|The End of Car Mechanics|
‘People are freaking out.’ Will electric vehicles doom your neighborhood auto mechanic?
By Peter Holley
December 11 at 9:32 AM
A significant amount of a car dealer’s income comes from repairs from customers loyal to the brand or dealership. Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and rarely break down, eliminating much of the maintenance that repair shops rely on. (Andrew Spear for The Washington Post)
Craig Van Batenburg began his career as an auto mechanic in 1970 after falling in love with the internal combustion engine.
But for several years, the 67-year-old from Massachusetts has been warning about its imminent demise. As a wave of electric vehicles quickly approaches, experts say, it could wash away a large portion of a skilled labor group that has been around for decades — the neighborhood auto mechanic.
The reason is simple: Unlike gas-powered engines, electric engines don’t require oil changes, have far fewer moving parts and rarely break down, eliminating much of the maintenance that repair shops rely on. The latest electric vehicles can be serviced using parts purchased online or fixed remotely through over-the-air updates.
The U.S. auto repair industry employs about 750,000 workers, nearly four times the number of people employed by the coal-mining industry. Though they are increasingly skilled and tech-savvy, many experts say, they are not prepared for the end of gas-powered transportation.
“People are freaking out,” Van Batenburg said, noting that some of the resistance to change is strongest in the Midwest and propelled by unfounded rumors of technicians being electrocuted by electric vehicles. “Ninety percent of our industry has done nothing — absolutely nothing to prepare. They just turn the hybrids and EVs away and say, ‘We don’t work on those cars, go back to Ford or Toyota.’ The fear factor is huge.”
Whether it’s Volvo and GM’s decision to stop making gas-powered cars, Uber’s rush to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles, electric cabs or Tesla’s rise to relevance, the future appears to be coming into greater focus with each passing month. Van Batenburg thinks that Volvo’s announcement was the unofficial “point of no return.” He said he’s not the only one who felt the ground shift beneath his feet. Van Batenburg, who also owns a career-development company that prepares businesses for the arrival of electric and hybrid vehicles, said that before the announcement, his schedule was booked about three months in advance — now it’s more than a year.
[Why 2017 will go down as the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine]
Independent auto shops — of which there are more than 160,000 in the United States — have always relied on minor repairs, such as oil changes and new tires, to get customers in the front door. To many a car owner’s surprise, one minor repair often leads to a series of others, giving auto shops a chance to make more money and establish a rapport with customers that can serve them for years.
Electric vehicles threaten to upend this income stream.
Unlike gasoline cars, electric vehicles require no traditional oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacements or emission checks. In most cases, you can wave goodbye to changing timing belts, differential fluid and transmission fluid. EV brake pad replacements are less frequent because regenerative braking returns energy to the battery, significantly reducing wear on mechanical brakes because they’re used less to slow the vehicle.
Analysts estimate that the repair bills for EVs would be lower and less frequent than the tabs of their gas-guzzling counterparts.
The Chevy Bolt’s maintenance schedule requires owners to rotate tires every 7,500 miles, replace the cabin air filter every 22,500 miles and have the coolant flushed every 150,000, according to Chevrolet. “And . . . yeah, that’s it,” as one writer recently mused. Some of those parts can be purchased online for less than $20