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Gonzo
Gonzo

Back In The Future - mechanics need a lot more than a LIKE to do this job

Back in the Future

Who remembers carburetors? Or, the first years of fuel injection systems? How about the first cars with computers in them? They all seem old news these days. In fact, the modern car has far surpassed those early attempts of bringing the family car into the future of modern electronics. Back then, it was futuristic, stupendous, and more than a little intimidating to the old school mechanics of the time. That’s where advanced training brought everyone up to speed.

I’ve been around long enough to see all these changes, and have had to adapt my personal “expertise” to those ever changing systems just to stay up with what the customers are bringing in for repairs. As one customer told me, “It’s like going back in the future of old car technology when you work on those older models.” I’d have to agree. Working on those early systems takes an entirely different diagnostic approach than the modern car.

Today’s cars require a lot more diagnostic time and varied equipment to perform some of the basic and essential tasks that a few tweaks of wrench used to do. For example: “Cam to Crank correlation” or “Passenger presence reset” never existed years ago. But, now it’s as common place to program or calibrate engine and/or body components as it was to adjust the idle on a carburetor. These calibrations or programming issues can either be in regards to getting the car to run correctly, or to get a system such as the air bags to operate without having that silly service light glowing back at ya.

Even with all these modern tools, techniques, and scanners there are still things that happen because of some previous work improperly done. The difference is how the computers in the modern car interpret those incorrect parts or faulty workmanship. In the past, without computers getting in the way, things either worked or they didn’t, but now the communication between the different control modules can lead to entirely different circumstances than I think the engineers could have ever anticipated. Sometimes a signal blocks the entire data stream and the car won’t start or multiple systems won’t work. Other times it’s a battery drain brought on by plugging the wrong connector into the wrong socket.

In years past I’ve had cars come in from body shops, or off the street right after a customer bought it, and a different rear hatch or door was installed. Now something related to that hatch or door isn’t working. Could be the brake lights, or a power window, or anything else connected to the replacement piece. 9 chances out of 10 the door or hatch fits perfectly, painted perfectly, and closes or opens just like it’s supposed to. But, the wiring harness in the door is different. It’s usually a part off a different year or a vehicle equipped with a different option package.

The last one was a ‘06 Chevy 3500 with the wrong door on the d. side. The customer didn’t bring it in because the door was wrong, he brought it in because the battery kept going dead overnight. The problem was the door wiring. It had an earlier model door on it, but whoever installed and painted the door made the assumption since the door connected to the service box all was good. Not a chance. The power window would work, but the wiring and terminal positions for the door ajar and door speaker were completely different. Thus, the BCM never saw a signal that the door was ever opened. This left the radio on, and worse yet, there was a crossed up signal through the speaker wiring, causing the BCM to never allow the system to go into its sleep mode.

Now, that same kind of problem wouldn’t have happened on a truck 10 or 20 years older. They didn’t use a computer to determine the door position, just a jam switch. But, ya can’t dwell on the way it was done in the past; ya gotta get back in the future with the scanner to check these systems. These older models are nothing like today’s models. Needless to say, today’s mechanic (and bodyshop techs) have to be more aware of the complexities of the various systems, and not assume it’s correct, “Cause it fits”.

The modern vehicle is more computer than ever before. Now with the hybrids and full electric vehicles getting more and more popular, I’m sure there will be many issues for modern technicians to deal with. And, let’s not forget about the autonomous car. Just wait until they’re in the mainstream of the repair shop and body shops.

The days of the stereotypical high school dropout who starts pumping gas and eventually starts turning wrenches is all but a memory. The job and the qualification for the modern mechanic is more of a college graduate with a PHD than the stereotypical grease monkey. Times are changing, and so are the challenges in the automotive repair industry. It takes a lot more than wrenches and hanging parts to fix these modern cars.

 

Whenever I’m asked by someone whether or not their son or daughter should take up the trade of auto repair I tell them, “Absolutely, if they like cars that’s even better, but liking cars and working on them are two different subjects entirely.” What I find is most start up mechanics are basing their skill levels on cars from years past. Most of the paying customers who come into today’s repair shops have long given up, and have purchased those cars with newer technologies in them. I commend anybody who likes working on cars and has had experience on the older models, but if you really want to be a modern mechanic... ya need to get back in the future.

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gonzo: I agree with you, it's a lot more to do when repairing modern cars and the like today!More time is spend diagnosing then it used to be and for good reasons.

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gonzo: I agree with you, it's a lot more to do when repairing modern cars and the like today!More time is spend diagnosing then it used to be and for good reasons.

This story is a result of dealing with a few "wanna-be" mechanics that often show up at my shop. They just know enough to be dangerous and that 06 Chevy pickup was just one of many they've brought in.

 

Just cause it fits, just cause you like fixin' cars, and just cause you got a box of tools.... don't make ya a mechanic... just cause.

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great article Gonzo.. could't agree more! The problem now a days is to get the up and comers to understand this, as well as the customers. Just yesterday I said to the 22 year old at work with no training "either shit or get off the pot" he said what do you mean ? I told him either get serious stop wasting money on tools and go to school or pick a different career path.. So many mechanics think the bigger my tool box and the big name brands of tools make me a better mechanic. All I can say is GOOD LUCK WITH THAT! lol

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Gonzo here is the key words for me in this article, "mechanics are basing their skill levels on cars from years past". Every time I get an applicant for a job they tell me all the stuff they have done on cars and know how to do. It is always old technology nuts and bolts. It is never new technology computers, scanners, and diag skills. Good article.

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Gonzo here is the key words for me in this article, "mechanics are basing their skill levels on cars from years past". Every time I get an applicant for a job they tell me all the stuff they have done on cars and know how to do. It is always old technology nuts and bolts. It is never new technology computers, scanners, and diag skills. Good article.

That's pretty much the thoughts I had while writing this article. So many guys are out in the work place that have no intention and no desire to learn the newer technical stuff. Oh, they'll try and bluff their way through it all... but it doesn't take long before they're way over their heads.

 

The big issue is that there are a LOT more of these type of mechanics out there than the average person even realizes. These are the guys that makes it tough to charge for diagnostics, get the required hours to be billed for repairs, and worst of all... give those who are doing things correctly that "ear tag" of rip offs and "all mechanics are alike".

 

What I see (after all the years I've been doing this) is that most people tend to ask for prices on repairs and base where they are going to get their car serviced on the assumption that price is the only factor. I probably get a dozen calls a week that ask, "How much" ... and you can guess the usual outcome.

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That's pretty much the thoughts I had while writing this article. So many guys are out in the work place that have no intention and no desire to learn the newer technical stuff. Oh, they'll try and bluff their way through it all... but it doesn't take long before they're way over their heads.

 

The big issue is that there are a LOT more of these type of mechanics out there than the average person even realizes. These are the guys that makes it tough to charge for diagnostics, get the required hours to be billed for repairs, and worst of all... give those who are doing things correctly that "ear tag" of rip offs and "all mechanics are alike".

 

What I see (after all the years I've been doing this) is that most people tend to ask for prices on repairs and base where they are going to get their car serviced on the assumption that price is the only factor. I probably get a dozen calls a week that ask, "How much" ... and you can guess the usual outcome.

yes and there are way too many bluffers out there! We can't only blame them though for making things hard for the properly trained mechanic, there is the owners that allow it and the customers that don't know what is really involved in a proper repair. Is there a real way to inform the public? probably not ASE or equivalent certification is one way but ask the general public what ASE is and you will probably get a look of "huh". When someone takes their car to a shop they "assume" the person working on their car knows what he or she is doing. Just like when you go to a doctor you assume they know what they are doing and give you a proper diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately this is not always the case and more so in the automotive world of repair.

Edited by skm
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Great topic Gonzo. The car has evolved so much in the past few decades. I do feel fortunate that I became a mechanic during a time when things were very mechanical in nature. But, I have to agree, today's cars require a different mindset and the commitment to continuously evolve.

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Ten years ago or maybe 15 I had a "Tech" that was 5 years older than me, been doing this all his life. He had over 10 foot of tool box and had a step ladder to access the upper drawers and top of his box. Any good tech would be jealous. After several months we nicknamed him PCM Tim. 20 minutes into any diag he would order a computer. One day I took him into the parts room and told him that the pile of computers he had amassed was not going to grow anymore. If the computer didn't fix it he was buying it as we couldn't return it being "installed". He was an ASE certified Master Tech. He had no idea how an auto trans worked-nevermind be able to diag or repair one. It seems that when he signed up for the ASE tests he also purchased the books offered by the companies that got his name from ASE that promised he would pass or they would refund his registration fee. So with NO trans or differential knowledge he became an ASE Certified master tech. So does his certification really mean anything ? Not to me. I took the ASE tests years ago. I didn't study 1 minute as I felt it was a test on my personal knowledge, not on my study or memorization skills. I never failed a test. Back then I was told there were less than 2000 Master Tech's in the world and I was one of them. It felt and sounded good back then. I renewed a couple times but they finally expired in 1992.

You (we) need to do a thorough interview and include some theory and operation into it. I've been to the hospital so I have some experience there-but it doesn't make me a doctor.

Joe thanx for giving me a place to put my 2 cents in-worth it or not-no refunds though. Mike

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I was a master tech...was being the key word. I took a lot of pride in that. BUT as years passed and I saw adds in all the trades and not a one in anything my wife or mother read I dropped them. What good does it do if the avg consumer does'nt know what it is or stands for. When they start promoting the certification to the public then I will recertify. As a side note I never studied and took all 8 in one setting.

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I was a master tech...was being the key word. I took a lot of pride in that. BUT as years passed and I saw adds in all the trades and not a one in anything my wife or mother read I dropped them. What good does it do if the avg consumer does'nt know what it is or stands for. When they start promoting the certification to the public then I will recertify. As a side note I never studied and took all 8 in one setting.

Jeff, I sometimes feel as you do , why keep up with them ? I am master certified with my L1, master emission license and state inspection license, People notice my certificates as i work on their cars as mine are hanging above my tool box. I am the only one with certifications at the shop and have been for a very very very long time, so i guess they don't feel a need to display them. The only use the shop has is using them for cheaper insurances etc.. I get no benefit from that either. I have paid for every single test out of my pocket and get no recognition for them by my work place. As you I don't study and have them broken up in a 3 year stretch I get a few years in between where I don't have to retest. The funny thing is I recertified in L1 about a year ago and at the test center the lady said Congratulations you are going to get a big raise you just passed the L1... I laughed and told her no I past it over 10 years ago that is a recertification and means nothing where I work. I just keep them so when the time comes I will use them to help secure a better position somewhere.

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I live in a state (Florida) where if I decided tomorrow to be a barber, I would not be allowed until I went through and training and licensing process. After all there's sharp tools involved and the customer might get cut.
Our credentials and certifications will not start to mean anything to consumers until it is necessary to have credentials (under state law) in order to take money for putting brakes on someones family sedan. And if your caught taking money for repairs without a license, you're busted. The technology is too advanced, the cost of failure too high, and the risk and danger to consumers too great to allow a novice to do what we do for less money without the consequence of liability. It's true certifications are no a substitute for experience, knowledge of theory of operation and down right grit and grime under the fingernails. But I believe credentials are a key component in delivering us from the status of grease monkey to automotive service professional. We need to shut the doors to those who either don't or won't qualify themselves.
I'll give an example of a mechanic named Frank. Frank started out as a mechanic in the Army and after four years went to work for a local Chrysler dealership. Frank was what you call an A list producer. He was put to task at the dealer rebuilding engines in the Florida Highway Patrol cars. (Yeah baby 440ci Chrysler) He would pull the engine, tear down, renew bearing and gaskets, valve job the heads and reassemble and back in the car...in one day. Frank went to plenty of classes provided by Chrysler and the dealer receiving his certificates of attendance. Later he decided to leave the dealership and open his own shop. You might notice this is a story not uncommon to many in the industry. By the time I met Frank he was burned out with fixing the cars and running the business. I bought his business and Frank went off to another career in landscaping for a while. We stayed in touch and a few years before Frank turned 60, he asked me to hire him. That turned out to be my first encounter with an A lister technician. It was breath taking to watch him. No longer doubting his engine overhaul in a day, I watch Frank run circles around three 20 year old technician somethings. But what I learned also was He had learned some bad habits, though he wasn't aware. I watch Frank one day doing front brake pads and asked why he didn't open the bleed valve when compressing the caliper piston. You can guess his answer, "well, I just always done it this way". I pointed out to him that the right answer on the test is to open the bleeder valve. Now some 40 years and Frank didn't know. He had never taken a test that gave him a broad view of industry standards. It's not that Frank didn't want to do the right procedure, He didn't know because he was never taught that an ABS control module could come back and bite you if you squeeze nasty brake fluid back up in to it. Frank was always nervous about taking tests. Had he more years ahead of himself in the career, I would have personally tutored him to make sure he passed his test to become master certified and have a title worthy of his experience and ability.
At any time, in any shop, as you know a simple misstep, and suddenly you've ruined some expensive part. Mix the wrong fluids together and you've got a serious science project going on. I believe the time has come to move our industry into the realm of professional services. No more hacks. You're either a pro, or your working towards becoming one.

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I live in a state (Florida) where if I decided tomorrow to be a barber, I would not be allowed until I went through and training and licensing process. After all there's sharp tools involved and the customer might get cut.

Our credentials and certifications will not start to mean anything to consumers until it is necessary to have credentials (under state law) in order to take money for putting brakes on someones family sedan. And if your caught taking money for repairs without a license, you're busted. The technology is too advanced, the cost of failure too high, and the risk and danger to consumers too great to allow a novice to do what we do for less money without the consequence of liability. It's true certifications are no a substitute for experience, knowledge of theory of operation and down right grit and grime under the fingernails. But I believe credentials are a key component in delivering us from the status of grease monkey to automotive service professional. We need to shut the doors to those who either don't or won't qualify themselves.

I'll give an example of a mechanic named Frank. Frank started out as a mechanic in the Army and after four years went to work for a local Chrysler dealership. Frank was what you call an A list producer. He was put to task at the dealer rebuilding engines in the Florida Highway Patrol cars. (Yeah baby 440ci Chrysler) He would pull the engine, tear down, renew bearing and gaskets, valve job the heads and reassemble and back in the car...in one day. Frank went to plenty of classes provided by Chrysler and the dealer receiving his certificates of attendance. Later he decided to leave the dealership and open his own shop. You might notice this is a story not uncommon to many in the industry. By the time I met Frank he was burned out with fixing the cars and running the business. I bought his business and Frank went off to another career in landscaping for a while. We stayed in touch and a few years before Frank turned 60, he asked me to hire him. That turned out to be my first encounter with an A lister technician. It was breath taking to watch him. No longer doubting his engine overhaul in a day, I watch Frank run circles around three 20 year old technician somethings. But what I learned also was He had learned some bad habits, though he wasn't aware. I watch Frank one day doing front brake pads and asked why he didn't open the bleed valve when compressing the caliper piston. You can guess his answer, "well, I just always done it this way". I pointed out to him that the right answer on the test is to open the bleeder valve. Now some 40 years and Frank didn't know. He had never taken a test that gave him a broad view of industry standards. It's not that Frank didn't want to do the right procedure, he didn't know because he was never taught that an ABS control module could come back and bite you if you squeeze nasty brake fluid back up in to it. Frank was always nervous about taking tests. Had he more years ahead of himself in the career, I would have personally tutored him to make sure he passed his test and become master certified and have a title worthy of his experience and ability.

At any time, in any shop, as you know a simple misstep, and suddenly you've ruined some expensive part. Mix the wrong fluids together and you've got a serious science project going on. I believe the time has come to move our industry into the realm of professional services. No more hacks. You're either a pro, or your working towards becoming one.

I have written many a letters in my state trying to get things passed, but the letters end up in file 13 I am sure . You never get a response. after 26 years of repairing cars and keeping up with certifications and latest repairs it drives me crazy to see all the hacks and BS self proclaimed mechanics out there. What can be done at this point I would say nothing, I have tried and will keep trying , but unfortunately it does not look like anything will get done. You need a license to do anything even as you stated to cut hair , but fix a car that could cost people serious harm or death and none is needed ... hmmmm a little ass backwards wouldn't you say?

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