Auto mechanics

In an electric car world, who will be the auto mechanics?

It is becoming increasingly clear that electric vehicles are the future of vehicles. But who is going to 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 is starting to resonate throughout the industry, including the people of New Hampshire who are training the auto mechanics of tomorrow.

“Tesla contacted us,” said Marc Bellerose, chairman of the automotive technology department at Manchester Community College. “They were looking, like everyone else, to bring new technicians into their industry. “

This question last week brought 22 teachers from state high school automotive technology programs to Nashua Community College, one of several state community colleges that train automotive technicians (Concord’s NHTI does not not part).

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

“For five years, maybe 10, I don’t see that changing,” said Scott Mayotte, who teaches automotive technology at the 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. no matter what, like the suspension, brakes, lights and steering. In addition, every internal combustion vehicle sold today will need a mechanic for its life; our roads will not be just for electric vehicles for decades.

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

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

All auto tech courses already teach about safety around high voltage electronics from hybrid cars, but these courses don’t go far beyond telling students what not to touch. The Switch Lab training car, which is used in some high school courses, is more practical but has a specialized battery design that keeps it below 60 volts.

The immediate future may 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, although manufacturers’ certification is required to work on some systems. “You are a lifelong learner,” Mayotte said.

Nashua Community College is evaluating how it should change 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 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 the software you need in a car has to be extremely high. It’s part of what we teach: how the software is used, which determines where you have to draw that line, ”she said.

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

Part of the problem with electrifying motors is that it will accelerate the rate at which cars are becoming laptops. As the recent shortage of computer chips has shown, even heavy gasoline consumers depend on dozens of modules, each essentially a small computer, to control everything from engine operation to pollution control to systems. audio. Auto mechanics won’t need to be programmers, but they will need skills more often found in the IT department.

“The students don’t write code, they reprogram the computers in the car,” Bellerose said. “If you’re replacing a transmission, you have to go through programming procedures for its computers – they need to be reset, if you will, so that it knows it’s a new transmission. … You are a software user and an installer.

Electric mobility is going to redefine cars and trucks in a way that hasn’t happened, at least the invention of the automatic transmission or the electric starter, to the point that transportation won’t be the only thing people want. mechanics must be thinking. Dealing with 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 toolkit.

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

This is of course not the first time that the auto industry has adjusted training due to technology. Ask the starting mechanics about the carburetors and you’ll likely have a blank stare.

“The work hasn’t decreased – it has rather increased,” Bellerose said. “You have to know all the basic things that you would do as a technician, and then you add more technology. … It just keeps growing.