By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion magazine
I have very few complaints about this industry—almost none—and virtually no regrets about making my career in its various corners. I’ve learned a lot, met some great people and had a chance to get into some pretty cool places and vehicles. As a class, I’ll argue that the folks that make, sell, repair, race or just admire cars and trucks are the best to be found anywhere. Mostly.
However, one thing will reliably set me off either in print or in person—somebody, somehow decides that they are a “doctor of automotivolgy” or some other ridiculous term. I’d only been at MACS a short time when some joker called in wanting to know if, when he passed the Section 609 test, could he have the title “Dr.” placed in front of his name on the card. Our reply was, “Sure; tell us what school you graduated from and after we check your credentials it’s all good.” We’re still waiting to hear back from him.
Education, formal or otherwise is valuable. Most get that but some still don’t. In our industry you can be quite successful even though you barely made it out of high school. Others invested more heavily in formal classes and have used that in their career. Either way, the successful ones have “learned to learn” and retained the knowledge.
But “saying so don’t make it so.” A doctorate, be it medical, philosophical or any other represents a huge investment of time, money and intellectual effort. It deserves respect. In the U.S. obtaining a medical degree first requires completion of a four-year bachelor’s program, with heavy concentrations of science preferred. Follow that by at least four more years in a medical school if you can get in.
Eight years later you’ll hold a medical doctorate, and quite often a huge debt. (Hands-up for anybody who took eight years of college before buying their tools? Thought so.) But as a newly minted MD, you’re still not allowed to practice on your own; you need another three to seven years of supervised residency under watchful eyes while you develop your specialty.
So, no matter how good you are with a scope or welder or laptop, you are not a doctor. For years, I’ve been rebutting this bit of ego-puffery through clenched teeth with the polite comment that there are no doctors in the shops. Then I met Ben Pender.
I was investigating the service history of a car for sale and the seller gave me Ben’s shop phone number. He’s an affable, well-spoken guy and we hit it off at once. He pulled the car’s service record almost instantly and we had a long chat, first about the particular car and then about cars in general. Somewhere in there he mentioned med school.
Ben, I found out, was raised in a professional family and his parents expected the children to choose professional careers. Ben ended up at the Medical University of South Carolina, and finished a three year residency at a local hospital. He was going to be a Family Practitioner, and at the very end, he received a nice job offer from a local medical office.
But 12 years of study had taken its toll; Ben accepted the offer but asked for six months off before joining. The practice said that was fine with them and the new doctor went home for some mental recuperation. The half-year sabbatical turned into another, and life at home was pretty easy compared to 20-hour days in a hospital. Ben soon found himself tinkering with the minor maintenance items on the family cars and trucks just to stay busy. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
It wasn’t long until a neighbor asked Ben if he could look at a car problem. Then a member of the local car club, and the friend of another. He had picked up a lot of engineering concepts and practices from his father, so most of the diagnosis and repair came easily. Ben didn’t charge much, if anything—just “parts and pocket money.” But cars kept coming, particularly vintage and European models, and some were really interesting to work on. As the work filled his home garage, it dawned on him that he could make a decent living fixing cars and still be home for dinner.
Three years later, he and a partner opened a shop. Ben turned the wrenches and the partner handled finances. It worked out well, and the shop soon had a good reputation and a growing clientele. While it scandalized some in the family, Ben never went back to medicine. I had to ask him: “How much of the med training crossed over to car repair?”
He told me “Most of what doctors do is pattern recognition; if you complain about X, they’ll run a mental list of symptoms and possible causes. They’ll ask a lot of questions to narrow the list, then run tests to confirm the diagnosis. Additionally, like medicine, you have to know the physiology, anatomy and function of your patient and think through all the possible causes.”
For him, it worked the other way as well; his absorbed knowledge of engineering let him take a systems approach to medicine and how various parts of the body function and interact.
When Ben trailered my purchase up to Pennsylvania from the deep south, my wife and I took him to lunch on delivery day. What we learned was surprising but understandable. Ben is in process of closing his shop.
He’s accepted a quality assurance engineering position at a major OEM’s engine plant near his home. Like so many others, he loves the wrench work but found he couldn’t run a business from under a car. Those excessively long days were looming again and his family was suffering the stress with him.
The new job means a predictable paycheck, and again he can be home for dinner. He plans to still do some side work at home as well. The last time I spoke with him, he said, “I always need to keep learning” so it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to hear he’s going back to school for an engineering degree; they offer doctorates in that, too.
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When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 33rd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Training Conference and Trade Show, Be the Best of the Best will take place February 7-9, 2013 at the Caribe Royale, Orlando, FL.