Never Stop Driving #57: Please fix my car

One of life’s biggest hassles these days is getting your car fixed. Pandemic parts shortages didn’t help, but the real issue is the declining number of technicians. The problem’s been brewing for years but is now severe enough for the Wall Street Journal to notice. A recent two-page article included this startling data: Some 258,000 new techs are needed every year yet just 48,000 graduate from training schools.

Most middle and high schools killed shop programs over the past two or three decades, so this situation is hardly surprising. I recently listened to a podcast where the host and guest talked about how the world needs more plumbers and I wondered if either has ever laid in a nasty crawlspace while fixing a toilet drain. Sure, skilled plumbers and other tradespeople can now earn six figures, but the median wage for auto techs is about 50 grand, roughly a third of what a software company like Facebook pays its average developer. This is where my libertarian leanings collide with reality. Software developers can reach millions with a click, but a mechanic repairs one car at a time. I understand the economics. The unspoken message, however, is that we place a higher value on an app designed to monopolize our attention than we do on jobs that help people live their lives. Fixing cars and other physical things often involves uncomfortable labor. Who came blame our youth for seeking alternate careers?

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As a country, we are missing an opportunity. While many schools don’t teach shop class, technical knowledge and inspiration for the trades abound on the internet. One of Hagerty’s most popular video series is Redline Rebuilds, starring automotive engineer, drag racer, and consummate wrench Davin Reckow, who entertains as he teaches. The most viewed videos, with tens of millions of hits, are quick stop-motion engine-assembly films set to music. They’re like a gateway drug for potential gearheads and we follow up with more detailed instructional videos.

Recently, Reckow illustrated the steps to assemble a Chrysler V-8, which taught me plenty. I wonder what my career trajectory would have been had I been able to watch Redline Rebuilds in my youth. The Chrysler video is only two weeks old and has already been viewed over 100,000 times. Although our videos are not free for us to make, they are free for you to watch because Hagerty is committed to spreading car knowledge and passion. Maybe— hopefully—we’re inspiring folks to at least investigate a hands-on technical career. If you’d like to support us, please sign up for the Hagerty Drivers Club and tell a friend.

While you’re on YouTube checking out all the Hagerty content, also surf over to the Tavarish channel for a journey into fearless DIY car mechanics. Host Freddy Hernandez bought a flood-ruined McLaren P1 supercar and is rebuilding it. There are few cars as mechanically and electronically complicated as the P1 and Hernandez freely admits that he and his crew are winging it . . . and having a roaring good time figuring it out. Watching these wonderful nutjobs inspires me to tackle my own repairs. We’re all rooting for ya, Freddy.

I’m presently in extra need of inspiration because my partial DIY restoration of a $25,000 1975 Dino 308 GT4 is dragging. My most recent update detailed numerous roadblocks, including my own experiences with the shortage of skilled tradespeople. The Ferrari is the most ambitious project I’ve ever done. Two years in, there are many days when I wonder what I was thinking, but I was reminded of why I sought out that car by Jason Cammisa’s newest Revelations episode, which focuses on the two Dino models Ferrari produced and why they’re special. Fingers crossed I’ll drive my car before the summer is out.

Since I was out last week, you might have missed a host of interesting material from Hagerty Media. Kyle Smith detailed his practical tips for home engine building, Hagerty readers shared their own roadside-repair antics, and we highlighted affordable Mopars.

Have a great weekend!

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    One thing not mentioned in your article is how are us DIY mechanics supposed to fix electric cars someday? I do all my own daily driver repairs and build my own race motors, so there’s not much I can’t or won’t do. Electric cars are a whole new thing and in talking to a Cadillac tech friend of mine, not simple to deal with. For this reason, among many others, I never plan to have an electric vehicle in my fleet.

    How do you fix an electric car? You learn and understand the system, where it failed, why it failed, and repair it. No different than a ICE car.

    We all started life only knowing how to cry, scream, and breathe. We learned everything else. To act as though we will not be able to learn how an electric car functions (and thus the ability to repair it) after we figured out how something as complicated as an internal combustion engine functions is foolish.

    Parts availability aside, if someone is scared of the thought of working on electric cars it likely has more to do with an unwillingness to learn new things rather than some great global cabal deciding people should be button pushers rather than wrench turners. Get over yourself and learn something new.

    Rebuilding an engine today. It’s like playing with building blocks . It’s Electronics today in the cars today are just so complicated. These young guys gotta understand why and how electronics do everything on the car. I’m not making fun of rebuilding engines, but in today’s world by the time the engines worn out, the rest of the car is too. These kids have to learn electronics. They have to learn to understand how the car talks to the computers if you can figure that out, you can fix almost anything. Sure, there’s still fuel delivery, timing, ignition, but if Electronics aren’t working correctly, that’s not gonna happen either.

    One thing about ICE cars is that touching the wrong thing under the hood is extremely unlikely to kill you

    So if a car pulls off the street to the spot where you and I are standing, I can open the hood and you’ll put your hand on any part or piece I tell you to?

    Everything is dangerous. ICE engines and all their spinny bits and heat are dangerous and can seriously screw up or kill a human in a number of ways. It’s just a new and different danger. Read the last part of my previous comment again. We as society learned to work on ICE engines (relatively) safely–after all, so many people still consider busted knuckles some form of badge of honor–there is nothing stopping us from learning to work on EVs safely except ignorance and refusal to learn, change, or grow.

    Check out ~Rich rebuilds. he took a couple of Tesla S’s he got from an auction a few years back one wrecked and one flooded and built one good one. worked great and looked good too. Did it all by himself. Made him famous. He’s on a show now. with Robert Downey converting some of his cars to electric. It can be done. I would say the learning curve is actually lower then ICE cars. Also a lot cleaner! No oil and gas!!!

    To bad most of our needed parts are setting in the port of Bayone from a country that puts the needed AMERICAN Made sticker on it. Then we gamble on if it will work. Starters, water pumps, brake calipers. Technicians get Very frustrated.

    Yeah, I hear this all the time. Bad parts made with with subpar material. Sometimes that’s all you can get and other times there’s no way to know.

    Larry, I own a 246 and I’ve driven a 308 from Washington DC to Walkens Glenn and then on the track.. The 2+2 design did not inspire people but it was certainly a comfortable car and lovely on the track.
    Keep at it, you’ll appreciate the result

    Thanks Tim. I love the GT4 and have for years. I first test drove on to buy back in 2010. Hopefully mine will be be done soon…

    Good article! As an old timer in the automotive business, for years I have seen the number of techs going done in the business. I was in the auto body end of it for 46 years. Almost the same problem but with insurance companies in control of setting labor rates and cutting labor times for techs making it hard for good techs to make any decent money. In my area where I live, Mechanical rates are at $125.00- 150.00 or more depending on what level of vehicle you are having worked on. When I left the body end of it Less than a year ago, Auto body rates where around $54.00 an hour on insurance jobs. Things are going to have to turn around soon or you will not be able to get your vehicle fixed.

    Very much the same sort of situation here in the U.K. re any sort of ‘hands on’ occupation. In fact compounded here by the traditional disdain acquired over past centuries for those ‘in trade’. The upper levels of class – yes it’s still very much a feature here – have always looked down on people who actually do or produce things despite needing their skills. When you read history here you are told that Henry V111 built Hampton Court Palace despite in all probability not knowing which way round to hold a hammer thus completely ignoring the hundreds of talented artisans who actually did construct it. The fact that he ordered its construction is all that’s counted in Britain. This attitude towards trade has persisted since medieval times but there is some light on the horizon as the country is learning that we can’t all be computer programmers. Gradually there is more respect for those that can actually ‘do’ something and more youngsters are seeking apprenticeships.
    There is hope for change.

    You say “Most middle and high schools killed shop programs”, but did they? Or, did the voters who hate taxes no matter what they pay for do it?

    My son went to trader school to be a mechanic and worked at several dealerships before pursuing other interests. A big problem was the pay, getting $17 an hour s as a lube tech when fast food was paying the same. Now he got 40 hours and benefits but compared to the engineers I hire in my field who make over twice that and I still have to spend a year or two training them, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. My libertarian and free market ideals hopes this works itself out, maybe when the dealerships and large shops realize they have to pay better.

    Where I live the average hourly rate at the dealership is $160 per hour. How much is the technician really getting paid? And you wonder why they don’t want to stay in the field especially with the price of tools. How many people on the outside think that we are given the tools to use when we’re at a repair shop. Nobody has a clue that we are really buying our own tools, unless they know somebody in the automobile business. It’s amazing how the price adds up.

    AI is going to replace many high paying desk jobs, just like apps have greatly reduced jobs by downloading the work onto the consumer (i.e., travel agent).

    AI isn’t fixing your plumbing though.

    Many trades around here now charge you a 1 hour service call fee just to drop in and see if they want or can do the job.

    Many trades there is a tradeoff being the “no responsibility skilled labor” vs. an owner/operator. In the last ten years I have seen quite a few tradespeople leave their big company job (several of them as site supervisors) to do small contracts on the side. More freedom, same or more money, have to plan for own benefits and pension though.

    My kids are too young now, but I will be exposing them to trade knowledge and making that case to each of them.

    I put AI in the same bucket as electric cars… I see it gaining some amount of foothold but not being the revolution that a lot of folks want us to believe it will. We have been facing staffing cuts in my field, and everyone wants automation, but (a) someone has to set the automation up (b) someone has to maintain it (c) automation replicates mistakes, so you need someone proficient error-checking the output, and (d) if you automate everything, you have no one who is proficient. I imagine AI will create as many jobs as it ‘replaces’

    A friend of mind left teaching to be a handyman. He reports he’s making three times what he used to, sets his own hours, and loves it. Health care is always an issue, however, to the independants.

    Yes. Similarly, I have a friend who quit his IT job to become a handyman and loved it. At least until he started to have some health issues that meant he needed to get better insurance. Which was something a one-man independent operation just couldn’t swing, so he’s now back in IT, hating it, but has insurance. Things definitely need to change – and I suspect they will – but right now it sure shoots holes in the old “find something you love and do it”. He loved the handyman stuff, but he sure as heck can’t do it!

    The engine building process is carried out nearly always in a machine shop, not a repair shop or dealership. Those guys buy rebuilds for installation. We did some work as kids on our own cars replacing main bearings, rod bearings, checking clearance with squash plastic, and so forth, but not now. I am considering buying a 60’s car that needs assembly. Deja Vu.

    your comments about “the trades” is so true and has been an issue for years, especially in the more urban area’s of the country. i’ve been a service manager (with BMW) since 1998 and finding tech’s has been a challenge since day one. but! it does seem like it’s getting a little better, i have several tech’s in the 6 figure range and i think word is getting out, that there is $$$$ to be made in the field.
    on a differnt note, very much enjoying reading about the trails and tribulations of the Dino adventure.
    i have a small fleet of collector (see older) cars and there is always SOMETHING that needs to be taken care of. i spent 13 years fixing up my fathers 71 VW single cab! thought i was done, which means had to rebuild the engine AGAIN this year.. NOW I’M DONE! for now.. LOL..

    Oh, glad to hear there’s some increased interest at your place. I toured the UTI school in Charlotte and was amazed to see that many major manufactures had set up there to find and recruit the best students.

    Once again…a very timely and accurate reflection on the challenges faced by the industry.
    That said; I think parents have an impact as well by still encouraging their kids to seek a college education which many never had. Hopefully, they are beginning to understand STEM (including auto technicians) might be a better option.

    That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms……The societal push to get a four-year degree. So many jobs oddly require one.

    Skills today are worth a ton since demand is up and too few are answering the call.

    But even the skills today are a total pain and not cheap to do. The new tech has driven up cost and education on these new areas unlike the past. An auto shop can spend tens of thousands of dollars for computer programming to fix cars. Much of them is test and replace with known good unit.

    Government regulations have made working on cars more complex than ever. No more setting a float with DI as you have thousands of pounds of fuel pressure to contend with.

    Kids today don’t want to work. They show up when they want to and no show if they don’t, New video games come out and they may miss a week. Many lose jobs due to attendance than anything else.

    We have lost our work ethic.

    I am thankful that I can address most home and car repairs myself. I still will defer when I know I am over the limit on some things. But these kids today will struggle just to jump start a car if they even know they can.

    I hear similar tales about kids not wanting to work. Maybe true, but I know so many hungry hustling 20-somethings that I feel more positive.

    I hear that all the time and I reply with the question, “who are the parents that raised them like this?” Probably you who spoiled their kids to much. Everybody likes to point fingers at everyone else but themselves.

    Yeah, but it’s been noted that usually when you point one finger at someone else, the rest of them are pointing right back at you… 🙄

    Blood, Sweat and Tears sang, “What goes up must come down”, don’t know how that applies to you needing inspiration but it just came to my mind. It really will be the “miles and smiles” once it is done that should motivate you to “Keep on truckin, baby”, Eddie Kendricks sang that. Just another useless piece of trivia.

    When I was 5-6 years old , typical high strung , get into everything boy , my dad worked at Fords [ Rouge Steel ] to be exact. One of his co-workers owned a family farm [ many generations ] and one day he showed up with a half a dozen small engines. His exact words to my dad was [ this ought to keep him busy for a while and out of trouble ] . Dad had a work shop in the basement and there sat the engines, we took the first one apart , what we could , then he went to work on afternoon shift. When he got home I was in the bathtub covered head to toe in black motor oil , my Mom was not happy. But it was too late , it was in my veins, from that day forward when anyone asked me [ What do you want to be when you grow up ] my response was I’m going to be a Mechanic ! Through Shade tree , Auto Shop , Heavy Duty Truck Mechanic School , and finally owning my own Sand and Gravel Trucking Company , I figure I have had Mechanics Hands for over 60 years. We have two Daughters and my corny advice to them has always been, Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. Work for money and you will be miserable your whole life. When we were first married , I would do brake jobs on the weekend for extra money. One has two master degrees and the other one a doctorate and they both preach what I told them. Please don’t let the Dot Com money influence you, you may think you have forever , but you don’t , be a happy mechanic not a sad Dot Com person.

    I know that “stuck in a rut” feeling and that is why my 1968 VW Beetle is sitting in the garage after two years of restorative work. Yeah, it only has 54HP at maximum RPM buy when (if) it hits 70MPH every passenger grabs the handhold above the glove box holding on for dear life. It is a wonderful thing to see. It makes me feel like I have them on the Nürburgring and not a straightaway on the Interstate in my little shaking bug. The car feels like it is about to break the sound barrier at that point while the pedal is floored. Every time I get motivated and go out to fix something, I find something else wrong. Usually it is a bigger problem than what I am working on. Sure, it is good to find these problems but some seem to come from Mr. Murphy himself. Eventually I thought I would reach the end but no, after all the toil, I need to pull the engine. So, it sits there and I sit here. Having a mechanic help for a few hours would get it out on the road again. Doing it alone is the tough part. Giving up is not an option at this point but it isn’t going to be on the road anytime soon unless I get my MOJO back and start turning wrenches and banging knuckles.

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