The automotive industry is not limited to cars. Almost anything that has an engine and moves is part of the industry. Technicians are needed to keep the entire equipment running, and that includes about 193 million cars, trucks, and buses. That's not counting the many more millions of off-highway vehicles like farm tractors, road building equipment, and other mechanized equipment like forklifts, bulldozers, motorcycles, military machines, and many, many more.
Most of the companies performing automotive service are small. They are part of the backbone businesses that make the United States the great nation of free enterprise that it is.
Transportation is an essential part of this country's basic health and wellbeing, but we tend to forget how vital it is to all of us. Every year in America, we roll up almost two trillion miles. Motor vehicles carry people, freight, food, and fire and construction equipment from one place to another. We seldom stop even to think about it, because it is so woven into the fabric of American life. We consider even less often the huge industry that keeps everything moving.
Let something break down, however, and we expect almost immediate repairs. One of the most devastating phrases a motorist can hear is "you'll have to leave it overnight." The automotive industry is responsible for getting the parts and tools to the right place at the right time, with the right people to make the right repairs.
We demand quick and proper repairs for our vehicles and we deserve as much when we part with our money. The person doing the job must be well trained, have the right tools and equipment, and be conscientious enough to do the job right the first time. An auto repair mechanic, or technician, is an important and valuable commodity and certainly deserves our respect.
SHADE TREE MECHANIC
There was a time when a person did not need formal training in order to fix automobiles. In fact, it's a major problem that any person who buys a handful of wrenches may use the label of "mechanic."
Tunes, and cars, have changed. There are, of course, a few who think it is still possible to get into the field of automobile repair by the trial and error method. Some of these people may even land jobs. It is not likely, however, that a person can hold a position of respect, or can advance, without adequate formal training. The self-trained mechanic usually becomes known as a "parts changer" that is, the person who cannot diagnose problems. Maybe the person has an aptitude for things mechanical and perhaps is also good with his or her hands. But an untrained person will never become a reliable and disciplined automotive technician.
THE PROFESSIONAL TECHNICIAN
The true professional automotive technician must learn and apply his or her trade in a formal manner. That means learning the right way not by trial and error. Nothing can replace formal training.
Where does the person interested in a career in the automotive repair industry receive training? There are several avenues. The person may begin in high school by taking advantage of the automotive training programs offered in most schools. A fortunate person may train under the direction of a master technician, and as an apprentice will learn while doing. However, apprenticeship opportunities are not as widely available as they once were. Instead, many technicians are going on from high school to a certificate program or a two year degree. Fortunately, numerous vocational training schools and colleges offer good automotive courses. The automobile manufacturers and oil companies also conduct training programs.
The field of automobile repair has grown exceedingly fast in the past few years. There is even debate as to whether the general mechanic is a thing of the past. The general mechanic is one who can fix and diagnose all systems from ignition to brakes to suspension and steering to transmissions and more. With the growing sophistication of the automobile, it is almost impossible to know all the systems intimately and understand them all well enough to repair them. Many technicians now specialize.
SPECIALISTS AND THE HOLISTIC APPROACH
The trend is toward the specialist in the automotive arena. Just a quick look in the telephone directory reveals that there are specialists in suspension, brakes, transmissions, exhaust, and diesels for both autos and trucks, as well as tune-up specialists, electrical specialists, body repairers and painters, and even management.
As much as it seems that specialization is the wave of the future, it is important for any technician to take a holistic approach to automotive repair. Let's examine a hypothetical case.
A customer complains of transmission problems. The shifting does not occur at the proper time or speed. If the transmission specialist test drives the vehicle, he or she may agree that indeed the problem is in the transmission. But the automatic transmission often relies on engine vacuum and throttle pressure or even computers, to determine the correct shift point. So if the transmission expert is unaware of the function of the engine, the problem may be incorrectly diagnosed as strictly transmission related. The actual reason may be a vacuum related problem. A leak in the engine's intake manifold will result in insufficient vacuum for the transmission modulator to function. A transmission rebuild will not cure the problem, but a gasket or vacuum hose may.
No specialist can live in a world of his or her own. The mechanic or technician must be able to see and understand the interrelationship of all the parts and integrate them into the whole. Although specialization may be the trend, it is important for the technician to understand the operation of all the other systems in the automobile, heavy equipment, or truck.
THE TURBULENT FUTURE
The near future holds excellent opportunities for the auto repair person. Today there is an urgent need for qualified people. In fact, there is even a need for less qualified people.
If you get half a dozen people in a room and begin talking about automobile repair, you are bound to get more than one story of despair. You may hear of how someone took a car to the shop and got the bad news that it would not be ready for several days. If the problem was not severe, the person was probably given an appointment for some time the following week, or even later. There just aren't enough auto repair technicians to go around. And this situation is not expected to change for some time to come. If new hybrid engines are brought into production, the need will grow for people trained in the new technologies.
An even more significant problem today is that there are very few well qualified technicians. Whenever people find auto technicians they can trust, they stick to them like glue. In fact, this is part of the reason that the public frequently believes that it is being cheated by those in the auto repair business. There is really not very much dishonesty in the field. Problems often occur, however, because the repair people do not fully understand the operation of the vehicle well enough to diagnose problems accurately. When someone blows a diagnosis, the most common thing to do is try to explain to the customer that there is more than one problem and try again. This sort of trial and error method of auto repair is not well accepted; especially when the consumer must pay for the mechanic's mistakes. So it is not so much a case of out and out cheating as it is of simple ignorance of the totality of the machine that creates the problems and the mistrust.
As much as the motoring public sorely needs good mechanics to fix its cars, it often must settle for marginal work because there are too few experienced and expert technicians available who can do the job. Those who are exceptional can get almost any price they ask for their services. Even if we see a radical shift to a new technology, say, hydrogen fuel cells the likelihood is that mechanics will still be in great demand.
OUR MOBILE SOCIETY
There is a dire need for more technicians in the near future, and it is expected to remain the same or even increase, in the next century. Americans love their cars, and they are not about to give them up, no matter how high the cost of fuel gets.
Our whole society is based on mobility. We cannot rely on mass transit to get to everything, nor will we be willing to go everywhere that way in the future. We want our freedom to go where we please, when we please.
As a mobile society, we always will need qualified people to repair our vehicles when they break down. Perhaps we won't recognize the cars of the future. They may be powered by gasoline, solar energy, electricity, propane, alcohol, hydrogen, or any number of other exotic fuels. But no matter how they are powered, professional automotive technicians will be needed to keep them rolling or perhaps hovering, if that be the case.