By Andrew Markel
BRAKE & FRONT END
If you are a regular reader of my columns, you may have noticed that I have been a little negative lately. I have been writing about topics like technician image, unethical shops and other gripes about our industry.
Last month, I got a letter from an older tech wanting to get out of the industry because he felt vehicles were getting more complex while monetary compensation was not growing at the same rate. He cited one of my editorials as something that resonated with some of his own grievances. At first, I felt guilty.
It really got me thinking as I was working on an email response to him. After a lot of time looking at a blinking cursor in an empty window, I had to ask myself a few questions. Why am I in the automotive repair industry and why did I start working on cars in the first place? Also, would I want my own kids working in the industry? Thinking of the answers, those feelings of guilt slowly turned into pride. Let me explain.
My Reason for Being Here
I first started working in the automotive industry as a “shop gopher.” The reason why I took the job was that I loved cars. I loved other things like clothes, computers and beer, but I never wanted to work in those industries.
The job did not pay well, and primarily consisted of driving customers around, washing parts and pushing a broom around the shop. But, I was around cars and it did not matter even if I had to clean bathrooms. I went on to work as a technician, service writer and even sold tires for a summer.
I realized that being in the industry of repairing vehicles was tough and physically demanding. I learned that you will get your hands dirty, work in extreme temperatures and often your knuckles will be bloodied. Being the third-generation in the business, I slowly realized why my father’s and grandfather’s hands looked the way they did.
I also realized that it was an expensive career. I spent more money on tools and went into debt to numerous tool truck drivers. I also realized that I had to constantly keep learning new things to be able to make money.
I also realized that working on cars had benefits that could not be put on a paycheck. There were certain moments when you feel that you actually did something, and not to many careers out there still have that. It might be diagnosing a vehicle, finishing a difficult repair or learning something new. It was a chance to take pride in your work and realize that you are a craftsman and not an office drone.
I also came to the realization that it is the people that make this industry great. In no other industry will you find a better bunch of people who are more passionate and intelligent.
People who work at shops are independent thinkers and intelligent business people. Just about every shop owner I know was a tech at one time who dreamed of opening a shop. Also, any industry would be proud to claim Andy Granatelli, Bill France Sr. and Smokey Yunick as shop owner alumni.
Back To Reality
After reading the disgruntled technician’s letter over and over, I realized that he has something that a lot of people in the industry need right now. He has awareness that there are problems in our industry. He realizes that we are going to be fighting an uphill battle to improve the industry for everyone and not just himself in the short term. His email came in at 1 a.m., so I could tell that it was keeping him up at night.
Let’s face it, everything is getting more complicated from the vehicles to running a business. Technicians and shop owners are not paid nearly enough for their level of knowledge and hard work. Our industry has allowed disreputable shops to operate under our noses for too long. Some parts suppliers want us to buy more parts without supporting us with technical training like they did in the past.
Is pointing out the problems of the industry negative? No. Is it a constructive way to bring about change? Sometimes. Just setting back and letting the industry go downhill while you collect a paycheck hurts everyone.
Please, understand when I write about something negative in the industry, it is because I care about the industry and I want it to change for the better.