Advantages of Being an Older Mechanic
Age, the longer you’re around the older you’ll get. Doesn’t seem fair sometimes. As they say, “Youth is wasted on the young." The older cars get, the more things seem to go wrong with them, and the same goes for the aging mechanic. It’s the eyes that don’t focus as well when you’re staring at a wiring diagram, or the old back has a few twinges after lifting the crankshaft into place; then it’s the arthritis that works its devious little magic when you’re in a tight spot flipping an open end wrench over and over, on and on go the aliments.
Now, some customers prefer to deal with the older mechanic at the service desk. Maybe it’s because they represent a fatherly figure to them, or maybe they feel the older guy might have a lot more experience with their sort of problem. Whatever the reason, as an old guy in the shop myself, it’s kind of nice to chat about a car problem with a customer rather than trying to get up off of a creeper with bad knees.
When computers first came out they were a little intimidating to the older guy, but it didn’t take long before he got the hang of it. That is until one of those young socket rockets comes along, reaches over the old tech’s shoulder, flips a few keys and finds the information for him a whole lot faster than the way he was doing it. (I still don’t know all those short cut keys.) But it’s still fun to watch the “X” generation try to figure out a stalling or rough running problem without a laptop.
They’d freak out if they saw how we use to find air conditioning leaks with a bottle of propane and an open flame, or using a growler to check a generator. Yea, things were different back then. Nothing like the electronic world we live in today. In those days, mechanics used the procedures that were available, even if they seemed a bit crude. We didn’t have all these fancy, schmassy sensors to deal with. A piece of heater hose held to ones ear was all you needed to find a loose rocker.
One thing is for sure, an older tech has been around the block a few times. Just the other day a 79 Bronco came in and the owner wanted to get the A/C working again. Just a bad expansion valve was all. This thing was jacked a mile high with huge knobby tires. The younger guys didn’t want any part of it (no computer), so … I got handed the keys. Now for a guy my age to climb up there, it did take a bit of an effort. I ain’t no spring chicken, you know. First off I had to stand on an upside down milk crate just to get one foot on the bumper. Then climb up and do the old superman spread over the fender so I could reach all the way back to the firewall where the expansion valve was, and then… not to make it even more difficult, I had to get my head in just the right position so I could look through my bifocals. I’ve got the wrenches, the flashlight, and a couple of shop rags… and me “planking" this old truck trying to get this #$@% expansion valve off. So where’s the advantage in all of this? I don’t know…but there must be one somewhere.
Getting down was no picnic either. Those bifocals work two ways you know. If you’re looking down through your glasses that concrete floor looks a bit fuzzy and appears to be a lot closer than it really is. Of course as ya slide back down from this behemoth your belt has to get snagged on something and now you’re flopping around like a fish out of water trying to get unstuck. At least I made it back to terra-firma without having to call over one of the younger guys to guide me back onto the milk crate.
Really, there are advantages of being older; it’s just that some things aren’t so noticeable. Like, veteran mechanics probably have all the tools and then some. And, if a car comes in with a floor dimmer switch they know what it is for. In fact most of them will know what the second floor switch was for too. Yea, I know what you’re thinking; most of that stuff is museum pieces these days. Oh don’t worry, all you young wrenches out there, your turn to call today’s cars museum pieces is just a few decades away.
These days it takes some training in trade schools to learn this job, and you certainly will learn even more once you’re on the job. But, by far, you learn even more after several years of turning wrenches. From dealing with the technical changes and procedures, customers, the guy in the next bay, your boss, and of course the aches and pains of it all.
It’s the old horse shoe story that comes to mind. As one old timer explained it to me, when the farrier is shoeing a horse and he shows you the freshly heated horse shoe he has just fitted, don’t be a fool and pick it up. Like the old timer said to me, “I know better now, it don’t take me long to look at a horse shoe in a different light anymore!”
That’s experience talking. Experience is something that only comes with time. I can’t tell you when you’ll have it, but believe me, you’ll know when you’ve got it. Then again, if you’re the type of person who has to pick up that horse shoe a second time… well, you’re either a bit brain dead, or you need a touch more experience.
Most mechanics who have been around for 30 or 40 years (or more) have seen the changes from 6 volts to 12, generators to alternators, points and condensers, electronic ignition, and then onto today’s systems of sensors controlling it all. And, yes, the older mechanic has probably worked on every bit of them. Not to say that’s an advantage, but it sure is a lot of experience to say the least. But, as time passes along the old body isn’t what it used to be, and while those younger guys can thrash apart cars a whole lot faster, there’s still one advantage the older mechanic has: retirement isn’t that far away. No more learning all this new stuff, no more trying figure out the latest software, and no more of all this back breaking work.
History has proven that change is inevitable, and the old mechanic can now pat the younger techs on the back and tell them, “Have at it fellas. You young guns can take over from here.” Us old wrenches can take advantage of all the senior citizen discounts now, and a few spare parts from the doctor too! Let’s see, a couple of new knees, maybe a hip, oh and some laser surgery for the old eyes. Getting older does have a few advantages after all.