Mechanic’s job list shrinks

The list of jobs a mechanic frequently performs is getting smaller.

The list of jobs a mechanic frequently performs is getting smaller.

I probably have said it before, but I will say it again. The automobile is better than it used to be. The simple fact is they break down less and they last longer. The average owner keeps his/her vehicle a lot longer and drives it a lot farther.

When I started in this trade, small front-wheel drive cars were becoming popular. Front-wheel drive meant the front wheels had to power as well as steer the vehicle. The two axles (left and right) that propelled the front wheels were comprised of a shaft with an inboard and outboard constant velocity joints. These joints failed regularly.

The joints were packed in grease and sealed from the elements with rubber or plastic accordion type boots. Premature failure was the result of the boot failing, the grease flying out, water getting in and then, metal wearing out.

We replaced a lot of boots and replaced a lot of constant velocity joints. In many instances, the whole axle was replaced as it was the most cost-effective approach. In the last few years, the constant velocity joint business has dried up.

Are there fewer vehicles with constant velocity joint type axles? No, not at all. Other than your basic two-wheel drive truck (not many of these in the Kootenays) which can have no constant velocity joints, almost every other vehicle has at least two.

In many cases, now four joints is the most common and eight would be ordinary for an all-wheel drive vehicle.

You would think constant velocity joint work would be a mainstay of my business with the proliferation of all-wheel drive vehicles. That is simply not the case. Constant velocity joint boots just do not fail like they used to. The rubber boot material is stronger and does not crack open.

The metallurgy and design of the joint has improved immensely. What used to last 100,000 kilometres now lasts at least 200,000 kilometres.

These are just one of the many parts on a vehicle that don’t require the attention they used to. Some others that come to mind include spark plugs and engine valves.

Spark plugs are now replaced after three times the mileage that they used to be. Engine valves replacements? Huh, most vehicles go to the wrecking yard with the same valves they started out with still sealing as well as the day they left the assembly line.

Brake master cylinders use to be a regular replacement. Brake pads are still wearing out pretty fast but weeks and or months go by with nary a brake master cylinder replaced.

Yet, we are not any less busy than we use to be. The work is just a lot different. There is more variety and some jobs are much more technical.

A new Audi came in the other day. We had to adjust the headlights after an accident that required a headlight unit to be replaced. First step bring out the laptop computer. Each headlight has its own computer controller. They must be aligned and synchronized to each other so as the driver corners the lights rotate together to keep pointed down the road.

Technology, who needs it? We do!


Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He writes every other Thursday. E-mail: