``A page of history is worth a volume of logic.''-Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, teachers warned us.
That saying may well explain why so many tire dealers and service shop operators do so little to improve their image, and therefore, our entire industry's image. Here's why.
Regular Tire Business readers know I've carped about image improvement many, many times in this column and I'll say it again: If the image battle had been won, we'd be earning fees that rival those of doctors and lawyers. Technicians making $100,000 per year would be fairly commonplace instead of a rarity.
The fact of the matter is that too often, we just don't look like we're worth higher fees. Too often, the public doesn't even think we're worth what we're already charging! Our overall image has sunk so low that surveys show the average motorist would rather go to the dentist than get his or her car fixed. How low is that?
OK, let's get back to history for a moment. Originally, my grandfather apprenticed as a blacksmith but later became a master machinist. Like many who worked with metals, he was fascinated with machinery and began tinkering with motorcycles at an early age and later did much of his own auto repairs. (Take note, bikers, Grandpop rode an Indian.)
Like many of his colleagues in the early part of the last century, my grandfather had a close working relationship with the burgeoning auto repair trade. In that era, it wasn't uncommon for blacksmiths and machinists to repair or fabricate various parts for the local auto mechanic. Furthermore, my father worked as a mechanic's helper or ``gofer'' in a large repair shop.
As a boy, I listened to their stories about what it meant to be called ``mechanic.'' I also heard these stories from old-timers in neighborhood auto shops. When I began covering this industry in 1976, I heard more of the same from elderly mechanics I met around the country.
Believe it or not, readers, there was a time when the word mechanic referred to a skilled, knowledgeable tradesman. It denoted someone with training as well as hands-on experience. Best of all, being called mechanic was a compliment because it denoted integrity. You could trust your auto or motorcycle to a true mechanic.
Obviously, things changed. Some readers may remember me citing material from a 1952 service supplement published by a now-defunct trade journal, Automotive Service Digest. The tone of those articles confirms that by the early '50s, the auto repair industry's image was in decline. By the early '60s, my elders were cautioning me that auto repair wasn't a promising field because the term mechanic had lost its cache. By then, they said, mechanic referred to someone who'd fleece you if you let him.
Recently, a front-page story lamented our youngsters' poor knowledge of history. For example, a majority of teen-agers couldn't name at least one of our allies at the time America entered World War II. Should I be surprised? Too many times I have visited hallowed places in American history and realized foreigners touring the site alongside me knew much more about it than I did!
I am now convinced that Americans-including those of us who fix cars for a living-find history boring and irrelevant. People hate the fact that history reminds us of stupid, shortsighted and very avoidable mistakes. People hate the fact that history repeatedly shows how vital warning signs were ignored as being too incredible, too far-fetched.
Obviously, our industry has tried to improve its image by adopting a more modern, more positive sounding term: technician. As I've said in previous columns, I'm all for it. But that said, the fact remains that we've let that once-respected term mechanic become a subject of scorn, distrust and ridicule. No one accomplished that but us. Then some of us have the nerve to whine that consumers don't like us.
Readers, it took years of neglect and carelessness for our image to get so bad. Repeated warnings were made, but it doesn't appear that enough of us took the warnings to heart. Now it'll take years of persistent work to rebuild this image.
And like it or not, history suggests our work is far from done. Whether it's new uniforms, additional lighting and neater signage or fresh paint outside and a warmer attitude inside, keep at it.