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So You're a Mechanic -- -- The Ups and Downs of choosing this career


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"So, you're a Mechanic"




As the title "mechanic" implies, we work on, maintain, and service cars, trucks, boats, or just about anything with a motor. But, sometimes the title or the term "mechanic" can have different connotations attributed to it. Like having a conversation with someone and they mention, "Oh yea, my cousin is a mechanic". They actually meant to say, "While I was at his house, I saw him under the hood of his car with a bunch of tools." Or to the other extreme, "Oh, so you're a mechanic". As if to say, "You're one of those guys who take advantage of the unsuspecting public". (A box of wrenches doesn't make you anymore a mechanic than a stethoscope makes you a doctor.)



As far as professional trades go, being a mechanic isn't always on the top of the list of aspiring career choices. It might be because there's still that stigma in some circles that the word "mechanic" denotes a derogatory response or a mental image of an overalls wearing redneck, covered in grease with a wrench hanging out of his back pocket. If that's your stereotypical mechanic, you've been catering to the wrong kind of repair shops. Today, a mechanic has to have a background in electronics, hydraulics, fluid dynamics, computer systems,as well as the mechanical systems. Sure, the grease is still there, but a mechanic these days is a highly educated field.



Maintaining a car has nothing to do with being a mechanic, although knowing a good mechanic certainly can add to the life of your car. Understandably, the longevity of any car depends on how well you maintain it. I personally have an old rusted ride that I take back and forth on my daily commute. I affectionately call the old beast,"Gerdie". It's a 1984 Toyota 4x4 pickup. No lift kit, no huge woofer behind the seat, no big giant growling tires... nope... just a plain old pickup with the 22R engine. It's not going to win any beauty prizes, but it purrs like new, shifts like new, and still has cold air. If you were traveling down the road and saw this hunk of scrap iron, you'd swear this relic should run and drive the way it looks... well... "Don't judge a book by its cover", it's owned by a mechanic.



Once in a while a prospective customer may have some concerns about putting a lot of time and money into their rust bucket. I'll point to the parking lot and mention old Gerdie. The usual response, "Oh, but you're a mechanic; you don't have to pay for the labor. That's why it's still running." Ok, ya got me there, but it just goes show that an old, out of date car can still be kept on the road if you want it to.



Of course,the statement that gets me riled up the most is, "You're a mechanic, and you guys know how to make it last just long enough for the warranty to run out." Really? I'd like to know how you've figured that out. Is this based on some sort of mythical knowledge that I'm supposed to have? You know, if I could make a car breakdown at a specific point in time I would be standing at your front door with tools in hand just waiting for my chance to fix it.



There's even the flip side of this whole"mechanic" conundrum. A customer will bring in some sort of weird project, say an ancient motor of eons ago, or some off the wall mechanical device and expect me to know all about it. How's that possible? I don't know everything about every mechanical thing ever made… Oh, wait… that's right, "I'm a mechanic".



Just like everything else these days, car repair costs are on the rise. Although, I have to admit the types of repairs I'm doing these days is nothing like the repairs from years past. In some respects the manufacturers are creating cars that give the average consumer a false sense of comfort that their vehicle will be trouble free for as long as they own it. Which is exactly the opposite of what the average consumer should be thinking. General maintenance on wearable items still has to be addressed, and that means an occasional trip to repair shop to seethe mechanic.



We're not quite so sophisticated that a vehicle can spot trouble before it is trouble. Not yet anyway. There are a few new technologies that are leading in that direction. Things like "Telematics". (A GPS system that can inform the manufacturers of your location and the condition of your car automatically and possibly, without your knowledge.) This sort of technology is going to bring on a whole new meaning to the word "mechanic". Every mechanic has probably experienced a customer who comes in and tells them all about what the last mechanic has told them. The mechanic has to diagnose the problem all over again, but instead of another "mechanic" it's now the car itself that will be telling the customer what's wrong. Leave it to the new technology to make it better and worse at the same time. Now,as the mechanic, do I accept the self-diagnosis as the final answer, or should I diagnose it and compare the results?



I can just imagine these future complications. The consumer will say, "Oh but the car already told me what's wrong; you're "just"the mechanic, so fix it." And, if the car is wrong... what then? That's a whole new problem to deal with. In the meantime, service work and the upkeep of the family jalopy is still something the consumer and the mechanic have to deal with.



In the field of automotive repair you'll find the younger techs are up to the challenges of this ever changing electronic wizardry in today's cars. Sure, they're kind of green, but they also possess the same enthusiasm we older techs had when we first started in the trade. The thing is, they have grown up with computers and the internet. The older crowd of mechanics thought in cams, carburetors, and coils. There was a lot of testosterone driven brute strength put into getting a muscle car screaming down the road. That's still true today, but today's modern tech accomplishes a lot of the same things with a laptop and a bit of electronics. And there's no doubt the next generation of up and coming mechanics will follow along the same route with even better technology.



In the meantime, I guess I'll keep at this car repair thing for a few more years. I still have a few tricks to teach those youngsters. These new mechanics are our future, and what a future it's going to be! With those changes so does the impression of the local mechanic. Maybe, with a little luck the next time someone says to that next generation,"So, you're a mechanic?" Then they'll offer a hand shake and say with admiration... "Thank you... thank you for being a mechanic".


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People's opinoins of mechanaics seem to run from absolute magician to complete blundering idiot depending on who you are talking to and what they are talking about. To be a mechanic in the general public's eyes is to have a few tools, grease under the fingernails, and the ability to loosen a bolt. I would say that about 90% of the "my brother-in-law is a mechanic" I would not want near my car with a wrench.


I hear ya... sometimes people think I'm Einstein and other times the hunch back of Norte Dame. Just never know. LOL

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When i got into the business no one told me about all the problems associated with being a mechanic. I'm like you... anymore my goal is to stand up and be proud of the profession and help tell all about it. Maybe even inspire a youngster to get into the field.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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