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How I Would Start As a Mechanic Today

Today on the Automotive podcast, I want to talk about how I would get started as a tech, if I was doing it today. I have talked about how I got started on other shows. But I think that if I was going to do it again, I may take a different approach. The internet has given us a huge opportunity to learn for very little or free. That along with training programs at dealers, makes skipping tech school an interesting option.

Today on the Podcast we chat about:

  • Costs of tech school
  • Time investment of tech school
  • Starting at a Jiffy change type place
  • Starting at a small shop
  • Online Learning
    Engineering Explained
    EricTheCarGuy
    ScannerDanner
  • Dealership Service Express
    You can start with little time and tool investment
  • Dealership training programs
  • Where Manufacturers lack in training
  • VW’s old training program

If you are having trouble viewing “How I Would Start As a Mechanic Today, Podcast Episode 27“, watch it on Youtube.

2 Questions for everyone:

  1. How would YOU get started if you had to do it again?
  2. If you are early in your career, or in tech school, What would you change?

Don’t forget to follow me at:

Humble Mechanic Logo

Hi everyone! I mentioned yesterday that I have a new tech that I am training. Today I want to tell you guys about him.

In years past, we would hire rookie techs from the Volkswagen program with Universal Technical Institute. The best part about guys from the VW program was they were trained by VW. They knew the cars, the scan tool and the repair manual. The VW program with UTI was cancelled years ago. Up until the last year that was no issue for my dealer. We have not needed to hire any techs. But with recent turnover we needed to find some new guys.

When hiring a new mechanic, shops have a few options, each have pros and cons

  • Hiring an experienced tech
    Hiring a tech with experience is great. Especially when they already know the car line. They should have the skills, the tools and the knowledge to step right in.  The down side, they have the potential to bring drama in the shop. I have seen a lot of experienced techs come in to the shop and do great. I have also seen them bring crazy problems.
  • Hire a rookie
    You might think that hiring a rookie with no tools, little knowledge and no experience would be suicide. But bring someone who is fresh can be a great fit. They are hungry, moldable, and do not have the baggage.

    Green Snapon Tool box

    This is the new guy’s GREEN tool box

Okay, on to my new guy. This kid is fantastic. He just finished up at UTI in November. While there he worked at a BMW and Benz shop. The kid is sharp as a razor. We are about 3 weeks in to the training, and he is where other guys were after a year.

There are a lot of things that set him apart from the other techs I have trained. HE IS DEAF! That is right, my new tech is hearing impaired. Now, your first thought is probably exactly what mine was. How can a mechanic do their job, without hearing? The truth is, there will be limitation that he will have. Just like we all do.

Communication This is actually going better than I thought. We have been communicating by typing back and forth in wordpad. We have also been hand writing some. Only downside is, we both have really crappy handwriting. The cool part is, he is teaching me sign language. I never seen myself learning sign language as part of my job as an automotive technician. Sure it has been different. But I have to say, I am excited. Our deal is, I teach him to fix cars, he teaches me ASL. I think I have an easier challenge than he does 😉

I am looking forward to keeping you all updated on my new guy. Plus he has a sweet bright green tool box. If you have any questions about the new guy, feel free to ask. I will tell you all one thing, if you have sometime stupid to say about him being deaf, don’t bother. Not only will I not approve the comment, I will also ban you from the blog. This kid has worked his ass off to be where he is. I respect the hell out of him. He is going to be one heck of a tech.

Luv a dub VW engine problem

I know it has been about forever since I updated the Luv A Dub project. Like many car projects, it is slow going at times. There are things that have to line up to get a project really rolling. I think we are just at the edge of this project really taking off.

I wrote a post a while back about the donor car I bought for the engine and the transmission. The 1998 Jetta had a VR6 paired with an automatic trans. When I got that Jetta I knew it had engine issues, and it would require some work to get running. The other issue is I wanted a manual transmission. I had a transmission that I was getting for free. It turns out that a transmission from a 4cyl tdi will not bolt up to a VR6. Seems pretty logical when I think about it. I just had dreams of getting a free transmission.

The transmission quest was a bug success. I found an transmission AND an engine for $400. The engine is a VR6 as well. I will be picking up the engine and transmission on Thursday and update you guys with pictures. The plan is to use that engine and transmission in the Cabby.

Since I the engine from the Jetta, I figured I would disassemble it and see just how bad the damage was. The engine had a blown head gasket. Below is a video of when I drained the oil. You will notice that it looks like water coming out of the engine. That is actually water draining out of the oil filter. The brown liquid coming out of the oil pan is oil and coolant mixed. I didn’t expect that much water to be in the oil. I would have started the video sooner. 🙂

This is what happens when oil and coolant mix. It makes a nasty mess. When I disassembled the engine, I found plenty more of the oil/coolant mess. This stuff is pretty tough to clean. It seams that this engine was in pretty bad shape. The tensioners for the timing chain were also broken. Little bits of plastic were stuck in the oil pump. It seems that finding that other VR6 was a really good thing. Below are a few pictures of the VR6 being disassembled. Thanks to my awesome wife for getting helping me out with the pictures.

That is pretty much where I am at with the Cabby. In a totally random turn, I met the guy that owned the car “pre-art”. He drives a 2008 Passat. He was in for an oil change and brought a spare key. Sadly it is not a factory VW key. He said that he is going to email me some pictures of the Cabby before he sold it. I am really looking forward to seeing those pictures.

I also need to let you all know that I will be traveling this week. I will be heading to VW training. I will be getting my hybrid certification. I actually got a chance to drive the Jetta hybrid last week. The car drives good. It has a great amount of power. The torque was fantastic. I will do a full post about it this week. If you guys have any Jetta hybrid questions post them in the comments. I have 2 full days of training. That means plenty of time to get all of our questions answered.

 

What Exactly Is A Master Certified VW Mechanic

Hi folks! I hope you all had an awesome weekend. Summer is here in full swing. Glad that I work in a shop that has A/C. 🙂

Today I want to talk a little more about what it takes to be a VW Master Certified Auto Mechanic. I was having a conversation with a good buddy of mine. He was asking me about being a certified mechanic, and what that really meant. I went on and on about how mechanics get to that level. He said “dang man, that is a lot of training, you should talk more about it.” So that is what we are going to do!

It takes over 520 hours of advanced classroom training to become a Volkswagen Master Technician

That is over 65 training days. I can tell you that it takes so much more. I started with VW by attending a training program. It 11 weeks of highly specialized VW training. I spent all day learning the “unique” way that VW cars are build, maintained, and repaired. It was a pretty tough program, 8 hours a day in class and 2-3 each night of homework. I think we only had about 14 guys finish the training. That gave me the basic level of certification, in addition to “Electrical Specialist”. That was all before a stepped foot into my current dealer job.

VW Master TechnicianEach one of these courses is instructor lead. So for each class, I would have to make a 360mile road trip. Like I said, coming out of VW academy I had all the core classes, all electrical classes, and a few of the other ones. Well, all but Routan, there was no Routan back then.

As you can see, getting all of those classes done is no small task. After the classes come the Master Technician Assessments. They consist of 50(i think) multiple guess questions. Closed book no cheating, either you know it, or you don’t. They are probably the hardest test I have ever done. I still don’t know how the heck I passed them. The first time, I failed all 5. After some hardcore studying, I passed all 5!

That just covers the “scholastic” part. The real world part is where a Master Tech is made. Years and years of getting my butt kicked by cars. Having to “just know” so many things that are not in any book, or manual.

For the folks that think that being a mechanic is an easy job. Take a look at the chart, you tell me if that looks easy 😉

One more thing, I posted this to Facebook, but here it is all official. Saturday marked the 1 year anniversary of Humble Mechanic. I am so excited to see what the future holds for this site. It is not always easy, but it IS always worth it! So thank you to everyone that has visited the site, posted a comment, like a post, retweeted something, emailed me, and so on. I really appreciate each and every one of you.

Humble Mechanic Tool Box

After Tuesday’s post, I feel like I left a black cloud hanging out there. It is so dang easy to focus on the negative parts of the this industry. We often lose sight of some of the awesome parts. So today, I want to talk about some of the awesome things about being a mechanic. Fair warning, this might be some random thoughts straight from my brain. That usually lets folks see who A.D.D. and scatter brained I can be. Hold on tight 😀

Knowledge
While may of us mechanics get overwhelmed about the amount we need to know, we forget how much we really do know. It does far beyond just engines and transmissions. It it little stuff, like VW moved the side turn signals to the mirror for the 2004 and 2005 Passat. Strange right? Or the password to recode instrument clusters on MK4 cars was 13864. Don’t worry, I am not giving away and top secret info/ 🙂 How about that fact that lug bolts and oil drain plugs are the same size and thread pitch.

Mechanical Mind
Being a mechanic really hones the mechanical mind. Putting a car back together days after you take it apart is REALLY hard. The years of seeing how parts fit, and don’t fit, give mechanics a get eye for fitment. Being able to fit parts together is something that ALL mechanics get good at. It might be as simple as turning the wrench around to access a bolt.

Funny story~ One of the guys in the shop was taking off a fuel sensor. I walked over just to see what he was doing. He looked kinda frustrated. He told me that he could not get the wrench on the sensor. This is a job that he had done before, so it was not a matter of know how. I laughed and said, “Hey man, turn the wrench around”. He looked at me and said “WOW, I am dumb”. He turned the wrench around and took the sensor off. We both had a good laugh at him..

Side Work
One thing that can be both awesome and awful about being a mechanic is side work. We mechanics have lots of tools(more on that in a minute). That means that we can do work outside of the shop. It can be a pretty good gig from some people. Get paid in cash, enjoy a beer while you work, not be really pressed for time. It can be a good way to make a couple of extra bucks.

The bad side is, your non mechanic friends will want you to “hook them up” on getting their car fixed. It can be frustrating at times. I don’t really do side work. For one, I just don’t have time. Also, it is not really worth it for me. The liability is really high. I will help my friends out when they need it, but that is usually a good time. I know a few guys that make tons of money doing side work. Just another perk of the job.

Tools
Now we are talking! I LOVE tools. Spending time on the tool truck shopping is my favorite part of Friday. Yeah to some spending $400+ on a set of wrenches, or $250 on 1 ratchet my seem crazy. To me it is great. One of the coolest things is finding a tool that will cut the time of a job in half. That tool will pay for itself in not time! This also means I can work on a project car at home. I just load up my tool bag and bring what I need home.

You need a 5.5mm socket, I got it. 1/4in drive stubby 5mm Allen with a ball end, YEP! A 36in pry bar, Oh YEAH! Part of me really thinks that the love of tools is why guys and gals become mechanics. Can you blame them?

RESPECT, Trust, and Appreciation
Most of the time when you hear “auto mechanic” and “respect” together it is negative. You can make a really good case that people tend to not respect and appreciate this profession. But let me tell you something. ANY and I really mean ANY time someone asks a mechanic for advise, it is because they respect you! When a customer hands their keys over for me to work on their car, they trust me to do the right thing. When someone says “Charles, should I make this repair?” or “Do you think my car is worth fixing” THAT my friends means so much to me.

It means that customer trusts me to help them make a choice. A choice that can affect them for the next 5 years or more. Remember, a car is the 2nd biggest purchase most people make. When someone is asking me for help. I take that to heart.

Your customers, coworkers, and boss will not tell you everyday how much they respect what you do. But trust me kids, they do! Understand that a mechanic is the MOST valuable person in a dealership or repair shop. Think of how much money my dealer has spent on training me and the boys that I work with. The average cost of one training class is around $700. That is for each mechanic, at least once a year. That is no joke, and not an amount to sneeze at. That training is NOT just for the customers. It is NOT just so the dealer can say “We have factory trained technicians”. It is a perk of the job. If a mechanic leaves a dealership, they take all that knowledge with them. Tell me how that is not AWESOME!

See, being a mechanic ain’t all bad. 😉 I know my job isn’t perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than some jobs. Did I miss any perks of the job? Oh, I did, sometimes customers bring cookies,or the really rare(and my favorite) a nice craft beer or home brew. Ok, now did I miss any perks of the job?

If you think that being a mechanic is awesome, go ahead and share this post. It means a lot to me when you do.

Line of Volkswagens

I want to theme this weeks Shop Shots. Since I was at training last week, I thought I would post some pictures of the training center, and some cool pictures I shot while I was at mechanic training. Years ago, the training center had a ton of cool cut away parts, but they seem to be long gone.

Volkswagen Mechanic Training Engine RoomIn the back of the training center they have a storage room with all the training aids. Here are some of the engines that VW mechanics use to learn the ropes. That thing in the middle of the picture(blue and grey) is the engine lift table. We use that to remove engines and transmissions for Touaregs and Phaetons. I can’t identify all of the engines, but I spy a few VR6s

Old School VW mechanic equipmentHere is some old school VW diagnostic equipment. The VAG 1551. It was built solely to talk to cars. Nothing fancy or crazy. The good thing about it was how fast it was. The bad thing, you had to remember everything. There was no built in repair information, no tests, just values. I was only able to use one briefly in training. I am sure the guys that have been around a long time really miss this scan tool. Right now, it is obsolete. Looking at it, it looks like that robot from the movie “Short Circuit”. HA

VAS 6150 VW scan toolFast forward to today, here is the newest scan tool. This is a VAS 6150. All of the functions are windows based. This scan tool communicates with the car via a blue tooth. This is a much slower scan tool, but the information that it contains is far superior to the VAG 1551. I will say that the blue tooth communication is really cool. Yeah, until someone leaves the connector in a car.. To give you some prospective, this is about $6000 worth of test equipment.

VW mechanic training center Here is a shot of one half of the training center. There is another room just like it next door. As you can see there is a shop, and a place for lecture. It is usually filled with the newest VWs on the road. I was actually in the class next door. I have spent many many hours training in the room. There is usually a good mix of techs in each class. Some of the classes get only top level guys. They are the ones that I find the best. When you have a class full of mid-level techs, they like to try and out do each other with stories. Each will tell a story about how awesome they are, the next will have to out do it. It is actually pretty funny. I think you have to have a bit of an ego to do this job. 😉

Line of Volkswagens

I know, this is not really a SHOP, but it kinda is. I took this pictures when I got home after training. The crazy looking car at the front is the Cabby. Next in line is my Passat, and last is the VW Tiguan that I drove. I liked the Tiguan more this time than the last. I also averaged 30.2mpg! I think that was pretty awesome considering the traffic I sat in. All in all a good trip!

Well, that wraps up another volume of Shop Shots. Any questions about this week’s pictures? To be sure you never miss an update, be sure to click the subscribe button on the upper left of this page. You will get update before everyone else! Also, I did a little pro quality shoot with a really great photographer last night. As soon as I get the pictures I will post them for everyone(another reason to subscribe to the site, just sayin 😉 )

If you dig “The Shots” please consider sharing them. It just takes a little clicky, clicky action on one of the buttons below.

Humble Mechanic Logo

Hey folks! As promised, I am following up on my training session from last week. I go to training at least once a year. I wish that it was more, but my dealer is not exactly close to a mechanic training center. In fact we are about 350 miles from 2 different VW training centers. I travel to the center in the fine town of Jessup,MD.

Last week I was in training for O.D.I.S. Offboard Diagnostic Information System. Let me give you some definitions before we get cracking on O.D.I.S

  • VAS-PC ~VSD~ VWoA’s current diagnostic software. This is our current scan tool program
  • Vehicle Self Diagnosis~ This is part of our current scan tool program. Here a mechanic can navigate all the modules on a car.
  • Guided Fault Finding ~GFF~ Part of VAS-PC this is a computer guided system. If a fault is stored, the program will launch a test for the mechanic to perform. We are required to use this for warranty repairs.
  • Guided Functions ~GF~ This is a smaller version of GFF. Here, the plans are only things like, programming keys, or replacing ECMs, or coding modules.
  • ELSA~ VW’s repair manual. It has more information than just than, but that is what I use most
  • ETKA ~ VW’s Parts catalog.
  • VAG-COM ~ An aftermarket diagnostic program for all VAG cars, VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Lambo, Bentley, Porsche, Bugatti, and so on.
  • Star Mobile ~ Chrysler’s diagnostic software. We use this on the Routan.

Ok, now that you are totally confused on all the acronyms, lets talk about ODIS. ODIS will be added to our current diagnostic software this summer. Mechanic will be able to choose the one they want to use. This however will only last a short time before VW stops supporting VAS-PC. My overall opinion about ODIS is positive. We were using an slightly older version than the one that will come out to all VWoA dealers. By then, most of the bugs should be worked out. 😉

The interface for ODIS is 100% different from VAS-PC. In VAS-PC all the of programs(VSD,GFF,GF) are separate. ODIS does a nice job combining the 3, making navigation easier and a little faster. There seems to be a few more ways to navigate to the same end result. To me, that is a good thing. Everyone remembers things different, or multiple navigation paths can be a good thing. VW seemed to do a good job of taking the good things of VAG-COM, and Star Mobile, and pile them into a nice scan tool.

There are somethings that I am concerned about. There will be a fairly large learning curve for this scan tool. This is the biggest change in diagnostic software since the late 90s. In my dealer all but 2 guys have only used VAS-PC. I worry about how everyone will adapt. The trust is, techs MUST learn this new setup. The faster they learn, the better off they will be. ODIS will have its flaws, but so does everything else. We will all have to put in the extra time to know the scan tool. But in time all the the mechanics will be pros at using ODIS.

There is another story that I wanted to tell everyone. The guy that was my lab partner in training was a pretty good dude. This guy bled VW blue. I noticed that he had a Master VW Technician ring on. We got to chatting about that, and he told me this story.

Man, I have been a master tech for about 6 months. I had to take all the tests a few times before I finally passed all 5. I am so glad I can wear this ring and call myself a master tech.

I have worked full time for VW for 23 years. In that time I have seen just about any and everything that you can imagine. I have seen techs come and go, trainers come and go, and more broken cars than you can wrap your mind around.

When it came time for my ring ceremony, I asked to have Dan(who is in charge of all training for VW and Audi) there for me. Dan was glad to be there and give a speech. He told all the young guys that “THIS RING” is the only thing that matters. All the cars, the tools and anything else are meaningless, EVERY mechanic better be striving for “THIS RING”

I am sure my jaw hit the floor. 23 years of working on VWs. There are guys at my shop that are not 23 years old.I can only imagine what it felt like to be doing a job for that long and finally reach the top of the trade. It really made me reevaluate my appreciation for being a Master Tech.

Overall the training was good. I left with my confidence intact which does not usually happen when I leave training. I will go back tomorrow and chat with my guys about ODIS. Oh, and replace a fuel system in a TDI.

If you think that VW has a ridiculous amount of acronyms, click one of the buttons below and let everyone know. I will probably click each one a bunch of times 😉