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Under the Hood: Future is bright for youngsters interested in fixing cars

I was wondering how the job market in your industry is for young people and how they are adapting to all the changes in cars these days.


Q: I noticed in the information below your column you teach auto mechanics. I was wondering how the job market in your industry is for young people and how they are adapting to all the changes in cars these days.

—Johnny Uribe

A: You're correct. Things are changing rapidly and today's young people are in for a constant challenge. As always, there's a great demand for people who can fix things, and modern cars are making that more true than ever.

It seems most of my students didn't grow up working with dad at all hours in the garage on cars. Gone are the rumbling Chevys, replaced by Hondas with stripped interiors, a big exhaust tip and maybe a VTEC engine swap. While eager and bright, most kids need a bunch of basic skills nurturing before hanging their first set of brake pads. Some are put-off by all the technology, and most aren't yet aware of the complex policies and procedures in force within the auto service industry. There's a saying in the business: "Gear heads don't want to do math, and egg heads don't want to fix cars." I think there will always be more jobs than available graduates.

The business has changed tremendously. Cars don't break like they used to. Maintenance is only a fraction of what it used to be, and the techie systems of the car require constantly enhanced skills. Being scan-tool-literate is every bit as important for a newbie as learning the do's and don'ts when using an impact gun. Also, cars are far more fickle than they used to be. Adding an oil with just a slightly different viscosity can trigger a check engine light, and watch those heavy hands when tightening fasteners on a plastic intake manifold. One thing I'm constantly reminding my kids is that being able to find and interpret valid service information will be one of the most important skills they can possess.

Here's a cool story that tells what these young people can do:

Several years ago "Diane" writes to me for advice with a battery/starting problem on her Camry the dealer can't seem to fix. They've installed a new battery, alternator and starter, among other repairs. It turns out she lives close by and my class is currently studying electrical systems. She drops off the car and I dispatch the job to a team of students, reminding them of the five general diagnostic checks to be made. About fifteen minutes later I look across the shop and see one of the kids being closed into the trunk. Just as I walk up he jumps out of the trunk, high fives another student and says "trunk light is staying on!" I asked how/why they took this approach. In the fourteen preceding minutes they had already tested the battery, starting and charging system, all pertinent connections, and had tracked down a 1/2-amp parasitic drain to the interior lighting circuit.

What really made this fix sweet was when Diane returned at the end of class and was told of the repaired trunk latch switch, I could see she was a bit hesitant to accept her car was truly fixed. Before I could say a word, a student from another team asked her about her typical driving habits (it was short trips, only once or twice a week). He follows up by saying: "Your battery was being continually drained and you're not driving far or often enough for the charging system to refill it— it's the perfect storm for hard starting." My heart did summersaults!



Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at under-the-hood(at); he cannot make personal replies.


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