WASHINGTON-Auto repairers will have their work cut out for them to meet the ``maintenance'' requirements of the pending enhanced inspection/maintenance program under the Clean Air Act. That's the assessment of speakers at the 1994 Society of Automotive Engineers Government/ Industry Meeting held March 30.
Not only must service providers meet new training and certification requirements, but they must deal with a degree of customer anger that promises to be unprecedented, according to Mitchell J. Schneider of Schneider's Automotive, Simi Valley, Calif.
``Motorists and technicians-the two groups most crucial to the success of the enhanced I/M program-have been purposely excluded from the rulemaking process,'' he claimed. Auto repair customers are not prepared for the extremely expensive repairs enhanced I/M will engender, and carmakers and the Environmental Protection Agency have left shop owners to tell them the bad news.
To attract technicians who can diagnose and repair malfunctioning of sophisticated emissions control equipment, independent repair shops must offer them at least $40,000 a year, according to Mr. Schneider. This means labor costs of at least $70 an hour, with a probable increase to as high as $100 an hour in the near future.
``A lot of information work is going to have to be done before the consumer is going to plunk down $70 an hour for repairs on something he doesn't perceive as a problem,'' he said.
He called on government and the auto industry to help independent auto repairers get the word out to consumers about the necessity of enhanced I/M. ``If clean air does not become an important issue for motorists, there's nothing anyone can do to achieve higher air quality standards,'' he said. ``The only thing it will create is a violent backlash from motorists and the service industry.''
When the enhanced I/M program goes into full effect next year, it will involve 60 million vehicles in 83 areas across 33 states. Bill Clemens of the EPA admitted there was ``not much of a program'' to ensure enough repair parts for I/M-related repairs.
``You may have good intentions, but if you can't find the right O-ring or fluid, you can't fix the car.''
But in the field of technical support, the EPA is actively trying to help auto technicians get the training and certification they need, largely in collaboration with such organizations as the Coordinating Committee for Auto Repair and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
CCAR-a coalition of 30 auto industry and aftermarket organizations devoted to training mechanics to meet I/M and other technical demands-will start its ``Train the Trainer'' program this spring, said its president, Sherman Titens. The program's goal is to train 800 personnel by this fall who then can train other technicians.
The need for such training is desperate, according to Mr. Titens. ``The industry must deal...with an aging workforce and 60,000 unfilled technical positions.''
Thousands of vocational and high schools across the U.S. have auto repair training programs, but these programs are generally underfunded, with inadequately trained teachers and no clear curricula, he said.
Part of the problem in attracting young people to auto repair is the poor image mechanics historically have had, according to Chris Christner of the Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix.
``There is a poor perception of technical education,'' Mr. Christner said. ``Students see auto technicians as grease monkeys....We deal with high school shop teachers on a regular basis; we're working on four-gas I/M technology by now, but in high school they're still on the two-gas level.
``High school counselors are also important; they convey the information that if you don't get a four-year degree, you have failed.''
Intensive training in IM240 testing and repair is necessary for auto repair students, he said, as are uniform training standards and a standard curriculum. The most important thing, however, is to develop the students' analytical skills.
``In a lot of high schools, I've asked students to perform all the tests, and they do them perfectly,'' he said. ``But ask them to diagnose the vehicle, and their thought processes go astray. That's because the most difficult decision most of them have had to make is whether to watch MTV or VH-1.''
He urged development of a partnership between government, industry and education to pool existing educational resources.
IM240 diagnostics and repair are so different from basic engine technology that the ASE has developed a new certification test, the Advanced Engine Performance Specialist Test or ``L1,'' to deal with those areas.
Certification in the basic ASE engine repair test is a prerequisite for taking the L1, according to Bob Weber of the ASE National Automotive Technical Education Foundation.
The L1, he explained, measures competence in six diagnostic areas: general powertrain, computerized engine controls, ignition systems, fuel and air induction systems, emissions control systems and I/M failure.
Mr. Weber said a panel of experts from all segments of the auto industry devised the L1 questions. Many states are moving to require the L1 test as a condition of certifying technicians and garages for I/M repairs, he said, and others will strongly encourage it.
At least 6,000 ASE-certified engine technicians have applied to take the first L1 test before the April 1 cutoff deadline, Mr. Weber said.
Like other ASE tests, the L1 certification is good for five years, Mr. Weber said. However, some states may require recertification in L1 technology every two years.