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."
Times, 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. 5ome 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. [Tie self-trained mechanic usually becomes known as a "parts changer"-that is, he 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 >y taking advantage of the automotive training programs offered in most schools. V fortunate person may train under the direction of a master technician, and as apprentice will learn while doing. However, apprenticeship opportunities are not s 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 last. 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.
It has been the hallmark of the good technician to keep abreast of changing technologies. He or she has adapted from steam to spark ignition and to electronic ignition controlled by black boxes. The technician has no choice but to keep learning, and the top-notch technician will keep up by adapting to whatever technology comes along.
As mentioned above, the trend is toward specialization in the repair field. If we could look into a crystal ball, we might find that the independent, genera mechanic is a dying breed. Already we see that there are many specialization shops in existence-muffler shops, tune-up shops, transmission shops, and alignment shops. According to Gene Gardner, the 1996 president of the Automotive Service Industry Association, "The growth in auto electronics ha: significantly altered the technical requirements of the individuals who will service these high-tech machines. What this means is that by the turn of the century, those technicians who specialize in learning and understanding these heavily computerized vehicles will be able to diagnose, service, and repair at a level that separates them from others."
Although electronics ranks as a major 1990s change, other trends are also clear. Since the 1970s and 1980s, there has been considerable downsizing of cars, and as a result, there has been an increase in the number of specialty tools needed to repair them. Engines are smaller, transmissions and brake systems are smaller, am engines are being installed transversely in order to power front-wheel-drive cars.
As the vehicles and vehicle systems grow more complex and sophisticated, there is probably going to be a great deal more specialization. Any one person will be hard pressed to understand adequately all the systems and subsystems in the automobile. As mentioned earlier, there are so many engine functions on late-model cars that are handled by electronic controls that there will be a need for specialists in this single area. The computer controls of today are only a fraction of what can, and probably will, be added in the future.
Die dramatic increase in the number of small engines on the road will probably result in more engine failures. In the old trusty V-8, if one spark plug or valve was weak, there was not a significant problem. Only one-eighth of the performance was lost. But today, the four-cylinder engine is common. If the same spark plug or valve should fail, a full 25 percent of the performance is "one. Suddenly, it is a big problem.
In addition, most people are driving the smaller engines in the same way that they drove those gigantic gas guzzlers. They push them to the speed limit and beyond and expect them to do the job of a big block. Simple arithmetic tells us that a four-cylinder engine will spin about twice as fast, and make twice as many revolutions to cover the same distance at the same speed, as the V-8. The corollary to this is that a four-cylinder engine will probably wear out sooner. That translates into a need for more engine specialists. There will be more piston rings, more valves, and more camshafts to be replaced.
Along the same lines, the smaller wheels on the downsized cars will revolve more times to cover the same distance. The smaller brakes will have to do a jigger job. So there will be a need for more wheel service-brake jobs, alignments, and wheel-bearing replacements. The extension of this is that there may be a big opportunity for wheel service specialists.