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The state of auto repair service: Technician shortages, jobber training and new tech


1/13/2010
By Gary Goms

Now that the festivities of the holidays have become memory, it’s time to look at a few of the changes we can expect to see in automotive service during 2010.
 
Now that the festivities of the holidays have become memory, it’s time to look at a few of the changes we can expect to see in automotive service during 2010.

In retrospect, the “economic melt­down” of 2009 obviously caused major adjustments in the way automotive manufacturing, parts distribution and aftermarket service does business. According to anecdotal data, many shops are seeing a more sporadic or declining work flow while many jobbers are experiencing overall declines in gross sales. Since major economic events have combined to affect everybody working in the automotive parts distribution and service areas, let’s take a look at a few of the major changes we’re going to see and how they might affect the automotive service market during 2010 and beyond.


NEW TECHNOLOGY

We can argue climate change, but what we’re seeing in automotive manufacturing is the philosophical change in focus from conventional vehicle platforms to hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric vehicle platforms. Not that the technology is new. My experience goes back to the mid-1990s when I reported on the energy companies and auto manufacturers that used Colorado’s Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb to showcase new fuels and technology. At that time, the technology was already in place for electric vehicles.

During the mid-90s, one major domestic manufacturer raced a small-sized full-electric electric truck that was posting more than 80 miles per hour near the top of Pikes Peak’s summit. This was an extraordinary performance for an electric vehicle because, up to that time, most experimental electric vehicles barely had enough battery power to race up the 14 miles of steep, twisting dirt road to the Peak’s 14,000-foot summit.

When I asked the executive in charge of the company’s motorsports program about what the company was using for batteries, he merely smiled, explaining that the batteries were “different.” I immediately suspected that the truck was equipped with the then-exotic and prohibitively expensive lithium ion batteries.

Today, lithium ion batteries are now becoming a practical part of

hybrid and electric car technology. While their major impact is perhaps five years out, electric vehicles have become part of government energy policy and also part of what auto makers perceive as a more environmentally friendly or “green” image.

At the service level, hybrid and electric vehicles use regenerative braking to slow vehicles.

Due to the growth of this technology, we’re going to see the brake market dwindle as well as most of the current vehicle maintenance technology. Instead, we’re going to see much more complex vehicle control, powertrain and battery technology take the place of the traditional under-hood and under-car services. We’re not going to see hybrid and electric vehicle service as part of the do-it-yourself market because it requires specific equipment and training to address service issues. Quite to the contrary, new equipment is required and new technicians must be trained to meet the demand.

Last, let’s not forget that turbocharged diesel technology is achieving efficiencies and levels of  performance heretofore unheard of in gasoline engines. Auto manufacturers have spent generations building diesel passenger cars in Europe, so look for electronic diesel technology to play a vital role in domestic passenger car production.

NEW SPIN ON OLD TECH

On a more practical note, we’re going to see more new cars equipped with turbo charging and direct fuel injection. Turbo charging has become more refined in throttle response time and has become more reliable whiledirect fuel injection allows gasoline to be consumed more efficiently by injecting it directly into the combustion chamber.

The technology is fairly simple with a conventional low-pressure in-tank fuel pump supplying fuel to a mechanically-driven high-pressure pump. Depending upon driving conditions, the high-pressure pump develops approximately 1,000 to 2,000 psi at the fuel injector. The major issue with this system is that direct fuel injectors live in a very hostile operating environment and are thus more susceptible to failure. Look for this deficit to improve with advances in gasoline and fuel injector technology.

Next, look for even more service challenges posed by body control systems that incorporate the electronic vehicle stability controls, traction control, and electronic steering devices that are now becoming standard equipment in most vehicles. These systems lend themselves very well to being networked with other electronic chassis devices, so vehicle electronic body control systems will become more complex. Servicing body control electronics requires specific training and equipment; so again, we’re not likely to see the DIY mechanic purchasing parts for these systems.

What body control technology means to the parts professional is that many replacement parts will require an initialization process to become functional in a specific chassis system. Currently, OE manufacturer scan tools are required to initialize modules that perform common body control tasks such as exterior lighting control. Some aftermarket tools have limited capability, but the challenges posed by module initialization are far from being met in aftermarket parts and service.

Last, General Motors, among others, is joining the ranks of many European imports in requiring vehicle-specific engine oils. The underlying issue is that, rather than being determined by specific mileage intervals, oil change intervals on most vehicle platforms are now determined by a computer-monitored system that predicts oil life according to driving conditions and turns on a warning light that illuminates when an oil change is required.

The key point is that these engines require lubricating oils that match the mathematical formulas built into the PCMs or computers. Because of this change in engineering philosophy, substituting non-OE equivalent oil can accelerate engine wear simply because the longevity of the oil will be exceeded by the expectations of the software programming in the PCM.

THE TECHNICIAN SHORTAGE

Although education and training isn’t a technical issue, we still need competent technicians to service the new technology. What’s misunderstood about the current automotive employment market is that the range of required skills has vastly increased.

At one end, we have the trade school graduate or mechanic’s helper breaking into the trade. At the other end, we have the ASE Master L1 technician who is well-versed in today’s complex vehicle electronic and mechanical operating systems. In between, we have a multiplicity of service generalists who keep the nation’s wheels rolling.

But more to the point, we aren’t suffering from a shortage of competent technicians as much as we’re suffering from a shortage of well-paying jobs for competent technicians. Right now, the independent shop stands to profit by the number of experienced dealership technicians now pounding the pavement in search of work. When that supply of experienced technicians is gone, the employment market must again rely on an educational establishment that mistakenly channels academic underachievers into what has become a very complex and specialized profession. This unfortunate situation will continue to be aggravated by educators and shop owners whose technical acuity remains rooted in 1970s and ‘80s technology and methodology. Without fundamental changes in career education, we can expect declining results.


JOBBER TRAINING

On a closing note, jobber training has become more important than ever before. For years, the three-hour, evening classes traditionally sponsored by local jobbers have been denigrated as a source of relevant training. But recent changes in systems like battery, starting and charging technology have, for example, turned the diagnostics of these systems upside-down. Without training updates on these systems, we can expect increased warranty claims and dissatisfaction with charging system products.

When it comes to relevant jobber training, anything well done is the cornerstone to success and that’s one aspect of this industry that’s never going to change over the course of time. 

  Previous Comments
avatar   mattk   star   2/13/2010   7:49 PM

i have an idea to shutup and try to do your job better than the last guy and hold on your in for a ride



avatar   Chris   star   2/13/2010   4:58 PM

Just you. :p



avatar   Ryan   star   2/12/2010   10:03 AM

I have an idea. Why not make a law that requires all shops to got to a degree like a doctor or lawyer. They would have the proper training and have license to practice. That would take care of a lot of the shady characters.



avatar   Buzz Killington   star   2/11/2010   6:02 PM

You will never get the techs trained until we quit OK'ing bogus warranties. When improper diagnosis and installation starts costing the shop owners money, they will get these guys and girls trained. The aftermarket, as a united front, will have to cowboy up and start saying NO. Right now our customers have a wal-mart mentality, and that's killing us. It ruins our credibility when these shops blame it on the manufacturers. And Conan O'Brien IS NOT funny. No wonder your sense of humor sucks. As far as I know, Napolean didn't have any problems, per se, as he conquered parts of Europe. They even got a monument in his honor. Who else you want to compare me to, Thomas Edison? The fact that you even respond to my rather childish comments tells me have a self esteem problem. I rag Ed all the time, but you don't hear him whining. Why? Cuz Ed's da man!



avatar   Will   star   2/11/2010   3:45 PM

Kim, I guess it would take a miracle. Once the techs screw up 1 or 2 hybrids or "LOADED to the HILT"cars/suv's, they would see the need to send them to some training classes. The one things shops don't like is turning away potential money. If one person has been to school, he/she should share their knowledge or recommend the tech for the same class. Just my thoughts on it!



avatar   Kim   star   2/11/2010   3:24 PM

So what is the secret to convincing these shops that the training is needed? And that it may take more than one 3 hour class,but they still need to come! And not just for supper?!



avatar   Fed up   star   2/11/2010   1:00 PM

ME AGAIN's right. To much BS put here in the comment section.



avatar   ME AGAIN   star   2/11/2010   12:25 PM

the saying goes "there's a time and place for everything" this is not the place for being crude. Its a place to share autoparts experience and ideas.



avatar   partsguy   star   2/11/2010   10:06 AM

Buzz, did you get picked on as a child? It would explain a lot. Napolean had the same problems you know? As far as jokes, I have no problems with them at all. Your jokes fall short of anything intelligent or funny (like Conan O'Brian).



avatar   ME AGAIN   star   2/10/2010   12:33 PM

getting out of hand again I see



avatar   Beau   star   2/8/2010   9:49 PM

GABE, you sound like one of these internet trolls who just loves to go around causing trouble where ever you can. I think you might do well to take a lesson given from some of these people, such as Ed for instance. Maybe you should sit and take the time to think about the other side for once. Have you ever owned/operated an auto shop? Technicians and businessmen are people too, they have a job to do and have to perform just as efficient as you do.



avatar   Ed   star   2/7/2010   11:13 AM

Greg, thanks for the heads up, we will stock a valve cover gasket for an Edsel now. That adds to my complete gasket collection of a GM 140 I-4 that we also stock.



avatar   Greg   star   2/7/2010   10:44 AM

Guys and Gals come in and act like the people behind the counter have the IQ of a turnip. But than they expect you to be able to know the P/N of whatever they want right out of your head. The days of just selling parts is over. Customers want you to be a mindreader,magician and referee for the family squabbles. And let's not forget that we have to be able read sign when they try to use their hands to explain the part. Also the question of "Why don't you have that in stock?" I don't know why I don't stock a valve cover gasket for an Edsel. To keep everything in stock that people think we should we would all to have stores bigger than you local Walmart. I wish sometimes that they would try standing behind the counter.



avatar   Chris   star   2/5/2010   9:19 PM

You speak excellent French there. You've described about 20-25% of the average customers. It might get up to 40% if you're in the snobby part of town, but not more than that. To a point, you are partially correct. A significant portion of my high-dollar business gets it from me not because I can get it for them NOW, but because I can get it for them pretty much no matter what IT is, even the most esoteric parts. That's where your real business is, not the waxes and wipers, and certainly not the push items.



avatar   joe dickelwinkel   star   2/5/2010   3:25 PM

Gabe,your just too smart for us. Look, this is america, nobody gives a shit. They what they want when they want it. I can show yah two guys for every woman that cannot attempt to change an wiper blade. Or install a headlight bulb. As far as techs go? give me someone that speaks english and also knows what type of car or engine or the year then i would be happy.



avatar   Dave Elliott   star   2/5/2010   9:58 AM

Dan, I'd rather have the tenth vin character. The month means less and less each year with release dates changing all the time. The month is getting less and less relevant.



avatar   Dan   star   2/4/2010   6:59 PM

I have one customer that gives the month of production every time they call now because of problems in the past.



avatar   WIL   star   2/3/2010   9:33 AM

Dave, I feel your pain. Lots of older mechanics don't seem to care enough to get the correct information. They sure are ready to wear you out when you send the wrong parts though. Some of the younger guys are getting to be the same way. "It's a 4 cylinder". OK, which one 1.6 or 1.7 or 2.0? These things are important to know! Don't they care? This causes delays in service which they are quick to point out. The shop I worked at made each tech get VIN/Year/Make/Model/Engine before it was brought into the bay. It took a few moments but you had everything ready before they called the parts house or dealership.



avatar   Hammer   star   2/2/2010   2:53 PM

the buzzkill at work once again



avatar   CRYSTAL   star   2/2/2010   1:23 PM

I agree w will. Nothing worse than a customer telling u.. i need that thingabob that goes into tha thingamajig u know...No i dont know. if I did have the training I might have an idea tho.



avatar   Crystal   star   2/2/2010   1:17 PM

I like to read the comment section not only cause i learn a few things but because the banter back and forth is entertaining.



avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   2/1/2010   1:39 PM

Gabe, don't get me wrong, as I'm sure your knowledge does help you immensely. Most of the people I talk to at ahops tend to talk down to me about service issues, either that or don't give correct information because they a: don't care if I send the right part or not cause if I don't they have someone to call stupid, or b: they tell me they're all the same just send one for a 350. then they expect me to remember everything about the brand of car they work on. Hello! I get calls on all makes and models, not just the ones you specialize in Mr. Goodwrench! All I remember is that fuel pumps are crap on GM trucks.



avatar   Will   star   2/1/2010   11:37 AM

Gabe, that's a good idea. If our employers would send us to these training courses they offer to shops, it would be a tremendous help. Shop owners wouldn't be trying to "paint" you a picture of a part they need, you would know what they are describing.



avatar   Gabe   star   1/30/2010   3:44 PM

I wish there was a way that parts people can be rotated through a shop for awhile. For instance as a service writer. I have worked in shops most of my life. When I cam to an auto parts store I found it gave me tons of knowledge over other parts people. Because you see common things over and over in some cars. Like fuel pumps on chevy trucks, or electronic fan clutches on trailblazers, or door jamb switches in the door latch on ford's. My fear is in 5 years not knowing about what is common on new vehicles being produced. And you are not familiar with vehicles if you don't see them.



avatar   Chris   star   1/29/2010   1:59 PM

This is true, Wolfe. It's reminiscent of the big stink about OBDII back in 1996.



avatar   Will   star   1/29/2010   6:34 AM

Chris you have a valid point. However, I see the issue as being with the automakers. They do not like releasing anything to the aftermarket. It takes money away from them if "Joe Blow" knows how to service a hybrid vehicle and he can go to a local jobber to get replacement parts.



avatar   Chris   star   1/28/2010   4:44 PM

If a lot of the major parts companies would simply help make a lot of the new tech bulletins available to parts pros, that would add quite a bit to their general education, and in many cases point them toward diagnoses for the slower customers.



avatar   Preach On   star   1/28/2010   1:46 PM

A M E N ! ! ! Isn't the comment section supposed to reflect insightful tips or experiences that are practical to our jobs and the topic presented? I wish they would start "weeding" out the BS again, that would leave more room for people to discuss the topics and not uselessly banter back and forth! One can only hope for such miracles....



avatar   Nick   star   1/28/2010   1:03 PM

Your right Kim, we do need to have people trained properly. Like knowing the correct way to spell wasted, not waisted.



avatar   Kim   star   1/28/2010   9:33 AM

You are right,Will. Thats why I read this mag. and AMN, to try and keep up. Thats also why I hate to see the comment section waisted. I like to hear other's experiences...not BS



avatar   will   star   1/28/2010   7:59 AM

Kim; if you've been in this long enough, you know that the aftermarket is the last to get training. Some parts don't get released to the aftermarket for 2 or3 years sometimes. Then you have to know where to get info on training. A lot of this technology hasn't been released to trade schools yet. When they release it, the instuctors at most schools have to receive their training before it can be taught to the students. That just slows our progress down until training courses can be offered by our employers. It's a viscious cycle I've seen over the last 10 years in parts sales. Even the parts person at a dealership doesn't get the info they need to be proficient in new technology as new cars are produced.



avatar   Roger Redden   star   1/22/2010   6:54 PM

Where are the top training facilities for these new Hybrid technologies? By the way Brett spells his last name "Favre"; not "Farve". Go Vikings?



avatar   PERRY M.   star   1/21/2010   1:16 PM

HAY KIM, RUSH LIMBAUGH CAIIED. HE WANT'S HIS EGO BACK.



avatar   Bret Farve   star   1/20/2010   4:09 PM

Who Dat?? saints? football? where am I? where is my prune juice? oh yeah go vikes!!



avatar   Kim    star   1/20/2010   10:45 AM

You talk about training at the tech schools, and jobber training. The comments made here are a prime example of why we need to be training our people behind the counter FIRST. Be the parts professionals we're supposed to be. Then we can worry about training the tech's we service....



avatar   CLETUS   star   1/19/2010   12:17 PM

Dang it, Goober broke the wahtchamacallit attached to the doomaflagy on the doodad there!!!!Tech schools do need to start the focus on the new car technology. Don't teach points ignition, train in electrical service on hybrids. Carburetor rebuilds are like dinosaurs and "innocent" girls, extinct.



avatar   Dave Elliott   star   1/19/2010   11:11 AM

Barak, stay here if you want to, c'mon you're the president. You'd do the country a favor to stay here and out of Washington. Consider this your invitation.



avatar   Michelle Obama   star   1/16/2010   2:50 PM

Barrack get of this website and run the country please!!!



avatar   Big Green Monster   star   1/15/2010   2:58 PM

Yay parts!















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