This piece arrived in my inbox a few days ago. I’ll keep the author’s name anonymous for the time being (he can identify himself if he wishes).
It’s an interesting piece that might surprise, scare and maybe even offend a few people. Reactions aside, this is from an inside perspective, from a guy I’ve met and who I know is in a position to form an opinion on the subject.
I’ve seen Saab’s training courses in action, in Sweden, and I know that representatives get educated on the different electronic systems in the cars. The key might be whether that knowledge sinks in and trickles down to others in the dealerships.
It makes for some very interesting reading.
I started my career as an entry level Saab technician around a decade ago, working for a dealer in New Hampshire. Over my 4-5 years as a technician I learned that cars are complicated creatures including a huge amount of both mechanical and electrical content.
Back then the 9-3’s and 9-5’s that were out didn’t really have all the electronics that the newer cars have. They had ECM’s and transmission control modules, etc, but they still had a lot of old school wiring (power and ground, pin connectors). When the 9-3 sport sedan came out in 2003 I knew that we were going to run into a huge problem in the automotive industry and it was going to happen really fast.
All of a sudden the older technicians, paid on seniority and experience and making $25-30 an hour (shop foremen, guys that have been turning wrenches for 20-30 years) were clueless and scratching their heads. For the first few years they would pretend that they knew what they were doing, suggesting software updates as the fix for all problems. If the car came back, hell… let’s throw a control module at it.
By 2005 I decided that I loved the cars, the auto industry and where it was heading, but I really didn’t like getting dirty or covered in grease and busting my knuckles. It’s fun as a hobby but certainly not as a career for me. I switched paths and became a service advisor at a different Saab dealership. Being a computer savvy, well spoken, educated misfit, I was well aware of what I was seeing: the new cars/technology would baffle our highest paid technicians AND the newbies that were learning the trade from the older technicians.
Keep in mind that Saab was always a little behind on technology and I can imagine that this is an industry wide epidemic (e.g. Ford with Sync technology, everyone with nav units, Bluetooth). When the new 9-5 came out in 2010, there was no doubt that it was a wonderful marvel of technology, but there was also little doubt that we are neck-deep into a major problem in the repair industry.
Picture this – your super high tech new car is going into a dealership or shop and a senior technician getting $30/hr is going to work on it. This technician….
- types with one finger,
- has a flip cell phone and
- just started using email a couple years ago.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. These guys may be qualified to trace a wiring short in a 30 wire harness or drop a tranny on a car in 3 hours but are they really the right guys to take apart a $50,000 technical masterpiece?
You might be thinking “OK, let’s have the younger, computer savvy technicians work on these newer cars.”
But wait, these younger techs may have smart phones and use facebook, but let’s face it, a lot of them are in the industry because their parents were, or they loved turning wrenches with their dads. They probably didn’t do particularly well in school. They probably aren’t super computer savvy, and the guys that were helping them along at being technicians are now just as baffled as they are. Like I said, major problem.
I sadly don’t see any major fix for this in the near future. I find myself as a service advisor helping customers with Bluetooth phone pairing and navigation questions more knowledgeable than the technicians. Some of the customers driving these marvels probably have a better understanding of how they work than the technicians (being computer science graduates and electrical engineers.. etc etc).
So the question I raise is “Are Cars Smarter than Technicians?”
Yes. Plain and simple, sad but true. The guys we now pay $30/hr because we don’t have a solution to the problem are now simply parts replacers or “guessers”. They can barely figure out how to use the laptops and diagnostic tools and instead of getting trained they stumble through it and run straight time punches and expect manufacturers to pay for their lack of modern knowledge.
I think that in the near future, dealerships will have to acknowledge this and have one, highly paid, college-educated electrical engineer/software engineer on board to work with the next generation of technicians. The old guys will grunt and try to push them out and continue stumbling but a change is going to be necessary.
With hybrid technology and electric cars growing and evolving, the technician as we know it may disappear and this may be a good thing for everyone. I think people need to start taking this seriously. Hopefully some ongoing factory training will help keep techs – the ones willing to learn – up to date on the latest technology, but maybe the flat rate days need to be over. When you put someone in a position to earn 80hrs in a 40hr work week or get computer training to keep up to date they are going to continue to choose ‘guessing’ and take the 80hrs. After guessing and throwing parts at it, these cars will keep coming back until they happen to guess the right part or software update.
So, in summary, cars are definitely smarter than technicians…. and the auto industry is just getting started. In 10 years from now, cars may be smarter than all of us!