Cars have changed significantly since their invention over a century ago. To think how far we've come from those old buggies to cars with computers, electrical locking systems, built-in GPS, and now hybrid vehicles. For the modern auto mechanic, it's not just about the standard engine anymore.
Mario Ng, who's been an auto mechanic for 26 years, said, You have to keep yourself updated. Technology is changing so fast.
With more than 20 million road motor vehicles registered in Canada, you can bet there's a steady need for mechanics to fix them, and particularly young ones that can keep up with the technology. That includes hybrid vehicles (and, in some cases, electric vehicles).
Ng knows his stuff. When hybrids came out about 15 years, this manager of a Toronto-based Toyota dealership took the initiative to familiarize himself with the new vehicles. There are some online pre-requisite courses you can take through the dealership, and then full courses at the dealership headquarters.
I've been trained since the first hybrids came out, said Ng. And since then, they've added more courses too, as the technology advances. It's online, so a lot of it is at your own pace. For me, it probably took over a period of six months to a year. But if somebody has more time at home and they want to do it faster, they can.
Because you're dealing with high voltage, a lot of the coursework involves safety training. Ng said, If you want to fix something, you have to understand how it works. So a lot of it was education too. What is a hybrid system? What happens when you put your foot on the gas, when the engine is off?
For the most part, working on hybrids is the same as working on regular cars, with the exception of the electrical component. All automotive training programs in Canada now cover basic hybrid safety material, so that mechanics at least know how to turn on the electrical component properly.
Al Playter, a professor at the School of Transportation at Centennial College, used to teach the evening course on hybrids at the college. He says the advantage of further hybrid understanding is that you are no longer intimidated by it.
He explained, Because it's different, because it's a different propulsion source, because it's quite dangerous, a lot of people go: no, we don't work on hybrids. We don't touch them. So it creates a niche market for the people who do want to work on them, and can do so safely.
Playter points out that this is a great way to initially attract customers, and maybe they'll remember you the next time they need a mechanic.
Working on hybrids is something students will have to consider a little further down the road though. Some experience is necessary first. While mechanics can work on cars without a license, Ng says if two people are applying to work at a dealership and one is licensed while the other is not, the employer will probably go with the licensed mechanic. You can take courses through a school's auto mechanic program, and then do your placement, which includes some of the requisite hours needed to become a licensed mechanic.
Ng said, I always tell the kids I interview, don't do this because you think mechanics make good money. Do it because you love it... . For me, it was always a passion. I always liked working with my hands and working with automotives.
Although Tim Domachowski already has about three years of experience working in an auto shop uncertified, he's now taking in courses at the British Columbia Institute for Technology's School of Transportation. He says it's teaching him things he didn't learn out in the field.
He chose this career path, solely based on passion. Domachowski said, Being a mechanic, it's something you should do if you want to be driven, if you want to be satisfied with your day. For him, seeing the results is satisfying.
And while he acknowledges that auto mechanics will need to know more about hybrids in the near future, who knows what the next generation of cars will involve down the road.
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