For more than one hundred years, it’s been up to automotive service technicians to keep up with motor technology.
Today, in the age of advanced driver assist systems and automated vehicles, that imperative is more important than ever before.
It’s tempting to think of the early days of motorized transportation as quaint and simple. But that new-fangled device called the automobile was cutting edge technology and was more than a little intimidating to most people.
In order to build a career in this fledgling industry, the earliest “mechanics” had to commit to constant learning. And in that respect, not much has changed since then!
Although there were steam powered automobiles built as early as 1769, most sources agree Carl Benz built the first production vehicle in 1885. It was gasoline-powered and used a single cylinder four stroke engine.
This was the beginning of motor vehicle transportation on a large scale.
As cars replaced horse-drawn carriages, a growing demand arose for technicians who could repair this new technology. Some of the first mechanics were blacksmiths and wheel makers. In fact, it was a blacksmith named Thomas Davenport who invented the first practical electric motor in North America. These early mechanics took up the challenge of learning this new technology, eventually branching out from gasoline powered automobiles to study the operation of steam-powered and electric vehicles. It wasn’t until Henry Ford built the Model T in 1908 that many people preferred electric over gasoline.
Back in the day, EVs were quieter and cleaner than gasoline powered vehicles, but they were also more expensive than the new Model T. For that reason, many still prioritized the electric vehicle. When the electric starter motor was invented, the dangers associated with a crank starter were eliminated, and gasoline powered automobiles became more popular than ever before.
From 1913 to 1927, Ford produced 15 million Model T cars, further increasing the demand for auto technicians to keep these vehicles on the road. Over the years, the shortage of mechanics has been an ongoing issue. The technician shortage now is nothing new, given the stereotypes that often come with the job, including a professional image.
Nowadays, consumers crave the advanced technology that’s installed in their smartphones to be wired to their vehicles, too. Additionally, manufacturers continue to add more and more electronic features to new models, to keep consumer interests high.
Many of these features are safety related, while others are designed for comfort and convenience. When these vehicles require maintenance, consumers expect their service technician to be up to the task. The automotive industry has seen more change in the last four decades than there was in the first one hundred, and it’s important to continue to educate vehicle owners.
Whether you prefer the term mechanic or technician, we can all agree that servicing vehicles on the road today has changed drastically over the years. As technology continues to evolve, we have adapted and learned whatever we needed to service vehicles in a professional manner. As the automobile has evolved from a simple mechanical device into a mobile computer, we have upgraded our skills, learned about new technology and evolved to keep pace with the changes.
In today’s world of vehicle service and repair, is there any mechanical service that we perform that does not have an electronic component? Something as simple as an oil change may require an oil life monitor reset, which could further require a scan tool to perform. A tire rotation may require a TPMS reset, and the tool to perform the reset. Even work that typically only involves the removal and replacement of hard parts requires a trip to the shop computer to get the torque specs from service information.
Servicing modern vehicles involves mechanical skills as well as a good understanding of the electronic systems that control the mechanical components. Auto technicians are so much more than their job title, and we should start spending as much time educating vehicle owners as we do ourselves, so that both parties appreciate the level of skill that goes into vehicle maintenance and repair.
From buying into continuous educational training, to paying for new tools and equipment out of pocket, we are constantly upgrading our skillset in order to deliver exceptional customer service, because we are professionals, and we should be recognized as such. Much like other industries, the automotive sector identifies certified professionals who are Red Seal endorsed (RSE). If you have a Red Seal, you should display it proudly—after all, you went above and beyond to achieve this endorsement.
Displaying certificates is a great way to put into perspective for customers the amount of work and training that goes into keeping up with changing vehicle technology. At the end of the day, it’s simple: if you don’t educate your customers on what it takes to service a vehicle equipped with today’s technology, they’ll never truly understand the role you play in keeping them safe out on the road.
Editor’s Note: Allan Haberman RSE is a technical trainer and owner of ACA Training Systems in Winnipeg, MB.