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Joe Marconi

Star Trek Fans? Leonard Nimoy, Spock, Dies at 83

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As a kid growing up in the 1960's, Star Trek was one of those TV shows that defined the 60's. Leanard Nimoy, along with other cast members like William Shatner (Captain Kirk) became household names.

 

 

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    • Article: Real or Reality - Some of these reality TV automotive shows just don't cut it in the real reality of car repair

      Real or Reality TV      Have ya noticed all the reality programs on TV these days?   There’s a reality show for every subject you can think of... and  probably a few you never would have thought of.    From high society in the big city to the suburbs, and even some  from way … way back in the woods.  They can be quite  entertaining, funny, and sometimes pretty strange.           Now, I’m not much on which rich neighbor is doing what with  which rich neighbor or who makes the best moonshine, but what  I do know is a few things about the automotive repair world.  I've been  to check a few of those shows out.  Although, from my side of  the wrench, as a professional mechanic, I take a completely  different view of them. In my opinion, some of these reality  shows are far from 'real' reality, and I’ve certainly watched a few  that I didn’t even make it past the first commercial break before I flipped  the channel to something else.            It’s not so much the cars; it’s how they go about restoring them that gets to me.  They’ll start off with somebody flashing a wad of cash, and then they buy some old relic, tow it to their garage and present it to the crew.  The crew will have this shocked look as to what was just dropped off or they’ll have their own ideas about how nuts their boss is for even thinking about taking on this relic as a project.  That's about the time the boss gives them the lowdown on what his/her vision is of the latest acquisition. Which, usually consists of a full tear down and rebuild, but they only have a few weeks to do it all in.  By the end of the show there's a gleaming fully restored work of art that (for the sake of reality TV)  there is already a buyer or two ready to shell out some ridiculous amount of money for it.             But the shows that really irk me are the ones that use the “all-nighter” approach to car repair.  They’ll completely dismantle a car down to the last nut and bolt and in the length of one long commercial break they'll have all the mechanical, electrical, vacuum systems, interior, instrument panel, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling system, heating systems, glass, and a full paint and body mod completed in less than 72 hours. (I can't find a lot of those parts in less than 72 hours) And, the best part, (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is during the final reveal. They drag the new or previous owner into a warehouse and surprise them with their refurbished car.  Off to the side, just out of the primary camera view, is the entire crew that has spent the last three days with no sleep looking as fresh as a daisy.  I'm in awe of the crew to say the least, not one of them is covered in grease, has half of their shirt untucked, no fresh cuts or scraps, not a single bandaid in view, and not one of them showing any effects from sleep deprivation.  Simply amazing… gotta love it... must be some of that TV magic.        I’ve done my share of all night marathon repairs before and quite frankly, by the time the sun comes up I’m not the most coherent guy with a lug wrench in his hand.   Hey, they call it “Reality TV” but, as this arm chair quarterback sees it……. it doesn’t seem all that realistic to me.  I’m sure the entire staff are some of the finest mechanics, bodyman, electrical gurus of the automotive world, but I highly doubt you can turn out a truly professionally restored vehicle in that short amount of time.  There has to be a huge number of short cuts that are taken to meet the TV deadlines.        On the other hand, there are a lot of great automotive reality programs on the television that go to great lengths to show how a modification is installed and go through the process of explaining those mods to the “nth” degree.  Any show that portrays the reality of doing the job I do every day in a professional manner I'll sit down and watch it from beginning to end.  You want to show me how you install some super cool new rear tail light lenses or wild looking front grill... awesome!!!  Or, pulling an engine out of a classic and doing the necessary rebuild on it... super!!!  Love that stuff.  But, when you try to convince me that you're going to take some car that has been sitting for ten years in the back of some family garage totally neglected and raise it from the dead overnight... ya lost me.         Come on, I do resto's all the time and the biggest hassle with any of them is and always been the parts availability.   A job comes in the shop, y put it up on the lift and spin the drive shaft only to find out the differential or bearings are shot.  It’s not like you're going to run down to the local parts store and pick up a set of bearings for a thirty year old low production car just like that.  But, somehow, someway, some of these shows pull it off... (That's TV for ya.) Aside from all the mechanical woes, ya have to consider what the original reason was for the car to be parked for so long in the first place.   Nine chances out of ten it's because something was worn out and the replacement part was hard to find, or really expensive to repair.  Not every car in the back of the garage is there because someone was collecting it or saving it for a reality show to come by and restore it.        In some ways it gives the novice car enthusiast the wrong impression of what it takes to restore a car.  Lately I've been doing a lot more restoration projects than I've done in the past and I do believe it's a result of all these reality shows being aired.  For that, I thank you.  But, at the same time... shame on you!  I can't live up to the overnight expectations that seem so possible on the big screen. Even though the customer doesn't mention they have been watching a reality show, you know... they're thinking … “This shouldn’t take that long. It didn't take that long for that guy on TV.”  The idea that you're going to resurrect a dilapidated hunk of iron into a show stopper in a short span of time just ain't real reality.         And, let's not forget the real big issue.... cost.  Now there's some reality for ya!  When the customer starts to see the costs, WOW!!! Then the reality of doing a restoration project starts to set in. Makes ya wonder if putting that old rust bucket back in the corner of the garage might be a far better idea than fixing it up.  I'm certainly grateful for the few shows that have that “sit-down-with-the-customer” session explaining the cost of the restoration.  It does add to the realism and makes it more believable.            I’ve got a big “Thank You” to the guys and gals on these shows that portray the automotive world in its true form.  It's a pleasure for me as a professional mechanic to see the artistry and talent of another professional on screen.  Watching them dealing with a stuck bolt, rusty bodywork, or dodging the fumes from the soldering gun is all part of the real reality.  But, I do have to give credit to all the other shows too, they are entertaining, and in some small way add to the resurgence in restorations projects across the country…. The only thing I ask is… keep it real.   
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    • Article: Growing Up With Wrenches - - fixing the qualified mechanic problem

      Growing Up With Wrenches

      Unlike kids of today, my childhood was long before video games and color TV. Most of my free time was spent climbing trees, playing in the crick (creek, to you city folk), riding my bike, and tinkering with anything that had a motor. Wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers were just part of growing up. I would tear apart an old mower just to see what was inside. Most of the time it would end up in a pile of parts. But, by the time my dad came to see what I was doing, he would stand there in disbelief and just shake his head. Then dive in and show me how to put it all back together. Good times for sure. There was no You Tube, no on-line help. Just dad and son, and I’m sure it’s the same way my dad learned his tinkering abilities too.

      These days it’s all about the computer with their programs and the internet with its billions of websites. There aren’t as many kids that I know about who spend their summer vacations building tree houses or turning an old horizontal lawn mower engine into a homemade go-kart like I used to do. Times have changed, but the need for those wrenches are still as important as it was back in my youth. However, now a lot of those early learned skills have to be developed through a trade schools or at a high school shop class. That is if the economy hasn’t budgeted the shop class out of existence.
      Growing up with wrenches was just something I did. Which is probably what led me to enter the automotive field as a career. It’s a good living, and you get to meet a whole lot of wonderful people every day.

      But, as it has been for decades, there’s still a big shortage of mechanics out there. As I see it, the big problem isn’t so much a people shortage, but a shortage in “qualified” mechanics. I look at it this way. Back in the day of carburetors and vacuum modulated transmissions a lot of guys and gals didn’t go to any school to learn the trade. Most picked up bits and pieces of how things worked through on the job training. The older mechanics would teach the younger ones and so on and so on. But, all of a sudden the average age of the “qualified” and “experienced” mechanic is well over 50 years old. Somewhere along the line less and less of the younger generations wanted to pursue a career in the automotive field.

      What happened? From my point of view, I see a few things that might have been the cause. First off, the computer age. Cars went from points and condensers to electronic ignition, then onto the full blown electrical nightmare we have today. The older generation of mechanics all had a similar background working with hand tools and could understand the basic principles of an automobile. But, as the industry changed to more and more electrical systems their knowledge base dwindled.

      The smart guy who wanted to stay up with all of these changes did what was needed, and that’s study as much as possible. While the other guy who was still stuck with the learn as you go method would just slap part after part on until they got it right, and yes, there are a lot of “guessers” still in the business today. Now, the car wasn’t as simple as it was before, and the average dad wasn’t able to tinker on his family car as past generations could. But, the change to the computer age isn’t the only reason that caused this shortage of qualified mechanics. Ultimately it comes down to the amount of time and effort to learn these new systems, the amount of investment one has to put into it all and most importantly their overall income.

      The average professional mechanic has well over $100,000.00 invested in personal hand tools, tool boxes, and testing equipment over the course of their career. But, the pay varies as much as the diagnostic fee does from shop to shop. So, maybe part of the problem for the new techs coming into the business is NOT making the decision to start a career in the automotive repair trade but, making the investment in the tools when the pay isn’t all that great.

      So, where does all this low wage, high investment come from? The investment into tools is an easy one to figure out. But, the wage side of it is a bit more complicated. Let’s face it, all those shops that feel the best way to keep work in the shop is by having the lowest hourly rate is the real problem. Nearly all consumers make the general assumption that all mechanics are the same and that price is their only factor to be concerned with.

      In my opinion, right there is the real problem. Instead of shouting about a shortage of mechanics, which by “body count” their certainly isn’t a shortage we should be talking about doing something for the consumer. By starting at the bottom with those low rate/low skill shops and pulling them up to a more qualified level of expertise.

      Look at the attendees of any one of the trade schools or college based courses and you’ll see that there is a turnaround in the quality of the mechanic field just waiting to happen. But, nothing like growing up with wrenches. It’s the tech schools and the attrition of the parts swapper shops that’s going to make the changes. The tech schools allow an individual not only to learn those same skills I learned growing up with wrenches but an even more importantly the skill needed to be a qualified mechanic and whether or not this trade is right for you.

      It not going to be easy to make sense of all the information and skills that the future mechanics will need to know. They’ve got to be a whole lot more aware of so many different systems than what a few hand tools can help with. But, there’s still a place for the right person with the right kind of natural mechanical ability especially if they have those growing up with wrenches skills. There still out there, but some of them don’t know they have those gifted skills because they didn’t have the opportunity to experience any of it in their youth. Then again, the trade schools have their hands full teaching the basic hand to eye coordination, as well as bringing the students up to speed with the latest greatest electronics, so someone with that natural talent will likely shine through.

      Eventually, all those shops and mechanics that try to undercut their prices will fade off into the distance. Fewer parts changers and guess-until-ya-get-it shops, because the cars are getting smarter every year and the mechanic will have to do the same. Maybe, the days of growing up with wrenches is a thing of the past. Now we need more and more trade schools, conventions, seminars, and podcasts to keep upgrading our skill levels. Hopefully, in time, the trade will have the respect and salary to go along with the advanced diverse knowledge the modern mechanic needs to have. Even if they didn’t grow up with wrenches.

      Click here to view the article

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      • 535 views
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