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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    I’ve recently seen a couple of examples of “young people/car interaction” that showed me two sides of the same coin. A great-nephew graduated high school in 2022, and was offered a full-ride football scholarship at a local college (he’s 6’9″ and 250 lbs.). He’d been taking autobody classes at our local tech school and was offered an apprenticeship at a local dealership at the same time. He chose to pass up sports and college to work full time to learn his trade. So not all young people are shirking work – or the trades! The other example was a young man in a diner I recently had lunch at. He was admiring my ’66 Pontiac and asked what the two circular things up front were. I told him they are hood pins – as with a fiberglass hood I didn’t completely trust the hood latch. He admitted that he was “totally lost” and didn’t know what a hood latch was! Okay, okay, I get that it’s probably not taught in school nowadays, but it really weirded me out that a late-teens male lacked that really, really basic automotive knowledge. However, he WAS working at a diner, again disproving the idea that “kids today don’t want to work”. He kept my coffee cup filled and checked back at the table often – so my tip was generous enough to let him know I appreciated his performance.
    So one of these young men I’d let work on my car and one I’d let fix me a meal. I’m okay with both – AI probably can’t do either! 😃

    Don’t forget the ridiculous cost of higher education now. At some point, kids are going to figure out they can make decent money without supporting the Educational Industrial Complex.
    And just for accuracy’s sake, Ferrari made 3 Dino models. 😉

    That’s not a small issue, the education cost aspect to this. Which third Dino do you mean? The race cars?

    It’s even worse in the collector car world. As a tech with 35+ yrs in vintage mechanics / restoration, I turn away work weekly – people with everything to affordable classics (mgb’s etc) to high end cars, there’s no one left in town to service them. All of the old timers, my mentors growing up, have times out and there’s no one replacing them. I can count on one hand the number of properly skilled classic techs in Vancouver. Sad and it’s not getting any better.

    As an ex- mechanic, we really have to think about how we treat mechanics before we start clamoring for more of them. The top three complaints are the back-breaking work, the low pay,,, and the customers whining about EVERYTHING… You changed my oil and the windshield wipers stopped working and they worked fine until you changed my windshield wipers… I have some oddball problem that an MIT professor would not be able to figure out, but my mechanic is awful because I had to take it back three times before he did, and he actually expected me to pay him for his time and parts ALL THREE TIMES

    As a teenager in the 90’s I loved cars. Learned everything I could about the carbureted vehicles around me. Worked at a local machine shop tearing engines down so they could be rebuilt. I got a degree in Auto mechanics and went to work at a Chevy dealership. 15 years in the dealership I went to teach Auto at the local tech school. After 3 years of that I went back to the Chevy dealership and love being back fixing things.

    There has definitely been a change in the young ones coming into the industry. There is still interest, but no experience. When I was a kid, all my experience came from lawn mowers, go carts, dirt bikes, etc. Most the kids today only have you tube experience. They may have watched something. But they really know nothing about it. Or how to work on it. Most my students were afraid of the 12v battery shocking them and hurting them. They also want a turbo on everything, even though they have no idea what it does.

    I felt a big difference about the way society looks at me between being a technician and a teacher. As a technician I feel that: “ohhh…you work on cars…”
    When I was a teacher, everyone was like: “Wow, that’s awesome!”

    I have felt a shift though from GM, I don’t feel like they hate us as technicians as bad as they used to. They have started to incentivize being a good technician more.

    I could work on old carbureted cars and trucks all the time too. Because I’m one of the only ones left that knows what a carburetor is. However I’d way rather work on the new stuff because I make a much better wage.

    I have decided it’s ok if my kids go into the industry. I couldn’t say that 10 years ago.

    “Because I’m one of the only ones left that knows what a carburetor is.”

    Be careful, you might get hurt patting yourself on the back that hard. Also, you are very much not one of the few people that knows what a carb is but you can keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel special.

    Randy- that was not meant to be a pat on the back for me, but to paint the picture that in my town/area there isn’t hardly any shop left that will work on a carburetor. And of my 1,000 plus students I worked with at the tech school (where I had carburetor assignments actually) only one or two students really showed interest or care about a carburetor. I definitely was not stating that you didn’t understand a carburetor. Maybe you are a young man working in a shop that works on carbs. I hope so, and good for you if you do.

    This problem has been here for a very long time! Skilled and non skilled workers are needed everywhere. The biggest impact I see in my area is the children grow up being catered too and do not have the ambition to find, learn and carry the skills that the other generations had to learn to survive. So many young children start playing the games and doing things with the computers and phones that the ambition to WORK a job that includes labor of any form is lost. We also see the children graduating from high school with no knowledge to succeed! No shop classes to teach skills. Most do not even have driving classes for our children! This is a skill that is carried the rest of our life. WE CANNOT DO EVERYTHING BY A COMPUTER! Skilled labor and non skilled are needed everywhere. Who will collect your garbage when you put it out ar the curb? My area is suffering now from this issue.

    Larry, you’re so right about the trades, and diminishing interest in them. I was briefly heartened though when my son went off to university, that three of his high school friends went into the trades. One as a carpenter, one as an electrician and one as a plumber. The first and third were union jobs, so a good part of their training was as apprentices, and didn’t cost them much if anything. So, not being saddled with college debt is certainly an advantage there!

    Unfortunately, as automotive technology advances, owner involved maintenance has become reduced further, as the cost of diagnostic equipment is just too cost prohibitive. For those owners who are inclined though, fluid changes, brake maintenance and a few other areas are still within the home mechanics purview.

    After reading an article in one of Hagerty’s other publications though, one almost has to be a software engineer to properly diagnose newer engine control systems! I did gain a whole new respect for how challenging this aspect can be. It’s not just pugging in the diagnostics machine and getting a “fix this” message. There’s a whole lot more to understanding how these systems work than that.

    But I agree with you that unless this trend at least softens some, it’s going to be harder to find professionals that can repair standard everyday things we all need to live…and/or we’re going to be paying a lot more for them!

    I turned wrenches for a Chevy/Cadillac dealer for 3.5 years after high school because I was hell bent on being a mechanic. Know what ended that goal? Being a mechanic. The tools are expensive, the work is physically demanding (our shop foreman was early 50s and had 4 vertebra fused because of the physical demands of the work taking a toll over dozens of years) and the pay is marginal. I bought the lie about mechanics making 6 figures. Know how many in that shop cleared more than $60k a year? None. And this was 2010. And let’s not forget the social stigmas, both explicit and latent. We’ve spent decades as a society telling kids that manual labor jobs are dirty and “less than” – in one way or another – than white collar jobs that require degrees, and for a long chunk of that time, those voices were coming from the people in those manual jobs. Can you blame a kid for wanting to go to college and not into a trade if that trade has wrecked his dad’s back by the time he’s 50? When you can make stupid money working for Amazon or Google or any start-up – or even starting your own business – and not have to sacrifice your body doing so, assigning blame gets a lot less back and white.

    Yeah, every point you raise is an issue. I went to engineering school and was shocked at the bias towards hand work. I assumed I’d build things in school—weld, machine, tinker and experiment. We saw nothing but text books and did loads of math. There was a machine shop, but we never went there. I still don’t understand the seperation as all of the best engineers I know are very often also skilled fabricators.

    I wanted to be a mechanic, but Dad made me go to college. I have a BS in Auto engineering technology, an engineering job, and work on newer and old cars, tractors, etc. on the side for fun. I love small block Chevys, JD’s with single cylinder Kohler’s and old Willy’s Jeeps. I also love working on new cars at work. Learning about new systems and being an expert able to troubleshoot when a 2024 vehicle won’t start. I like going to the assembly plant and investigating issues. Most times they are easy to solve just by asking questions, watching and listening. Other times it’s a team effort and someone more specialized and/or smarter than me helps get to the bottom of an issue. I was told years ago by a retired GM engineering manager that he would take an engineer who can work with their hands over one with a PHD from MIT who can’t. I’m proud to be the former, but also realize we need both.

    Sounds like you managed to merge the best of both worlds there, Dean. Congratulations on your success! 👍

    I’ve been in the Auto Refinishing sector since 1975.
    Back then the Insurance Co would only pay $12.50 per hour / Claim.
    I was on a 25% pay [preping cars for paint]
    Painter got 25%/ shop 50%.
    Life was Good, Made big Bank; but I Ran my ass off to do it

    Then the Insurance Co’s got control through Gov. Mandates / Insurance mandatory compliance for cars.
    They broke the Industry/ price controlled labor pay-outs.

    Self employed since ’77 / the Insurance Co’s / was always a major Fight to get it repaired correctly?

    New Law / you can’t sue your Insurance Co. for not doing what you pay them for

    My reference is pointed at the ‘Big 3’ Company’s.
    Being on Jury Duty there were cases where the Insurance Co. failed to compensate for Accident Injure’s ?
    _ and the Plaintiff had to after the car Owner.

    This is why I work on my own cars. Almost no one I know does. I have 4 cars a 06 Toyota Sienna Van with 271,000 miles I bought new that refuses to die, a 14 Honda Accord hybrid with ONLY 161,000 miles that has only had one thing fail (a wheel bearing!), a 96 Miata with 115,000 miles that really only needed paint, Shocks and radiator and a 66 Vette conv that I have mad a few upgrades to make more reliable and enjoy the hell out of. My wife has asking when are we getting a new car. And I as why all of ours work fine!

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