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Why Modern Cars are Harder to Repair

15 MAR 2013
Career Path : Automotive

An automobile mechanic is a lot like a doctor – people come to them all day with their complaints and the mechanic has to figure out what the problem is and fix them. But while the human body is admittedly complex, it has remained essentially unchanged over thousands of years while car designs are updated with each passing season.  The increasing complexity and sophistication of modern machines has made the automotive technician one of the more technically demanding trades. The job requires more preparation than ever before.

While vehicle manufacturers are building cars that last longer, they have simultaneously become more difficult to repair. To make cars safer, lighter and more fuel efficient, new materials such as high-strength steels, aluminum and steel-plastic have been added into vehicle bodies. Technicians can no longer assume they’re working with good old steel when they start cutting or welding. Today’s auto body shops feature fancy scanners, diagnostic software and lab scopes to assist the accuracy of the repair process. Modern mechanics need to diagnose sensor and computer glitches in addition to the continuous stream of new technology introduced by car makers that have to be quickly learned and mastered. Manufacturers once assumed that computerization which outputted problems to computer printouts would make repairs easier. Instead the opposite has occurred, with a variety of fuel injection systems, electric steering, variable transmission and valve timing, and sophisticated electronic systems throughout the machine requiring greater cross-function skill.

Indeed, many service technicians are going back to mechanic school to learn how to work safely on hybrid drive systems and other new technology. The best mechanics have a wide variety of integrated skills to navigate the labyrinths of tubes and wires in complex computerized electrical systems, fuel systems and refrigeration. One mechanic noted that “computers have become as much a part of the tool box as wrenches”. Most automotive technicians intern while still in repair school and then work full time at the same dealerships, regularly reading trade papers to keep on top of industry trends and changes. With more experience they advance into more specialized, higher-paying positions.

The concern about repair complexity expressed by the insurance and repair industries is filtering back gradually to the car makers. Vehicle designers must balance issues associated with ease of repair with the push towards lighter and more fuel efficient cars. General Motors began about five years ago assigning engineers from their service operation to work alongside designers and their engineers can now use a virtual hand and wrench with a digital screen to test how a new machine in the design stage will affect the mechanic’s repair time. As cars become more compact, fitting more complicated electronics into smaller spaces, the mechanic’s trade will continue to grow more challenging – but maybe that’s part of the fun. Diagnosing the problem with speed and accuracy isn’t easy but its often the mechanic’s favourite part of the job. To become a mechanic these days means gaining the training to adapt to rapidly changing technology.


Visit Canadian Automotive & Trucking Institute for more information on auto mechanic training.