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The benefits of being an automotive technician

Sunday, July 1, 2018 - 06:00
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My very first job was that of service station attendant way back in the mid-70s. Many of you reading this likely don’t even know what that means! This was back in the day of full-service gas stations, where a customer could pull up to the pump and a smiling young attendant would come out, rain or shine, to service your vehicle. We would pump the gas for you, clean your front and rear glass, check your wipers and underhood fluids and even air up your tires if you asked.

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It’s also where I began my career as a mechanic (no “technicians” back then), learning by doing while under the watchful eye of my boss and his fulltime wrench. I started off learning basic jobs like oil changes and lube jobs and as my boss gained confidence in me, the complexity of the jobs grew. Now, keep in mind, at the time I had no intention of doing this kind of work for a living. I was completing my last two years of high school and then it was off to attend college!

It was college’s fault

I guess you can blame college for the shift in direction. The school I attended was located in the city and parking was always at a premium. I can’t count the times trying to find a place to park made me late to class. One day, I decided to buy a motorcycle and commute to school on it. I had ridden motorcycles since I was 12 or 13 so the transition to a small street bike wasn’t hard. Only problem was I got hooked on riding and it wasn’t long before I was seeking something with a little more power!  

This is the tail end of a major transmission job I performed on my Harley. I spent more on the special tools needed than the job would have cost me, but I wanted to make sure it was done right – so I did it.

I enjoyed school and was doing well there, but I was becoming increasingly discouraged with the process, continuously asking myself if this was something I was sure I wanted to do. Unable to answer affirmatively at the time, I dropped out after my first year, deciding instead to go to work with my father with the idea of someday taking over the “family business.” 

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Some of you may remember an article I wrote some time ago about my dad. He was (and is still) a master carpenter and I learned a lot about the craft from him, as well as a whole lot more. One piece of advice I remember to this day was, “A man that can work with his hands will always be able to take care of his family.” That may be true but I hated carpentry! 

I did, however, like working on my bike – performing the needed maintenance and the occasional modifications. In my mind, being able to do THAT for a living would be awesome! So off to motorcycle mechanics school I went, returning four months later to a local Honda dealership. I enjoyed the work very much. The only drawback was the seasonality of the work. After all, not too many people were riding their motorcycles in the winter time. The solution? Make the move to four wheels. And, for the most part, I’ve been in the auto repair business ever since.

The advantages of the move

There are some readily apparent benefits to the decisions I made way back then. First, I was working and earning a decent living with no student debt hanging over my head. Second, just as my father had promised, I have never been unemployed and have always been able to provide for my family. And there have been some turbulent economic times since the mid-70s! But there are more, maybe not so apparent, benefits on being an automotive professional.

For years, I was doing my own work in a cramped single car garage or worse, in the dirt driveway. At least now I can do my own repairs and maintenance in relative comfort.

For example, how many of you take care of your own vehicles? And it’s not just the family car, right? If something breaks on the boat, the motorcycle, the lawn mower or the chain saw – you take care of it. After all, they all run on gasoline and they all have to function more or less the same. Hydraulic brakes on the bike are not that much different than the ones on the front of my wife’s Scion and what systems may be unique to the job at hand, we’ve all learned how to research what we don’t know and apply what we learn to the problem in front of us.

And we take that for granted, I think. I can’t help but think of the commercial (for a national insurance company) depicting a grateful mom and her son. She’s grateful because her car insurance has a road side assistance option that helped her son with that unfortunate flat in the middle of the night. The scene cuts back to a not-so-fortunate youngster and his partner, who are trying to attempt the change on their own. The first holds up a tool, not a lug wrench, and asks his buddy if it is a lug wrench – and the second young man looks at him, and replies after a short delay, “Maaayybee..?”

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