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Mechanic By Definition - - - How do you know if someone really is ... a Mechanic?

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Mechanic by Definition


Over the years I’ve spent under a hood, I’ve heard the term mechanic thrown around in every possible direction. It seems everyone who has ever opened the hood of a car at one time or another has been referred to as a mechanic. On other occasions I hear, “I used to be a mechanic” or “My brother is a mechanic”. It’s a term seldom used correctly when speaking to the service writer. I compare it to using a brand name of a product vs. the product name such as “Freon” or “Kleenex”. We all get the idea of what they are referring to, but seldom does it equate to a reasonable facsimile of a true mechanic’s diagnostics when they are trying to explain something about their car. Maybe it’s time we established some ground rules as to how or whom can call themselves a mechanic.


Is it fair to call someone who has a basin sink wrench and a PVC cutter a plumber? No, I don’t think so. Is it fair to call a home owner who is changing out a receptacle an electrician? No, I don’t think that’s fair to say either. But, give somebody a service book, a box of tools and spot in the home garage … yep, they’re a mechanic. Of course, I’ll bet as soon as you have to call “the” plumber or electrician to take care of your “oops” the spouse will point out to the pro that you’re not one of them. I suppose the same thing happens with a box of wrenches when the car acts up too, I just don’t hear it as much as I think I ought too.


A perfect example of this is the guy who came in needing a fuel pump for his car. My price was way too high, why I was robbing the poor guy even before he could reach for his wallet. (His words not mine.) So, he decided to tackle the job himself. Two days later the same car was in the shop to have me change the pump. He never mentioned that he tried to do it himself; his only response was that he had thought it over, and decided it would be better if a professional took care of it. I could tell he tried to handle the job before he brought it in. Several bolts were loosened that didn’t need to be removed, and several brackets showed signs of someone trying to bend them out of the way. I think he wanted to keep the fact that he couldn’t figure out how to take the tank down as his own little personal secret. However, his spouse told me all about it when she picked up the car. Yes, as usual, the better half spilled the beans. As she put it, “He thinks he’s a mechanic.”


So what really defines someone as a mechanic? Is it fair to call the guy at the local tire shop whose job it is to remove 5 lug nuts, change the tire and balance the new one a mechanic? Should the person who changes out only exhaust pipes be labeled a mechanic? How about the guy who changes your oil? Is he a mechanic too? Yes… they all are. They’re just different forms of the same trade.


OK, so we’ve establish a baseline for the term “mechanic”, basically anyone who in some way uses tools to perform a service on a piece of machinery is a mechanic. Great, so from the baseline established we can make the assumption there are different levels of the trade as well. Each level requires a different expertise. Each level is just as important as the next. So in essence, there’s a lot of mechanics out there. However, for some reason a lot of consumers assume that all mechanics are the same. Because, well…you know… we’re mechanics.


This stereotypical analogy of a mechanic is one that I would love to see changed. Yes, there are mechanics out there that should probably stick to the wash bay or the lube rack, and never try to diagnose a no start condition. And, yes there are a lot of mechanics (and shops) that figure the best method of diagnosing a problem is to keep throwing more parts at it until they hit the one that makes it work. (And… yes… they call themselves mechanics too.) I’m sure every trade out there has the same types of individuals in their respective fields. It’s not just the automotive field. The big issue is the conception of the modern day consumer.


Some people take the term mechanic just a little too far, especially when they are at the service desk, and are trying to give me far too much information based on what another mechanic has told them about their car. Mainly, because their regular mechanic couldn’t do the repair that he/she thought was necessary. (Nine chances out of ten… they’re way off the mark as to what is wrong with the car.)


Just the other day, the owner of a small used car lot that I’ve done business with before asked if I could reflash a computer on a 1988 Chevy. I was quite startled at his request. I told him there is no reflash program on that old of a car. It does have a read only memory chip that is part of the computer system though. It’s called a PROM (Programmable read only memory) but, if it was a stock chip in the car there’s no changing it. (There are aftermarket programmable chips though… but he wasn’t referring to one of those.)


I guess he was basing it on previous cars that I’ve flashed for him, but those were a lot newer vehicles. I had to ask, “What’s the reason for all this fuss?” Turns out it was because his mechanic told him that a reflash would fix the stalling problem. “Stalling problem?” I questioned him, “I’d like to check it out first, before assuming it’s the ECM that’s the problem. There are a lot of other reasons for stalling other than the ECM.” I had a feeling his mechanic was a little out of his comfort zone on this one. (Not that it matters but, his mechanic was born in 1988.)


It’s too bad that we don’t have different degrees for mechanics, so we could recognize at what level they were proficient. Here’s something else to think about, a person who holds a certification in a given section of automotive repair doesn’t entirely mean they are adept at physically tackling that said job. Like most certifications, the concept behind it isn’t so much that you can do it, but merely that you understand how to.


We’ve got a long way to go to figure out what to call a mechanic when he/she is really a mechanic or not. It’s very clear to me, there are a lot of things to think about in defining a mechanic, and there’s even more in defining a good one.


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First thing first, I am not a mechanic! I own an automotive service/suspension/alignment shop. I am more of a service writer than a Mechanic. we have mechanics that do work.

...That doesn't mean that I don't know the work or how a vehicle should function properly. ... a lot of customers call asking for a quote on certain things that another shops/ or mechanics couldn't fix. I usually tell'em that they need to bring it in to take a look at the car ourselves and try to solve the their problem instead of what the other shops said that could not be fix. we like to solve and focus on their problems, what they want fix.

An example for instance the owner of a 2010 Toyota sequoia was told that his rear suspension can't be aligned, this is coming from one of the Toyota dealerships.

Here's our Lil' humble shop did it for the customer. It leaves a lot to say about the "Mechanics" that the dealerships has, not to mention the rate they charge for them. Here's another one this is from firestone... our Customer went to get an alignment and somehow he ended up with new tires too! The lil' Subaru was still pulling to the passenger side when I test drove it and it wasn't because the tires. The "firestone mechanic" told him that he needed an axel shaft to be replace to solve the issue of the car pulling to the side. Oh, and we saw no signs of that car been touch to adjust the toe.


Again, I am not a Mechanic but I know how to do the work, determine what's wrong with the car and sell the job. oh and again the Mechanic does all the work.


I am an accountant by profession, held jobs of Dir. of Operations of an International Bridge, Business Consultant and a Mechanic by Hobby.


Why not a full time Mechanic? The grease on my hands daily don't go with me. Lol!

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Since I started in this business, nearly 4 decades ago, we have struggled with defining what a true mechanic is. What are the qualifications? If you look at the typical shop, there are mechanics at every different level. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the perception from the consumer.


Technology as come a long way, but many of us still conduct business as we did in the past. I don't know if our industry will ever get the structure that will be needed to determine standards and be recognize with respect from consumers. One thing I do know, as long as we have people like you Gonzo, and the others on this forum, we will move in the right direction.

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The automotive field has become a specialized trade. Long gone are the full service shop mentalities. I think we will see more specialty shops vs. the all around repair shops long before the consumer ever understands that all mechanics are not the same. It's something the average consumer can relate to, just like going to a specialist for medical or dental the automotive specialist will be in big demand in the future.

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I don't know about that Gonzo. We still promote our shop as a full service shop. We do have "Technicians" with different abilities in the shop, it's my responsibility to have the skill sets needed in the shop to handle the vehicles that come into my shop. That might mean hiring a new tech or getting my current techs into some training classes to meet the needs of my customers. Having said that we do domestic and asian imports, but do not promote being a european car specialist.

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I personally like when other "mechanics" have screwed something up or couldn't figure out the problem. A "hack job" just creates an opportunity for me to earn more money :-) And i can understand why some shops specialize. Im learning now why some of the big name shops in our area doesn't do many heavy jobs (engines, transmissions, head gaskets, engine rebuilds)...b/c its just not as profitable! Im a 1 woman show currently and can make more money on the alternator, starter, tune ups, suspension, brakes than engine job. Furthermore ive recently started promoting for a specialty...Diagnostics! In my area there is a serious lack of Technicians that can/will diagnose properly....so i agree with the specialty trend.

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Our shop has plenty of "DIYers" or "Diagnose it Yourselfers". They always bring me a smile. Before we do anything, or remove and replace a part, I tell them I'm going to run a diagnostic. That's when you here the "My mechanic told me...." My favorite is when the engine is cranking, no start, and they swear it's a starter motor. Then you have to sit them down and explain there's a lot more to the condition than you think. After you explain possible causes and how a diagnostic is necessary they ask how much is that part? I just smile and want to ask "Do you take your ground meat to the drive through at some burger joint and ask...can you cook this for me?" Besides I don't know yet, the diagnostic will solve the unknowns with your situation. The term "Mechanic" is definitely a term used way too vaguely.

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  • 6 months later...

I hate the term mechanic. You say mechanic to me and I think of the guy who fixed my fathers 1974 Dodge Dart. We are technicians.


The modern day vehicle is a highly computerized, technologically advanced transportation device that requires a technician to diagnose and repair. If your air cleaner has a wingnut holding it on the carburetor you need a mechanic. If you need the purple and white wire at pin 128 checked for power then you need a technician.


Mechanics fix mechanical things and technicians fix technical things.


BTW - For you young people. A carburetor was a mechanical device that mixed fuel and air then delivered this atomized mixture to the intake manifold that was usually made from cast iron. :D

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I like to think of myself as a mechanic and technician. If my power steering pump leaks I find the leak and replace the pump (technician) or I take it out, replace the seal, bearing, and emery the shaft (mechanic). Mechanics fix broken mechanical things. There aren't many mechanics left in the world today, they all went broke. All that's left are the techs that learned its faster and easier to change parts that they know are the problem. Not to be confused with shotgunner who sprays parts under the hood and hopes one hits. :-)

Edited by alfredauto
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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         1 comment
      Have I got your attention? Great.
      Let me start by saying that I believe in giving praise when deserved and letting employees know when they dropped the ball. However, the truth is that no one enjoys being reprimanded or told they messed up.  
      The question is, what is the appropriate balance between the right amount of praise and the right amount of critical feedback? According to studies done by Harvard Business School, the ratio of praise to critical feedback should be about 6:1 – Six praises for every critical feedback. I am not sure if I agree with that.
      From personal experience, I would recommend a lot more praise. The exact ratio doesn’t matter. What’s important is that before you consider giving critical feedback, ensure you have given that employee a lot of recent praise. If not, whatever you are trying to get through to an employee, will fall on deaf ears.
      When you do have to give critical feedback, remember a few things:
      Focus on the issue or behavior; never attack the person, and remain calm in your actions and words Ask the employee for feedback, their side of the story Speak to the employee in private Address the issue soon after it happens; never wait Don’t rely on second-hand information; it’s always better if you have experienced the situation yourself that you want to correct Have an open discussion and find things that both of you can agree upon Have an action plan moving forward that the employee can take ownership of Use the experience as a learning tool Make sure you bring up positive attributes about them Remember, you don’t want the employee to be angry or upset with you; you want them to reflect on the situation and what can be improved. One last thing. Everyone makes mistakes. We need to be mindful of this.
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