The Basic Tools Have Changed
What would you do if tomorrow all your scanners and internet
connections just completely stopped. Would you be able to perform
your job? For some, it would be quite impossible to even begin the
day, let alone make it to lunch time. As for your car, well that’s a
different story all together. In some ways, yes, in others… not a
If such a thing happened, you’d hear the senior mechanics
shouting, “Ya gotta learn how to use the old basic tools! Otherwise
you’ll have to rely on those confounded computers for everything!”
These days nearly every repair requiring any sort of data has
something to do with a computer, whether it’s for checking service
codes or looking up specifications. I doubt too many shops rely on
the old hard copy book anymore. But, that’s the catch to this
modern world of auto repair. The basic tools of the trade have
changed. Sure, the fundamentals are still the same, but the tools,
those every day diagnostics tools and those basic every day jobs
I’m sure the next generation of techs would find it hard to
imagine a time when a dwell meter and a timing light were on the
top shelf of every mechanics tool box. Back in the day, they were
the “go to” testing equipment. You couldn’t walk through a shop
without seeing the flashing strobe of a timing light, and I’d hate to even guess how many hours I’ve spent under a hood with one. But, times have changed, and those basic tools have been replaced with microchips and sensors.
These days, in most of the trade schools the emphasis is on learning to read diagrams, use scanners, and doing the hands-on under the hood training. Which is all good, and well worth it. I doubt a lot of time is spent on learning how to use some of those out dated and antiquated tools of the trade . . . if at all. There’s only so much you can fit into the classroom time. The instructor will probably mention them, spend a quick minute or two on them, but it’s not a tool most of the new students will even use in their future. There’s no doubt the technology has changed, not only the basic tools, but the teaching methods as well.
Just the other day I ran across a post on Facebook from a young tech who was trying to solve a problem on an early 80’s car. He was thinking the problem had something to do with the O2 sensors, but his ever reliable scanner wasn’t able to read information on that old of a car. As he put it, “Without the scanner I’m lost.” He didn’t know how to check an O2 other than using that “confounded” computer. So instead, he passed the job onto another shop. Probably one those shops with a few old timers around who still knew how to check one.
I can picture the whole scenario. The young tech takes the car to one of those shops that have been around since the earth was flat, and some old gray haired tech steps up to the challenge. He’s probably that same guy in the far corner bay who listens to 60/70’s rock music in the background and relies on a volt/ohm for everything, all the while sharping his ever shortening test light to a fine point. But, that young tech watches intently as the old timer shows him how to check it with those “old” basic tools of trade.
What if a car from the 40’s or 50’s showed up at your shop? Would you know how to repair it? There’s not too many guys left around from the generation of magnetos and 6 volt systems, and those tools and testing methods are getting lost with each passing year. For me, I’ve learned most of what I know on those old systems from the old timers in my life. The whole point of this is, “Should the new up and coming techs know some of the old methods of testing?” Sure some of them, if not a brief description of how to use those tools from a few decades ago. There’s still quite a few of those cars out there.
To put it another way, not everything you learn in this business is out of a book or from a classroom. Some of it comes from being around those who have experienced it firsthand. That’s really how knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, and that includes the use of those basic tools of the trade.
But, in today’s fast moving and ever changing automotive repair market, learning some of the old school methods may sound important, but at the same time a lot of those old procedures and basic tools are practically useless. Some of the old methods and tools have been improved upon so much by modern technology that the original basic tool is almost unrecognizable in comparison to today’s version of the same tool or procedure.
For example: holding a long screwdriver up to your ear and listening for a loose rocker arm, or checking a misfire by dead heading each spark plug wire with a test light could be considered dangerous, if not entirely unacceptable practices now. Besides, with most of these new cars you can’t even get that close to everything.
So, a little note to the old guys: Someday a young tech might come up to you and ask about the tools of the trade that you used back in the day. Give them a little schooling on the ways it used to be done. They might ask you what a growler is, or how to use a timing light, or how to bubble balance a tire. Show them, teach them.
But, keep in mind you younger techs, one of these days you’ll be the old timer in the shop, and you’ll be the one showing the next new generation your version of the basic tools of the trade.