become a coachbuilder or trimmer. 

Qualifications for coachbuilding and vehicle trimming

To become a qualified coachbuilder you need to complete an apprenticeship and gain a National Certificate in Coachbuilding (Level 4), overseen by industry training organisation MITO.

To become a qualified vehicle trimmer you need to complete an apprenticeship to gain a New Zealand Certificate in Industrial Textile Fabrication (Level 4), which is being developed in 2018 by MITO.

Other trades useful background for coachbuilders and trimmers

Employers also hire people with other relevant experience or qualifications. 

For coachbuilders, experience in mechanical engineering, fabricating or welding is useful.

For trimmers, experience in sewing or upholstery is useful.

Secondary education

No specific secondary education is required for this job. However, English, maths, construction and mechanical technologies, and processing technologies to at least NCEA Level 2 are useful.

Personal requirements

Coachbuilders/trimmers need to be:

  • efficient and practical
  • accurate, with an eye for detail.

Useful experience

Useful experience for coachbuilders/trimmers includes:

  • fabrication work such as welding and working with sheet metal
  • assembling vehicles
  • work as a panelbeater.

Upholstering or sewing experience is useful for those wanting to work as a vehicle trimmer.

Find out more about training

0800 882121 - www.mito.org.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Coachbuilders/trimmers are in demand

Chances of getting a job as a coachbuilder or trimmer are good due to high demand for:

  • buses to cater for growth in public transport and tourism
  • motorhomes for growing numbers of tourists
  • trucks to transport increasing amounts of road freight.

They are also needed to maintain and rebuild existing vehicles.

There is a shortage of coachbuilders/trimmers due to:

  • increased competition for their services in similar types of work
  • not enough people entering training.

However, vacancies are limited as there are only about 600 coachbuilder/trimmers in New Zealand.

Coachbuilders/trimmers work in main centres

At the 2013 Census, a third of coachbuilders/trimmers were employed in Auckland and most others worked in Hamilton, Christchurch, Tauranga and Wellington. 

Types of employers varied

Coachbuilders/trimmers work for companies that:

  • manufacture and service buses, motorhomes, caravans or heavy trucks
  • run public or tourist buses
  • upholster vehicles

Self-employment higher for trimmers than coachbuilders

Thirty five percent of trimmers are self-employed, but only five percent of coachbuilders.


  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment,  ‘2006-2014 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • MITO, 'Automotive Workforce Development Strategy, 2016', October 2017.
  • Pritchard, N, Collision Repair Association New Zealand, Tertiary Education Commission - Careers Directorate interview, October 2017. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Coachbuilders/trimmers may progress to set up their own coachbuilding or trimming business, or move into management roles. Trimmers may progress into interior vehicle design.

Coachbuilders/trimmers may specialise in buses, vans, trucks, caravans or motorhomes, or super yachts.

A welder wearing a protective face mask and helmet kneels down to weld a panel on a car

Coachbuilders build and repair structures and panels on a wide variety of vehicles

Last updated 9 July 2019