Local Mechanics Slowly Disappearing

It should be obvious these days that cars are getting so complex that even manufacturers are having problems finding faults and fixing them. A friend of mine, who is a qualified BMW mechanic, was telling me that when new BMWs breakdown in the middle of the road (and he was quick to point out that its a rare oddity but it does occur), that there is absolutely nothing RACQ or any other road side mechanic could do about it, and the cars are generally towed straight to BMW.
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Even then, BMW mechanics will plug the car into the diagnostics systems before attempting to fix anything. Sure if its a flat battery, it might be an easy fix, but thats about it. Even so, some cars won't even start after a flat battery (e.g. the Subaru Impreza WRX/STi - due to the security system losing its settings). So this brings about the problem of everyday local mechanics having to deal with the new and advanced computer car systems when diagnosing a problem.

Craig Wilson who used to run his own car workshop, recently wrote about this issue in his blog.

The motor repair industry both here in Australia and around the world is undergoing some pretty major changes. From what I see and the information I am getting from people still in the industry, the local mechanic down the road will all too soon be a thing of the past.

I believe that as our motor vehicles become more and more technologically advanced, dealerships will be the only ones with the financial resources to equip their workshops with the necessary equipment. The small operators will increasingly find it hard to keep up with the technology and keep prices down. The training that tech’s receive when working at a dealership would give them a distinct advantage also.

Car Mechanic HoistNow if your wondering why this is an issue, well lets think for a moment about not only all the self employed mechanics who are going to find it hard trying to repair a brand new Ford Falcon when the traction control system is playing up, but also the fact that if your car can only be serviced by the dealer, how much more you're paying compared to what a local mechanic would've charged you.

Of course, if you own a BMW or Mercedes, you would be relatively hesitant to take your car to a local mechanic in the first place, but we are no longer just talking about BMWs and Mercs. The technological advancement is remarkable in all new cars. If you go looking in a car dealership today, you will be presented with a list of technological terms including everything from the tried and tested ABS to, Computer Controlled AWD systems and about half a dozen other technologies in the middle.

It was only yesterday that I was writing about the upcoming Mitsubishi Evo X and its array of technological advancements such as

  • Super All Wheel Control,
  • active suspension and steering,
  • active brake control technology
  • electronically controlled four-wheel drive with active stability and yaw control and an active centre differential.

Can you imagine an everyday mechanic trying to fix any of these systems if a problem occurred? Of course this isn't an issue now as there is still a great deal of old (80s-90s) cars around and that is keeping the local mechanics in business. But in 10 years time when the current old cars are starting to be dumped and all the cars which are then 10yrs old are still driving around, who is going to fix them? Your local mechanic or your Ford/Holden/Toyota/Subaru/etc dealer? I think the answer is all too clear.

However, the biggest question with this emerging problem isn't so much that local mechanics are all going to go bust, but more so that when something breaks with your car, you have the choice of taking it to one or two mechanics - which are most probably all operated by the same dealership network. What does that equate to? Lots of $ spent on a problem which may be something simple, but due to equipment cost, fixing simple problems is going to get a lot more expensive!

So the main questions remains though, what can you do about it? Not too much, the way things are going, the local down the road mechanic/shop/fruit store are all going out of business and being replaced with more K-mart tyre and autos/westfields/coles'. I am sure some of you are thinking thats its best to stay clear of cars that come bundled with an endless list of technological systems, but this is simply a bad way to think. Sure the more computer controlled cars become, the more complex they are to fix, but at the same time, most of these features are to improve safety and driver comfort.

I think local mechanics will need to start looking into new avenues, perhaps specializing in a specific brand of cars (as some already do) in order to afford the high price of car diagnostic systems. It would be interesting to see just how many local workshops are still around in 10-15 years time.