My Experience in the Auto Industry

            Many people think they know what they want to do for their entire life, only to start working in that field and learning it isn’t what they expected it to be. For me, that was the auto industry, and being a mechanic. I learned in just six years that service repair isn’t what I expected it to be, between garages overcharging customers, and underpaying employees, it’s not hard to see why many are packing up their toolboxes and going towards another industry.

Now, I feel like I need to preface this because fixing cars for a living is not by any means a bad career. I have many personal friends that have done it for years and have been very successful doing so. I have 6 years of holding a wrench for a living, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A lot of my closest friends came from my time as a tech. There are tons of other upsides to it too. Instead of paying ungodly amounts of money for someone else to work on your car, you buy parts and do it yourself. You would be amazed what kind of money you save doing that.

Furthermore, since I’m now into the performance side of automotive a lot more, all of the parts changes, custom applications, or anything else I may need become far easier with my background. Also, I can own older, more involved vehicles due to my set skills and keep them running longer. I have a 1998 Ranger that now has over 300k miles, and I don’t plan to fix it. I do have a much newer secondary vehicle, my 2017 Focus ST. Still, I can take on long, intensive projects that maybe the average owner couldn’t. Even if repairs exceed, say, $1,000, I have a lot of time to fix it. As I said before, I don’t really have to pay someone to do anything with it other than mounting and balancing tires and alignments. Personal gain can be had with knowledge. Still, the industry in its current state is struggling, and it will continue unless it totally gets revamped.

It’s tough to figure out where to start, as some aspects have left scars physically and mentally. But if there was one aspect that needs immediate attention, it’s warranty work. If you’re a flat-rate tech, you want to see warranty work as infrequent as you possibly can. Dealership almost never pays for the amount of work it usually takes. Manufacturers want to pay as little as possible to fix newer vehicles under warranty. As a result of this, the techs are the ones who usually take the financial hit when doing a warranty job. Basically, the billion dollar giant who built the shitty part wants the average Joe to pay when the part beaks, essentially passing the financial loss to the tech. It seems if they find techs making money on certain warranty jobs, manufacturers will lower the book time on the job, making it pay less despite it still taking the tech the same time to complete it. A prime example of this is the Takata airbag recall a few years ago. Almost every manufacturer in the world used Takata, but they were able to escape huge losses by lawsuits and screwing the little guy fixing the car. This, in turn, takes money out of the pockets of the very people that are changing parts to make you and your family safe.

Another problem is how skewed the labor rates across manufacturers are. I worked for a BMW dealership, the labor rate was $235 an hour, and I made $13 an hour as a B tech before I finally had enough. After that, the Ford dealer I worked for slightly better, as I made $16 an hour and charged $115 an hour for labor. I understand that upkeep on an auto repair shop gets very pricey, with oil removal and other environmental restrictions, but techs were always lower paid on average than the rest of the staff by job title.

It’s even more complicated when the price of good, reliable tools continues to go up. Ask any tech you know that has 5+ years in the auto industry, and 9/10 will tell you they have spent over $50,000 in tools or will tell you they won’t add it up because it makes them sick. I spent right around $60,000 in tools in about 6 years, and now I use my tools and box for my own stuff and my part-time business detailing cars. Between all that and the simple fact that it is very hard grueling work, dealers have a tough time finding and keeping technicians. Look at Indeed or another job finder website and see how many positions are being filled for repair/service technicians. It’s crazy to see, as it was much harder even for me now 8 years ago looking for a job in the industry. Until something gives, or something changes, the techs will slowly die off, and dealers will get desperate for new blood. Most dealers do offer special training classes for their brand, which costs nothing to the tech. But most dealers require some sort of background in the industry to work on cars. You can utilize a technical high school or college to “get your foot in the door” per se, but they may not show you the full spectrum of what you’re going into in the real world

         If you’re totally passionate about cars, no matter what specifically you’re into, the automotive industry can be an exceptional place for you. There is a ton to learn, and no one workday will ever be exactly the same. I would never tell anyone not to fix cars for a living, as it ultimately shaped me into who I am today, and I’m thankful for that. I did end up leaving it entirely after I worked at Ford and entered the manufacturing industry at a $22 starting wage, and now work as a Power Plant Operator for more money. The auto industry just didn’t fit me anymore, and it’s a shame because I absolutely loved what I did. Unfortunately, at least to me, the money did not match my aspirations. The auto industry just didn’t fit me anymore, and it’s a shame because I absolutely loved what I did. It is very possible that a different state or area could have been a different story. Still, here in Connecticut, that’s just not the case. 

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