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The $75 tune-up disappears with advances in technology.

Few industries in Northern Ontario have entered the decade of the '90s without encountering drastic change.

The automotive repair industry is no exception. However, many of its clients fail to recognize the added costs of advancing technology.

Clients entering repair shops such as Thunder Bay's Canadian Tire associate store near the city's airport are frequently shocked at the posted service rates.

On an average business day as many as 35 cars pass through the high sliding doors behind service manager Ronald Otway, a 23-year veteran with Canadian Tire.

"The customers of today, especially in the past year or so, find it hard to relate to the reasons for our rates," says Otway. "They spend as much as $35,000 on a car and bring it to us to keep it running properly, but they find it hard to understand that the day of the $75 tune-up passed us by long ago."

Otway also acknowledges that it has become nearly impossible for the average automobile owner to perform any of the repair work. For example, even changing a headlight now requires special tools.

"Once a service light comes on, get to a repair centre," he advises. "Almost any type of repair is complex. The average person does not realize how much change has taken place in such a short period of time. We even have the damnest time trying to stay ahead of it with all the equipment we have."

Parts manager Serge Russo, a 28-year Canadian Tire employee, notes that the service technicians are provided with "a tremendous amount of help and information in terms of electronics and learning aids.

"Furthermore, we use a modem-connected data bank when we have difficulties analyzing a problem," he says.

Russo and Otway note that sophisticated pieces of electronic equipment, such as a $46,000 engine analysis unit, are merely tools. Despite computerization, they insist that it is still the hardworking technician who must put the equipment to use along with his experience, training and knowledge.

New technology may find the source of a problem more quickly, but the technician still completes the hands-on repair. It is no easy task when you consider that the cars of the '90s have far more parts than did their predecessors.

"There has really been little structural change in the past 20 years in terms of parts. Manufacturers made vehicles lighter because of demands for fuel economy and to satisfy emission requirements," says Russo. "With these, a lot of new miniaturized components were added.

"Whenever there is another improvement, they add more pieces, so the car becomes less efficient if one part in the chain breaks down."

Many drivers of small cars expect reduced repair rates. However, it is part of Otway's job to diplomatically explain the truth.

For example, he says most vehicles have front-wheel-drive which necessitates far more complicated cooling systems and transverse engines.

Russo says the cost of parts has increased dramatically because individual parts have become more sophisticated.

More demanding training requirements in the automotive repair industry have also contributed to the increase in service rates.

For example, for an apprentice to achieve "Class A" certification he or she must work in an approved shop for five years and pass three eight-week technical college courses.

"The day of the backyard mechanic is gone, and even the backyard technician is not really possible because it takes so much money and training to keep up," Otway says. "Our people have refresher courses three or four times a year, and special factory representatives come to Thunder Bay. We have videos available at all times and do plenty of on-the-job training as well.

"People don't realize the education and training needed to become a technician compared to the old mechanic with grease in his hair," he adds. "If I asked any of our people on the floor if they would choose this as a career again, at least 75 per cent would say they would do something else for a living."

Meanwhile, many industry experts predict that their will be a shortage of skilled technicians in the near future. This is because fewer young people are entering the work force and because many of these view skilled labor as poor paying.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Transportation Report; automotive repair industry
Author:Sinclair, L.I.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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