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The shade tree is getting old


Gonzo

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Another article I'm working on... thought I would put it out here for the group to review... Love to here your comments before I send this one off.

 

That shade tree is getting old

Is it fair to say that the shade tree mechanic is a thing of the past…? I think so, that is if we are talking about todays modern cars that we all drive and depend on, and we are trying to get a car repaired by your next door neighbor who is pretty good at fixing cars. But, that doesnt mean you wont see a 68 Camaro or a Model T up on blocks in some guys garage. I think that will be there for a long, long time.

The American shade tree mechanic is now an antique. Years ago it wasnt uncommon that a relative in the family was known as the guy to go to if you had car problems. In some instances that shade tree relative still exists. But dont count on it being the norm these days. Todays cars are so complicated and so much more electronically advanced that youre not going to be able to repair them without a lot of expensive equipment. Which, by the way, depending on the type of vehicle…. might even be as obsolete as the cars themselves. The one thing to keep in mind is that the manufacturers ambition is to sell cars, the independent shop or in this case the shade tree mechanic is trying to make the car last longer. Which is counterproductive to what the manufacturer is trying to do. So it makes sense that technician has a hard time keeping up with the changes. In other words … why else would the manufacturer be so hesitant about handing out the latest greatest scanners and tools required to maintain their cars. (self preservation)

This is probably the leading factor in the evolution of the shade tree mechanic. Not to say the early pioneering shade tree mechanic didnt come up with some innovative way to repair or improve on an existing technology. He did, and that could happen even in our modern times. However, its not wrenches and screwdrivers anymore, its laptops and software. Tuning a car with timing light was yesterday, going through a crank angle relearn procedure with a scanner is today. Hey, thats the times, thats the way it is. For me, Im an old salt of a mechanic now, back in my younger days I would grab a dwell meter and a timing light along with my specially sized screwdrivers specifically designed to get into those tight distributor housings and carburetors adjustments. I would listen to the engine; let it tell me what to do. Sometimes you would have to make a little tweak or slight adjustment from the factory numbers to compensate for a weak cylinder or internal part wear. You might even have to adjust for altitude or octane. There was always something to do under the hood that made the mechanic essential to be there rather than behind a computer screen. The day of the adjustable engine parameters for the sake of argument… have gone into the history books. The computer has taken over and there isnt much use for those old tools and techniques today. I still keep them in a drawer near the bottom of my tool box. Each year they keep getting shoved further and further back into a corner. Oh, probably someday Ill get them out, knock the dust off of them, get all nostalgic and tell those old war stories to that young tech standing next to me. Im sure he probably looks a lot like I did when I was his age. All that young, fresh attitude, eager to learn and wanting to know more and more about cars. He probably looks a lot like me when the old mechanic I learned the trade from pulled out his growler and showed me how to test generators with it. (Now am showing my age….)

Lets face it, change is a good thing. Cars will always evolve and become more and more sophisticated than they are now. Can you imagine the cars of say… 30 years from now?? Customers, or should we call them vehicle occupants of the future still will need some sort of service performed on their mode of transportation.

The idea that cars will drive themselves is still a possibility. Will the cars of the future run on something other than fossil fuel… sure why not, were almost there with the hydrogen systems. Will car accidents be a thing of the past …. Good luck with that one. Could it be that the car can fix their selves… maybe, maybe not, but… whos to say… its all in the future…when we get there, well be able to answer those questions.

My personal take on all this new fangled electronic-self driving-accident avoidance-fix it themselves vehicles is quite simple…..man made them. Theyll break….they always do, nothing last forever. Even Mother Nature hasnt grown anything that hasnt died, so I guess the same holds true with the shade tree mechanic. Sooner or later he will pass into the history books.

Dont give up on those wrenches to soon though…. Were not quite there yet. But I would suggest that you keep one eye towards the future. Its coming…..

Edited by Gonzo
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From one dinosaur to another....great article!

 

One of my fondest memories as a kid was those Saturday afternoons when all the fathers in the neighborhood would tinker with their cars. I remember all the hoods open and I would walk from car to car just to see what was going on. Back then, it seemed everyone knew a little about cars.

 

Times have changed. I really enjoyed reading your article.

 

I was a farm kid, always thought Grandpa was so cool ... cause he could fix anything with a hammer and a cresent wrench. Boy, are those days gone...

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My father grew up during the great depression. He did not through anything away; if it broke he would fix it: the toaster, chairs, tables, washing machine, broken tiles in the bathroom, brick work, etc. He would always ask me to help. I guess that's how I acquired my passion to work with my hands.

 

I agree, those days are truly gone. Today we will live in a through-away society. Strangely enough...my father predicted it.

 

Just think what the world would be like today.... If, back in the 40's or 50's before plastics took over everything... that a law, reform or whatever you want to call it.. that said, ..... everything that was made or imported into the states had to be either biodegradeable or could be recycled and or repaired back to working condition... no exceptions. Now, everyone has to fix what they bought, and, you can't "throw" it away. What a difference that would have made. (dream world of course)

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Just think of our business alone: When we started in this profession we rebuilt master cylinders, wheel cylinders, calipers, starters, alternators, fuel pumps, carburetors and many other components. Today, that is a lost art.

It's a shame.... I'm sad to say I have seen the changes... Sometimes I feel like the buggy whip company... sooner or later we all are just another has been part of society. a shade tree mechanic, a buggy whip maker... same thing... history has a way of repeating itself..

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I for one, yes much younger than you ;) am glad that we don't have to rebuild alternators, master cylinders and things like that.

 

Great article Gonzo. I agree with you on this article. The problem is training the people who "think" they know what they are doing.

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I for one, yes much younger than you ;) am glad that we don't have to rebuild alternators, master cylinders and things like that.

 

Great article Gonzo. I agree with you on this article. The problem is training the people who "think" they know what they are doing.

Ah yes, a problem from the time of the model T.... nothing is different ... but at the same time it is completely different. Training is always a problem. I really think the big thing is that the ever changing industry is going to change faster and faster than it ever has in the past. You may find out that being younger (than me) that what you know today is already out of date tomorrow. For me, in my day... at least I might have had a year till what I knew was useless. (I'm laughing at this whole thing... can't ya tell)

 

It's a throw away era we live in... Like Joe said... we all started out "repairing" cars. Today it's diagnose and replace. Makes me think of the good old days.... LOL

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  • 4 weeks later...

Great story Gonzo! I have a neighbor/friend that's a shade tree mechanic. He's getting limited as to what he can do now. Just does basic stuff like brakes, some suspension work & oil changes. When it comes to other stuff, he doesn't have skill, tools or knowledge to do it. A little irritating to lose gravy work like that to him but if it's something he can't handle he sends them to my shop.

Joe's dad sounds like my grandfather. Never through anything out. If it was fixable it got repaired and was Jack of all skills(built his own house, did gardening, had a tree nursery, did the maintenance & repairs on his machinery plus worked for Westinghouse). Only thing was on saving things he went a little too far. He saved & collected so much junk that he had to build 2 buildings just to store it all!!!! LOL!!!

As for old tools, I still have my dwell/tach/volt/ohm meter, assortment of distributor wrenches, combo feeler gauge/spark plug gapper, allen wrench for adjusting dwell on GMs, & assorted other goodies. Ah the good old days!!!!!

Edited by Richard
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Great story Gonzo! I have a neighbor/friend that's a shade tree mechanic. He's getting limited as to what he can do now. Just does basic stuff like brakes, some suspension work & oil changes. When it comes to other stuff, he doesn't have skill, tools or knowledge to do it. A little irritating to lose gravy work like that to him but if it's something he can't handle he sends them to my shop.

Joe's dad sounds like my grandfather. Never through anything out. If it was fixable it got repaired and was Jack of all skills(built his own house, did gardening, had a tree nursery, did the maintenance & repairs on his machinery plus worked for Westinghouse). Only thing was on saving things he went a little too far. He saved & collected so much junk that he had to build 2 buildings just to store it all!!!! LOL!!!

As for old tools, I still have my dwell/tach/volt/ohm meter, assortment of distributor wrenches, combo feeler gauge/spark plug gapper, allen wrench for adjusting dwell on GMs, & assorted other goodies. Ah the good old days!!!!!

 

Thanks Richard, glad ya like it. I've got about the same thing in my neck of the woods. Except it's other shops, guys that make a living ... or should I say ... make a living charging something to the customer, but not getting the job done, and then send me the car completely torn apart... and then ask me to repair it. Happens a lot.

 

Another day, another story.... working with the general public you never run out of stories... I've got a lot more. Gonzo

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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