I talk to a lot of new
technician/mechanics coming out
of the tech schools or starting
their automotive careers at
small shops and dealerships.
They all have that same look.
You know, that fresh, green,
and full of spunk “take on the world” attitude and appearance. Most are still on their first set of wrenches, all shiny with the engraved wrench sizes still visible on them. (Not like most of mine that I can barely read the size anymore.) They’re all eager and can’t wait to be a part of the next project.
Electronics have changed the caliber and education level of the modern technician, and these new fresh wrenchers are well aware of that fact. After talking to a few of them, boy do I feel old. I start thinking back ...way back to when I first picked up a ratchet. My first recollection of working on a car had nothing to do with electronics and more to do with hanging over the fender watching my dad. Since then, there have been a lot of changes in the automotive world. Training is one thing, knowing a few tricks of the trade helps even more. Like most mechanics, young or old, you find a rhythm, a sense of awareness of what needs to be done. You stay up with the technical changes, and keep what you already know tucked away for future reference. It might be a certain way to do to a diagnostic procedure, or perhaps what wrench worked best for a certain project. You develop these skills, and strengthen your knowledge base with every new encounter. It’s what makes a seasoned tech so important to a shop and to the customers they serve. There's so much to know, so much to comprehend, and for the new tech it can be overwhelming. Some of it can’t be taught in books, or by watching an instructor. There's a lot of that “doing it yourself” kind of teaching where you find out firsthand what works, and what doesn't. Those traits come from years of experience, and with that experience you start to master the trade. You have to keep up with the changes or you won't last long in this business. As the cars age so does their relative technology. Then it becomes apparent that the cars and their technology are all perishable goods. Old technology is just that… old. You can’t compare the technology in a 1950’s car with a 2012 car… it’s just not the same in anyway. Knowing some of those old out dated procedures is still important though. That knowledge will come in handy when you least expect it. One day you'll be working on a fairly new model, and then the next day it could be a 30 or perhaps a 50 year old car sitting in the service bay. You can bet a mechanic will have to stare under the hood for a while, scratch his head a couple of times, and hope it all comes back to him. You’ll find yourself jogging the old noggin for some of those old tricks you used to use.
Scanners were never heard of back in the day. These young hot shots, fresh out of school guys and gals have all grown up with the internet, have always had electronic ignition, and a computer is as common to them as a toaster. Like one old timer used to tell me, “These youngsters wouldn't have a clue how to fix a car without a trouble code.” I don’t know about that, but some of those old cars are museum pieces to them. Oh sure, those young guns will take a few stabs at it, but you know... somewhere there’s an old, grouchy, sour attitude, crotchety mechanic with the disposition of an alligator sitting in the back corner of the shop who has probably seen it all before.
I'll bet most older techs can remember using a matchbook cover as a quick points gap check (Let’s see one of those youngins try to find a matchbook cover these days). Ask an old mechanic what the timing setting is on a 327, or what the three pedals on the floor of a model T are for. They probably know it. But, when is the last time I needed to know that stuff? I don't know, haven't a clue. Maybe I like to hang onto that sort of stuff just to show those fresh techs that us old guys still have what it takes. The old mechanic may not move around as well, his skills may not be as fresh, but he can still get the job done. Are they stale, out dated?... probably not. What does that older tech have that only experience can bring? He has that knowledge. His knowledge is something that doesn’t rot away with time; it's not like perishable goods at the grocery store or those cars that fade into history. Knowledge can't spoil, you might forget a thing or two… but it’s always there. You gain it with experience, you store it away for a later date, and if all goes well, it sticks with you your entire life. At least I hope so... There's no doubt the fresh, educated, and modern technician will someday be the norm, and the age of the shop mechanic will shift directions from where it is today. But experience still prevails you know. As a long time Master tech told me years ago when I was still wet behind the ears, “I’ve showed you everything you know, not everything I know.”
The older groups of techs have seen the changes from points and condensers to full on electronics. The new mechanics will no doubt will see even more changes in the future, and most likely those changes will happen even faster with future advancements in electronics.
Even the modern car technology of today will eventually reach old age as well. The technology that’s developed for them will also become part of the perishable goods as well as the cars. New technology will move forward with even better, fresher ideas than today. Just imagine what changes are in store for the next generation of mechanics.
As a mechanic… I perish the thought.