Auto technology takes flightWritten by Nick Shultz | | firstname.lastname@example.org
You might think that if I were to use the terms “thrust angle” and/or “angle of attack” in a conversation, I would be talking about an airplane in flight. I very well could be; however, I very often use those terms when I discuss automotive suspension and steering systems. Master automotive steering and suspension technicians also use terms, such as a vehicle’s “attitude” or its “yaw” rate, while discussing vehicle alignment angles. Modern vehicles have on-board electronics that measure the forces applied to a vehicle during steering maneuvers and incorporate advanced computer systems which make nearly instantaneous adjustments based upon that data.
While it is true that the terms I mentioned above are used every day in the aviation industry, they are also used every day by automotive technicians. Why? It is simply because the laws of physics that apply to an airplane in flight also apply to an automobile in motion. Please remember, “You can break the laws of man, but you cannot break the laws of nature.” Modern master class automotive technicians are serious students of applied physics. Therefore, it is only natural that they communicate amongst themselves using the universal language of physics. As a result, these terms are commonplace in a modern automotive repair shop.
“Nodes,” “buses,” “baud rate” and “protocol” are terms any computer programmer will use in almost every sentence as naturally as you might use the word “common.” Listen in on two computer technicians and you’ll hear the words, “Interface”, “LAN,” “PROM,” “RAM” and “ROM,” and you might think you’re listening to a couple of Trekies discussing the latest “Star Trek” movie. The reality is if you listen to a couple of automotive technicians at lunch you may overhear the almost same conversation and certainly the same words.
The modern automotive technician works in an environment where mechanical and hydraulic systems are controlled and/or monitored by advanced electronic control systems. These modern electronic systems are more advanced than most folks can even imagine.
If your car is just a few years old, it is more advanced electronically and mechanically than most of our military’s fighter aircraft. More than 95 percent of everything your car does is computer controlled. Virtually every button or switch you operate is simply an input to some
on-board computer system. Even when you apply pressure to your gas pedal, you are telling an on-board computer control system you want to accelerate. The computer then commands an actuator to perform the task. The result: you go faster.
Where is all this technology heading? Crash avoidance and automated guidance systems are just a couple of the vehicle control systems that will be available to you in a short few years, and a few years after that, those very same systems will be mandatory on all vehicles. Many of you drive vehicles that have some level of computer-controlled steering incorporated within the directional control and stability systems.
All this advanced technology might sound more at home in a Tom Clancy novel then in a weekly automotive column written by a former “wrench;” however, the reality is this technology is here and will only get more sophisticated and complex as time passes.
The senior master technicians who work on your vehicles understand the complex relationships between the computer systems and the hydraulic and mechanical systems they monitor or control. Even more intense electromechanical/hydraulic devices are being incorporated within the modern automobile every year. All these advanced technological systems require a technician to apply the physical laws discovered by Boyle, Ohm, Newton and Watt on a daily basis. Sort of makes your mechanic an applied physicist, doesn’t it?
The type of individual who can assimilate the vast quantities of technical data and the ever increasingly sophisticated relationships between the many different on-board automotive mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical systems is becoming ever harder to find. Most individuals with the mechanical and electrical skills necessary to achieve master technician status choose other career paths that offer better working environments or better pay.
The cost of repairs to these vehicles will naturally continue to rise. As a consumer, your search for a competent technician will get harder and harder. My job training tomorrow’s technicians will also become more difficult. Even finding the right individual to train will get harder. The common denominator between each of these dilemmas is the increased technology.
There are no magical diagnostic computers that can discern the difference between mechanical and electrical failures. Future technology may or may not be able to resolve these problems. Only time will tell! Until then, we will continue to depend on our technicians to diagnose and repair systems.
Currently, there is no national or state technician rating (certification) system that accurately indicates a technicians over all capabilities. The independent national rating system only indicates a given technician’s ability to pass a test. The most accurate indicators are those offered through the automotive manufacturers’ certification process. However, that certification process only applies to dealership technicians. Consumers must have a way to accurately and independently identify technicians’ abilities. Working together, you and I can resolve this problem.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Shultz, a Toledo native, will take questions from readers at email@example.com.