Who Will Fix Our Future Cars?

January 3, 2012

As we begin 2012, I am reminded how our cars have become more and more complicated with each passing year. This added complexity can make repairs very difficult for our service technicians. When I began working on cars in the 1970s, they were pretty basic. Each passing year has added a level of complexity and there seems to be no end in sight. This places a huge burden on entry level technicians and the schools that train them.

When I began my intensive auto repair training in the late 1970s, electronics were just beginning to find their way into our automobiles. Up until that time, fairly simple mechanical systems operated our vehicles. I was able to learn how to diagnose and repair these mechanical systems without worrying too much about the electronics. As the electronics began to arrive, I was able to build on my existing knowledge base as one by one, electronics took control of each automotive system. I always referred to the process as evolutionary, not revolutionary.

But where I had thirty years to acquire the knowledge necessary to repair our current vehicles, students now are expected to learn the necessary skills in just a year or two! Sometimes lost in this crash course is the basic knowledge of how these complex systems work and how interrelated they have become. It can take many years, working alongside a knowledgeable senior technician, for a recent graduate to become comfortable diagnosing and repairing modern automobiles.

Unfortunately, the work environment in many repair shops does not offer the opportunity for a recent trade school graduate to work alongside a knowledgeable senior technician. Not all repair shops have such a knowledgeable technician, and if they do, he is probably busy trying to get his own work done and does not have the time to share his knowledge with the newer technicians.

I am afraid this current situation is going lead to a shortage of highly skilled technicians necessary to diagnose and repair our future vehicles. Consumers demand all the bells and whistles, the government demands safety and smog systems, and the manufacturers add special features hoping to lure new customers. Forgotten in all of this is the poor service technician who must quickly and correctly diagnose and repair these vehicles when problems arise.

It is hard to say where the answers lie—training programs and working conditions will have to change. Unfortunately, it does not look like anything will be done until the severity of the problem gets to an unacceptable level. If and when we do reach such a crisis, it will take many years to get the next generation of technicians up to speed.

Such thoughts make me think twice about purchasing a new vehicle—how about you?

About the Author

Jim Taddei has been in the automotive field since 1975 and has over 25 years of experience with General Motors products, achieving the designation of GM Master Technician. He is also currently certified as an ASE Master Technician, and holds an Advanced California Smog Check License. He has been the lead technician and team leader at a multi-line dealership. After leaving the dealership he spent a couple of years working in an independent shop and now uses his experience and expertise to help verify the quality of RepairPal Certified shops.

1 User Comment

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By , January 11, 2012
Jim you are so right. The master mechanics are starting to leave the work force. The place I take my car has been in business since 1983. The mechanics there have all been there for 25 yrs. I would not take my car anywhere else. It is getting harder for them to keep up with new technology. The owner sends them to school once a year for updates. Eventually they will be leaving also. Even the Dealerships are having a problem. I hate taking my car to a dealership. They are the worst. I guess I will try and hang on to the one I have and put off the inevitable...buying a new one.