TECHNICIANS - NOT JUST MECHANICS

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A technician's most valuable skill is the ability to reason things through based on thorough knowledge of the functions of the automobile. In fact, it is usually a source of pride and a feeling of accomplishment for the technician to diagnose and repair the most difficult and hard-to-find problems.

Whenever something malfunctions in either, the engine, drive-train, or electrical system, the technician first gets a description of the problem from the customer. If the technician works in a large shop or automobile dealership, the description may come from the repair order or the service adviser. It is then the technician's duty to test-drive the car to try and determine the possible problem and attempt to narrow it down. He or she then returns to the shop and uses such sophisticated diagnostic equipment as engine analyzers, alignment equipment, compression testers, or gauges to try to isolate the source of the problem. Once the problem is determined, the technician must fix it. Sometimes he or she will repair a component, and other times it will be replaced.

The general automotive technician performs a variety of jobs. Some prefer to specialize. For example, the automatic transmission specialist works on gear trains, couplings, hydraulic pumps, valve bodies, clutch assemblies, and other parts of the automatic transmission. Automatic transmissions are quite complex and require that the technician have a great deal of training. Understanding hydraulics is also vitally important.



The tune-up specialist uses sophisticated equipment to make the engine run at its best. He or she replaces and adjusts the points on older vehicles or inspects and possibly replaces the triggering assemblies of the electronic ignition system on newer cars. The tune-up technician may replace spark plugs, fuel system parts, or emission parts in order to get the engine running properly. He or she also adjusts the valves, the ignition timing (or injection timing on diesel equipped cars), and the fuel injection system for maximum fuel economy and performance. The tune- up technician often uses scientific testing equipment to check and adjust the engine to original manufacturer's specifications.

The automobile air-conditioning specialist not only installs air-conditioning units, but also services and repairs them as necessary. The system must be recharged on a regular basis, and occasionally parts like compressors, lines, evaporators, and condensers have to be replaced.

The alignment specialist or technician most often does wheel alignments. But this type of specialist also is expected to make measurements and determine the wear to front end parts like struts or springs and shock absorbers and to linkage parts like tie rods, center links, and ball joints. If they are found to be worn beyond specifications, they are replaced.

Brake technicians usually do brake-jobs consisting of replacing the linings and machining the brake drums or rotors. They also must understand the principles of hydraulics that actuate the brakes. They repair master cylinders, wheel cylinders, and calipers.

The cooling system technician cleans radiators with caustic solutions and locates and repairs leaks in radiators and heater cores. He or she also may repair gas tanks. The cooling system specialist tests and replaces thermostats, hoses, water pumps, and even a gasket like the head gasket, should it be found to be leaking.

Transmission and driveline technicians test and repair manual transmissions, clutches, and differential assemblies, as well as drive shafts and universal joints.

There are plenty of other jobs that the general technician is expected to do. He or she may be responsible for repairing squeaks and rattles, windshield wipers and washers, window regulators, exhaust systems, power windows, power seats, or any number of other problems.

If there is anything you can think of on a car that could possibly fail or malfunction, it is the job of the general technician to fix or replace it.

GENERAL TECHNICIAN, LIGHT REPAIR

The light repair specialist usually is not responsible for making repairs to the more important systems of the vehicle but may be responsible for checking the car out before delivery at the new car dealership. He or she may install accessories and small parts like rearview mirrors, go over the vehicle, make certain adjustments, and verify that everything is working.

Some of the other items he or she may service are the exhaust system, valve clearance, and brake adjustments. This specialist may be responsible for retouring the head bolts after major engine work has been performed, checking the timing, inspecting brakes and steering, and making adjustments to various components.

Light repair is a basic stepping stone to the other more complicated and better paying positions. Almost all general technicians begin in the area of light repair. It is the training ground for learning more about the overall operation of the vehicle. It offers opportunity to explore the various systems and can lead to a position in heavy repair or to one of the several specialty areas, such as brakes or engine performance or transmissions.

GENERAL TECHNICIAN, HEAVY REPAIR

The heavy repair technician is the person who really digs into the engine, transmission, or differential. He or she is called on to dismantle, inspect, and repair the major components, such as pistons, valves, crankshaft, or camshaft.

Although most of the work done by the heavy repair technician is performed with basic hand tools, large machine tools also may be used. The heavy repair technician may be responsible for removing the entire engine at times, disassembling and rebuilding it as required. The internal mechanics of the engine require that everything be very precise, so the heavy engine technician must use specialty tools like micrometers, dial indicators, and other measuring devices to fit the components precisely.

This specialist also may use machine shop equipment to grind valves and valve seats, plane cylinder heads, and hone cylinder bores. A torque wrench is essential while reassembling the machine to be sure all the parts are properly fastened.

The heavy repair specialist must study extensively and have a great deal of practical experience. He or she usually works under the direction and guidance of a qualified and experienced mentor. Success in this field depends largely on the person's natural aptitude, interest, ambition, and a sincere desire to learn. Once he or she has mastered the work involved, the heavy repair specialist will be a valuable asset to any shop and will be in a good position for advancement.

WHERE THEY WORK

There were more than a million auto technicians in 1998 in the United States and about 134,000 in Canada. Some 437,700 were certified by the Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a national organization formed to improve auto technicians' education. Roughly half of all technicians work in automotive repair shops. Other technicians work in automobile dealerships, service stations, tire stores, and department stores that offer mechanical service. Usually, they work indoors in clean and well lit shops. However, some older shops may be dim and much dirtier.

Automotive technicians work with their hands and handle many grimy and greasy parts. They may use quite a bit of strength to loosen and remove old parts that may be rusted or seized. Much time is spent leaning over a fender and working on an engine. Much more time is spent under the car while it is on the lift. The work can be strenuous and demanding. Sometimes the technician works from awkward positions. When working under the car, dirt and grime may fall in his or her face. Although most shops are well ventilated, there is usually the odor of gasoline and exhaust in the air.

The picture is not totally bleak, though. Most of the time, the technician works independently, with little supervision. He or she can walk around during the workday which is a healthy aspect of the job! Technicians are not confined to a desk, nor do they usually perform repetitive tasks that can be boring. New problems always come up, and the technician is challenged to use both brawn and brain to solve them. In this way, the work is often satisfying.

Places of employment vary. The technician may work for the federal government, state government, or the military. He or she may work for a fleet like a taxi service or bus or truck line. There are leasing and rental car companies, parcel delivery services, and airport ground equipment companies that the technician may work for. Any firm or organization that uses motorized rolling equipment or machinery also needs the professional automotive technician.

LEARNING THE TRADE AND MOVING UP

Automotive technicians learn much of their craft on the job. Beginners usually start as helpers, lubrication workers, or service station attendants. Gradually, as they acquire more and more skills, they are promoted to more responsible jobs. Although some beginners may be making repairs of a light nature in as little as a few months, it usually takes three to four years to become proficient enough to do most of the common repairs. It may take an additional year or two to learn a specialty.

Most training authorities recommend three or four years of formal training and/or an apprenticeship program. Formal apprenticeship programs may be hard to find. Recently, automotive manufactures banded together to form educational programs based on the European apprenticeship system. Since its founding in 1995, this Auto Youth Educational System program has grown to include some two hundred schools and dealership sponsors, and it's expanding in the United States and Canada. There may be a similar program near you. These training programs usually combine on-the-job experience with formal classroom instruction. Classroom instruction includes courses in related theory, such as mathematics and physics, as well as such other areas as shop safety practices and customer relations.

For entry-level jobs, employers usually look for young persons with an aptitude for things mechanical and knowledge of automobiles. Usually a driver's license is required since it is necessary to test-drive vehicles.

Getting your high school diploma is a big advantage in getting an entry level job. Most employers believe that graduation indicates that a young person has at least some of the traits of a good worker, such as perseverance and the ability to learn, and has the potential for advancement. Courses in automobile repair offered by many high schools also are helpful. In particular, courses in physical science and mathematics can help a person understand how an automobile operates.

Technicians are expected to buy their own hand tools, and beginners are expected to accumulate tools as they gain experience. Many experienced technicians have thousands of dollar worth of tools. The employer usually supplies the larger power tools, specialty tools, and diagnostic equipment.

Sometimes employers send experienced technicians to factory training schools to learn how to repair more recent models or get training in some specialty like automatic transmissions or air-conditioning. Auto manufacturers send representatives to shops on occasion to conduct short training sessions, and many aftermarket manufacturers of parts will conduct training sessions at a local jobber (parts store) or warehouse at little or no charge for professional mechanics using their products.
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