Mechanic by Definition

Over the years I’ve spent under a hood, I’ve heard the term mechanic
thrown around in every possible direction.  It seems everyone who has ever
opened the hood of a car at one time or another has been referred to as a
mechanic.  On other occasions I hear, “I used to be a mechanic” or
“My brother is a mechanic”. It’s a term seldom used correctly when speaking
to the service writer. I compare it to using a brand name of a product vs.
the product name such as “Freon” or “Kleenex”.  We all get the idea of
what they are referring to, but seldom does it equate to a reasonable
facsimile of a true mechanic’s diagnostics when they are trying to explain
something about their car. Maybe it’s time we established some ground
rules as to how or whom can call themselves a mechanic.

Is it fair to call someone who has a basin sink wrench and a PVC cutter a plumber? No, I don’t think so.  Is it fair to call a home owner who is changing out a receptacle an electrician? No, I don’t think that’s fair to say either.  But, give somebody a service book, a box of tools and spot in the home garage … yep, they’re a mechanic.  Of course, I’ll bet as soon as you have to call “the” plumber or electrician to take care of your “oops” the spouse will point out to the pro that you’re not one of them. I suppose the same thing happens with a box of wrenches when the car acts up too, I just don’t hear it as much as I think I ought too.
A perfect example of this is the guy who came in needing a fuel pump for his car.  My price was way too high, why I was robbing the poor guy even before he could reach for his wallet. (His words not mine.) So, he decided to tackle the job himself.  Two days later the same car was in the shop to have me change the pump.  He never mentioned that he tried to do it himself; his only response was that he had thought it over, and decided it would be better if a professional took care of it. I could tell he tried to handle the job before he brought it in.  Several bolts were loosened that didn’t need to be removed, and several brackets showed signs of someone trying to bend them out of the way.  I think he wanted to keep the fact that he couldn’t figure out how to take the tank down as his own little personal secret.  However, his spouse told me all about it when she picked up the car.  Yes, as usual, the better half spilled the beans.  As she put it, “He thinks he’s a mechanic.”

So what really defines someone as a mechanic?  Is it fair to call the guy at the local tire shop whose job it is to remove 5 lug nuts, change the tire and balance the new one a mechanic?  Should the person who changes out only exhaust pipes be labeled a mechanic?  How about the guy who changes your oil? Is he a mechanic too?  Yes… they all are.  They’re just different forms of the same trade. 

OK, so we’ve establish a baseline for the term “mechanic”, basically anyone who in some way uses tools to perform a service on a piece of machinery is a mechanic.  Great, so at this point, we can make the assumption that there are different levels of this trade as well.  Each level requires a different expertise.  Each level is just as important as the next.  So in essence, there’s a lot of mechanics out there.   However, for some reason a lot of consumers assume that all mechanics are the same.  Because, well…you know… we’re mechanics.  

This stereotypical analogy of a mechanic is one that I would love to see changed.  Yes, there are mechanics out there that should probably stick to the wash bay or the lube rack, and never try to diagnose a no start condition.  And, yes there are a lot of mechanics (and shops) that figure the best method of diagnosing a problem is to keep throwing more parts at it until they hit the one that makes it work.  (And… yes… they call themselves mechanics too.) I’m sure every trade out there has the same types of individuals in their respective fields.  It’s not just the automotive field.  The big issue is the conception of the modern day consumer. 

Some people take the term mechanic just a little too far, especially when they are at the service desk, and are trying to give me far too much information based on what another mechanic has told them about their car.  Mainly, because their regular mechanic couldn’t do the repair that he/she thought was necessary. (Nine chances out of ten… they’re way off the mark as to what is wrong with the car.) 
Just the other day, the owner of a small used car lot that I’ve done business with before asked if I could reflash a computer on a 1988 Chevy.  I was quite startled at his request.  I told him there is no reflash program on that old of a car.  It does have a read only memory chip that is part of the computer system though.  It’s called a PROM (Programmable read only memory) but, if it was a stock chip in the car there’s no changing it. (There are aftermarket programmable chips though… but he wasn’t referring to one of those.)
I guess he was basing it on previous cars that I’ve flashed for him, but those were a lot newer vehicles.  I had to ask, “What’s the reason for all this fuss?”  Turns out it was because his mechanic told him that a reflash would fix the stalling problem.  “Stalling problem?” I questioned him, “I’d like to check it out first, before assuming it’s the ECM that’s the problem. There are a lot of other reasons for stalling other than the ECM.”  I had a feeling his mechanic was a little out of his comfort zone on this one. (Not that it matters but, his mechanic was born in 1988.) 

It’s too bad that we don’t have different degrees for mechanics, so we could recognize at what level they were proficient.  Here’s something else to think about, a person who holds a certification in a given section of automotive repair doesn’t entirely mean they are adept at physically tackling that said job.  Like most certifications, the concept behind it isn’t so much that you can do it, but merely that you understand how to.

We’ve got a long way to go to figure out what to call a mechanic when he/she is really a mechanic or not. It’s very clear to me, there are a lot of things to think about in defining a mechanic, and there’s even more in defining a good one.

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