Yes, we have no mechanics

Aaron Robinson, in the April Car and Driver, on some seriously skewed priorities:

Somewhere along the line, America forgot that getting paid to replace a clutch, weld steel, or work a lathe is as respectable a pursuit for a 21-year-old as earning an English degree or carrying an M-16 in Afghanistan. Germany hasn’t forgotten. There, a bedrock system of trade schools preserves the nation’s historic excellence in technical arts. Meanwhile, the country whose welders once built the Saturn V rocket is having trouble finding people who can change an oil filter.

Perhaps they can rebrand the vocational option as “Physical Studies.”


  1. Charles Pergiel »

    3 March 2012 · 2:43 pm

    I don’t know what’s going on being as I am so far removed from being 21 years old. I suspect it’s a combination of lack of respect and low pay. Automotive technicians go to school for a couple of years and can make good money working in a dealership. Changing oil is on par with flipping burgers, neither of which is going to pay you anything like real money.

    Once again, the problem isn’t a shortage of qualified personnel, it’s a shortage of qualified personnel who are willing to work cheap.

    Oil changeries are generally slime ball operations that depend of selling you a bunch of extra crap that you don’t need. I wonder how many people they drive away with their pushy salesmen?

  2. CGHill »

    3 March 2012 · 2:47 pm

    Which is why I still go back to the dealership. They’ll charge me a stiffish $42, but they won’t forget the gasket on the drain bolt, and they’ll wash the buggy before they give it back to me.

  3. Luther »

    3 March 2012 · 8:56 pm

    I’m good except for the “carrying an M-16 in Afghanistan”, or, Vietnam as the case may be. That line has no place in Robinson’s treatise, far as I’m concerned. Rather derogatory actually. I say that as one who can change a clutch, weld steel, and crudely work a lathe, and wield a M-16 with a certain concentrated and focused precision when called upon to do so.

    All of which has to do with responsibility.

    Ah hell, huge subject. Don’t mean to be an ass.

  4. CGHill »

    3 March 2012 · 9:12 pm

    I lugged around an M-16 for awhile; that line didn’t bug me quite so much for some reason.

  5. Luther »

    3 March 2012 · 9:28 pm

    Did you lug it around it while being shot at? That could be the modicum of difference in our perceptions.

  6. CGHill »

    3 March 2012 · 10:06 pm

    Point taken. :)

  7. Harold »

    4 March 2012 · 1:56 pm

    I no longer pay people to work on my brakes.

    The last three times I had someone else do it, I replaced the pads the next time. There aren’t a whole lot of parts on a front disc brake. Each time after it was done elsewhere, there were parts missing when I did it the next time.

    I change my own oil. That way I know it’s the Mobil 1 (or Quaker State) synthetic I’m paying for, rather than generic 5W-20, with minimum additives.

    Repair clutches? Or engines? Since I purchased my first car in 1974, I’ve replaced one clutch- at 140,0000 miles. One transmission- under warranty. And one head gasket, on a Dodge colt, at 90,000 miles. And the person who changed it wondered how I got that much out of it- the engine was known for head gaskets leaking at 50K or less.

    Had over 200K on my Dodge Grand Caravan when my son wrecked it. No work except oil changes and brakes. And I have over 140K on my Toyota Yaris. Net total of work on things other than oil change? None. Ceramic brake pads are still in good shape.

    There are fewer auto mechanics now because there is less need for them. If something goes wrong, you read the code, and replace what the computer tells you to.

    Like TV and electronics repairmen in a way, Those trades are basically dead. It is far cheaper to throw out and buy new then repair. Plus, your new one will work better and last longer.

    Don’t see auto mechanics fully going away. But the independent repair shop is a dinosaur. If you have a local HONEST one, you’re extremely lucky. Patronize that shop. The dealer has the parts, and ALL the codes. There is a bill languishing in Congress that would require auto companies make all the diagnostic codes freely available.

    It’s the honest part that hits the entire auto repair industry. Virtually everytime I’ve ever gone in for brake pads, I’ve been told I need new shocks. One time at Sears, when told that, I told them to cheeck again. They did. They weren’t real happy when they discovered I had the paperwork from the last time, in another state, where Sears had replaced them- with a lifetime parts and labor warranty. I insisted they be changed, even after they checked a third time and said they were OK. 2 out of 3…

  8. CGHill »

    4 March 2012 · 2:36 pm

    The phrase “all the codes” is pivotal, since some of the codes are manufacturer-specific and therefore won’t necessarily turn up in your generic $24.99 service manuals.

    The local dealership (there’s only the one for this make) has been, in my experience, generally trustworthy, albeit pricey and way out on the outskirts of this town; the most-favored indie garage is even farther away and has to be booked rather a long time in advance.

    And I admit to being a bit disappointed that all that circuit-theory stuff I studies means less than squat these days, since diagnosis of electronic parts today consists largely of “Does it work? If not, throw it away.”

  9. Roxeanne de Luca »

    4 March 2012 · 6:47 pm

    I change my own oil and sometimes do my brake work, in addition to other basics (PC panels, lights, windshield wipers, fluids, etc). It’s easy, inexpensive, and can be done whenever I feel like it, not when I wait at a place for an hour and a half. I don’t try to sell myself stuff I don’t need.

    For years, college was seen as a way out of scrubbing someone’s floors or being cannon fodder in a war. Therefore, clean job, safe work environment, benefits, weekends off, all that good stuff. But these days, you’re probably better off as a plumber or an electrician than you are with a liberal arts degree, which is no longer a ticket to a nice-paying job in an office. The days of the generalist are over; people who get jobs have skill sets in math, finance, editing, technical writing, accounting… or yes, even in wiring a house or fixing a transmission.

  10. CGHill »

    4 March 2012 · 7:42 pm

    I have to draw on four disparate skill sets every day at work. Fortunately, I’m still pretty handy at all of them. (Two are techie, one is administrative, and one is pure blue-collar.)

    Believe it or not, I have occasionally sold myself, or at least talked myself into, stuff I didn’t need.

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