Auto mechanics

In a world of electric cars, who will be the car mechanics?

It is becoming increasingly clear that electric vehicles are the future of vehicles. But who will fix them when they break down?

The world’s biggest fat monkey (as a mechanical idiot, I use that term with respect and admiration) can’t do much if your electric car’s battery management system fails. It’s a concern that’s beginning to affect the industry, including the folks in New Hampshire who train the auto mechanics of tomorrow.

“Tesla contacted us,” said Marc Bellerose, chair of Manchester Community College’s automotive technology department. “They were looking, like everyone else, to attract new technicians to their industry.”

Last week, this question brought 22 teachers from high school automotive technology programs around the state to Nashua Community College, one of several state community colleges that train automotive technicians (Concord’s NHTI doesn’t actually not part).

As part of in-service training to maintain their certification, teachers had classroom work; tested a Mustang Mach-E, Ford’s first entry into the electric battery market; looked at the stripped-down Switch Lab electric vehicle used for training; and talked about life once engine oil changes are a thing of the past.

“For five years, maybe 10, I don’t see that changing,” said Scott Mayotte, who teaches automotive technology at Concord Regional Tech Center at Concord High School.

This is partly because introductory tech training courses need to spend their time on the basics starting with “right-tight, left-loose”, and partly because they need to teach current systems that will remain whatever happens, like the suspension, brakes, lights and steering. Additionally, every internal combustion vehicle sold today will need a mechanic for its lifetime; our roads won’t be reserved for electric vehicles for decades.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that it takes specialized equipment and training to work on electric car batteries compared to traditional low-voltage automotive electronics.

“There are even special gloves, fencing. … I don’t see the high schools having the equipment, the training,” Mayotte said. “Not for a long time.”

All automotive technology courses already teach safety around high-voltage electronics because of hybrid cars, but these courses don’t go much further than telling students what not to touch. The Switch Lab practice car, which is used in some high school classes, is more convenient but has a specialized battery design that keeps it below 60 volts.

The immediate future might be different at the next stage, the community college level. They offer one-year certificates and two-year associate’s degrees as an auto mechanic, though some manufacturers’ certification is required to work on some systems. “You are a lifelong learner,” Mayotte said.

Nashua Community College is evaluating how they should modify the curriculum and courses to train electric vehicle mechanics, which also involves how to integrate this future technology into all of their other departments.

“We want their log files for database analysis,” said Professor Betsy Gamrat, who coordinates computer science and web engineering and computer science at the NCC, pointing to an electric car.

Cars are an interesting challenge for budding software developers, she said, because failure can be life-threatening.

“The quality of software you need in a car has to be extremely high. That’s part of what we teach: the use of the software, which determines where you have to draw that line,” she said.

“Look at this battery management system,” added Gamat. “There is no keyboard, no screen; it’s a whole different ball game.

Part of the problem with motor electrification is that it will accelerate the rate at which cars become mobile computers. As the recent shortage of computer chips has shown, even heavy gas guzzlers depend on dozens of modules, each essentially a small computer, to control everything from engine operation to pollution control to systems. sound. Auto mechanics won’t need to be programmers, but they will need skills that are more often found in the IT department.

“Students don’t write code, but they reprogram the computers in the car,” Bellerose said. “If you’re replacing a transmission, you have to go into the programming procedures of his computers – you have to reset them, if you will, so he knows it’s a new transmission. … You are a software user and installer.

Electric mobility will redefine cars and trucks in a way never seen before, at least with the invention of the automatic transmission or the electric starter, to the point that transportation will no longer be the only thing mechanics have to think about. Managing vehicle-to-grid technology, in which a car or truck system can power a home, is going to be part of the automotive technician’s toolbox.

“It’s not just a vehicle that gets from point A to point B,” said Professor Karl Wunderlich, chair of the department of industry and transportation at Nashua Community College. “The mindset of students is starting to open up to this idea.”

This is of course not the first time that the automotive industry has adapted training due to technology. Ask newbie mechanics about carburetors and you’ll probably get a blank stare.

“The work hasn’t diminished – it just got bigger,” Bellerose said. “You have to know all the fundamental things you would do as a technician and then add more technology. … It just keeps growing.