Looking back, looking forward

Oct. 25, 2016
Over my last few columns, I’ve shared a bit about my experience in the industry and how I came to be where I am today. Continuing in that vein, I think it’s important to share that I wasn’t always an automotive mechanic/technician.

Over my last few columns, I’ve shared a bit about my experience in the industry and how I came to be where I am today. Continuing in that vein, I think it’s important to share that I wasn’t always an automotive mechanic/technician.

In person or online – or both – it’s important to give back to the younger generation of technicians.

I actually got my start as a full-time wrench in the motorcycle side of the business. The technology was advancing quickly there and much of it carried over to the auto side when I made the transition. Why move? Back in those days, the motorcycle business was seasonal and winter became a time of odd jobs to keep the cash flow steady. I delivered wood-burning stoves and kerosene heaters, winterized boats, drove nails with my father and more – often carrying two or three jobs at the same time. I admit I was old fashioned (heck, I still am) and always thought that it was the man’s job to provide for the family while the wife stayed home and took care of raising the children. That, my friends, is a full-time job all in itself and one I didn’t want! I was happy to let her take care of that portion of our lives, and I am proud of the two boys she raised.

Stay or go?
Several circumstances led to a decision to relocate further south, and the family packed up all we owned into a small U-Haul trailer attached to the back of one early ‘70s Chevy Nova. With $100 in our pocket and the promise of a job, we landed in a small town just north of Orlando, Fla., in December of 1986. I was going back to the motorcycle industry. I had gone to school to learn that trade in Daytona nearly 10 years prior and loved the idea of moving back to the Sunshine State.

On my belly
My next move was back to the blue-collar lifestyle. I had learned that I was most comfortable in that role, but I never expected that the return to the working man’s side of the spectrum would land me on my belly – literally! I joined the pest control industry and spent most of my day crawling around and under the hundreds (no, thousands) of mobile homes that retirees in Florida seem to favor. The work, surprisingly, was rewarding, and I met a lot of great people. If the company I worked for hadn’t gone under a few years later, who knows?

Even now, I try to stay current working on cars for friends, family and occasionally the local shop.
More and more, cars are fixed from the front seat using computer technology. Sure beats getting dirty!

But it did, and I went from gainfully employed to unemployed in a matter of hours. Back to what I knew best, I thought, and I returned to the automotive industry in the late ‘90s. All in all, I was out of the business for approximately a decade. Talk about a shock to the system when I returned!

The need for continuing education
When I returned to the shop, I returned with nothing. I had sold most of my tools years ago and had to rebuild my collection. In addition to needing the tools of the trade, I quickly learned I needed knowledge as well. OBD II had come into play, and computerization had expanded well past simple ignition timing controls and fuel injection actuation.

Luckily, at this same time, something called the internet was born. My first exposure to it was a cumbersome desktop my father bought for my oldest son. It connected to the web by dial-up modem and I clearly remember how awesome it seemed to be – how fast it was!

It was also at about this time that I discovered the International Automotive Technicians Network, more commonly referred to as iATN. In the early days, this network provided guidance and peer-to-peer learning with only one stipulation: you didn’t look to the group to do the work for you. You had to have done your homework, performed the tests you knew how to perform, and made every attempt to resolve the problem yourself before you came to them. If you did that, the more experienced among them would have no problem spending the time and energy to teach you. Often, I must admit, I was amazed at the patience many of them showed me.

As I grew in both skill and knowledge, I began to make what contributions I could to others in an attempt to give back what had been so freely given. Many of you reading this can relate — you’re doing the same thing. And the platforms that allow us to share with one another have grown with many being incorporated directly into the diagnostic tooling we use every day.

Additionally, the availability of training around the industry has grown. Companies like Federal-Mogul, Standard Motor Parts, NAPA, CarQuest, Worldpac – and so many more – have invested millions into providing a variety of training options to you. Yes, today it is much easier to access the training we need than it ever has been.

I’ve got your back
Now for me to close the loop and explain how I ended up here at Motor Age. I was working for a national company and was happy there. Heck, who wouldn’t be with steady work and an air-conditioned shop?

It’s all about giving something back – and providing you with the resources you need to continue your successful career as a technician or shop owner.

One day, I drew a ticket on an EVAP problem on a Lexus SUV. I tried reading up on the system using the service information I had available, but must admit it made little sense to me. Not one for just rolling over and giving up, I decided to take some time to research the system online. I assembled pages of notes on the different designs Toyota had used for their evaporative emissions systems and had every intention of just putting it in my toolbox for reference the next time I had to deal with a similar complaint. (Yes, I fixed that first one because of the homework I did). My wife, however, suggested I submit it to one of those car magazines I was always reading. I did, and it was published by a competitor.

But the technical editor at Motor Age liked the article, too. He just didn’t have anywhere to use it at the time. So he asked me to write a few articles a year for the “Garage” section and a few years later I was given the opportunity to take his place. And here I am today, nearly six years later.

Even after half a dozen years, though, I still feel more like a technician than I do an editor. And I always try to remember where I came from – and how hard it is to make a living in this business. That’s why we have our social media groups, our YouTube channel, our quarterly webinars. And more recently, we’ve added our Commitment to Training events all leading up to the big event, Automechanika Chicago 2017. Next July, we will be assembling the best trainers in the industry to help you grow and succeed in your careers and it’s all at no charge due to the gracious and generous support of our sponsoring partners.

Won’t you take advantage of this opportunity? It beats doing a Google search to learn how to be the best you can be! See you in Chicago.

About the Author

Pete Meier | Creative Director, Technical | Vehicle Repair Group

Pete Meier is the former creative director, technical, for the Vehicle Repair Group with Endeavor Business Media. He is an ASE certified Master Technician with over 35 years of practical experience as a technician and educator, covering a wide variety of makes and models. He began writing for Motor Age as a contributor in 2006 and joined the magazine full-time as technical editor in 2010. Pete grew the Motor Age YouTube channel to more than 100,000 subscribers by delivering essential training videos for technicians at all levels. 

Connect with Pete on LinkedIn.

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