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Like being a doctor except on cars

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Eric Gomez, left, transportation education director at ENMU-R, oversees Levin Van as he replaces brake shoes on a 2002 Honda Civic. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

As auto technologies evolve, it takes more than just a shade-tree mechanic with a tool box to repair complex, computerized systems. ENMU-R offers a program to train students to work on modern cars, while local dealerships, Roswell Toyota in particular, offer internship programs where students can hone their skills

Jesus Garcia, left, shop
foreman and master technician at Roswell Toyota, and Omar Castaneda, ENMU-R
auto tech intern, perform computer diagnostics on a
2002 first-generation Prius. The specialized computer costs around $40,000 and Garcia has received about $100,000 in training during his 18 years with the dealership. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

Modern automobiles, with features such as collision avoidance systems, are more technologically advanced than the first NASA space shuttle, said Eric Gomez, transportation education director at ENMU-Roswell.

And the technologies are evolving more and more each day with several auto makers developing self-driven cars.

Auto technicians, those working at dealerships especially, are no longer “grease monkeys,” although you can still get plenty dirty working in a shop.

Those of us of a certain age can remember our dads teaching us how to change the oil and do tuneups on the family car.

Changing the oil on a modern car is still fairly easy — once you manage to find the drain plug and filter — but tuneups are almost as old-fashioned as cattle drives, and engine parts such as points, condensers, rotor caps and distributors no longer exist unless you own a classic.

Modern engines may cost more to repair and require a higher level of expertise to work on than the 350 block in your dad’s ‘73 Chevy truck, but the good news is new engines have proven themselves to be more durable and efficient, Collins said.

What once were high-performance technologies two or three decades ago, like duel-overhead cams, are now standard equipment on nearly every vehicle that comes off the assembly line.

“We’ve got cars coming in with a half-million miles without an engine rebuild,” said Jim Collins, service manager at Roswell Toyota. “They are building better engine components.”

Collins, who grew up in Detroit and is from a “car family,” said in the old days it was a rare event when a car turned over 100,000 miles.

Collins has worked in the auto industry for 26 years, with the past nine at Toyota.

Collins said he met Gomez seven years ago when Gomez was a customer.

Both men have loved working on cars since they were teenagers and formed a professional relationship in 2012 when Gomez started teaching auto technology at ENMU-R.

Collins was particularly impressed with the internship program Gomez set up, where students can get 144 hours of hands-on experience working at a dealership.

The internships are unpaid and students do them on their own time. The internships are required for an associate’s degree, which requires taking classwork in subjects like math and English as well as the specialized automotive coursework.

Those wishing a certificate of employment instead of a two-year degree only need to take the auto tech classes, and no internship is required.

Collins said along the advanced training in diagnostics, Gomez’s students are prepared in shop safety and how to look and act professional.

Collins said he was shocked when he once walked into a shop and saw a mechanic wearing open-toed shoes.

Gomez got his start in the auto world much like many of his students.

He took vocational training at his alma mater, Dexter High School, and then continued his education in auto technology in Lubbock, Texas.

He received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education, with an emphasis administration, at ENMU in Portales.

He taught for eight years at Dexter before he was hired by ENMU-R, where he now is director of all the transportation programs, which are automotive, commercial driver’s license and diesel.

Gomez said modern-day auto technicians are like doctors for cars, except that while doctors communicate with the patients by speaking to them, mechanics communicate with cars through binary code.

The diagnostics computers that people saw in shops a few years ago that plug into the car are steadily being replaced with new computers with WiFi and Bluetooth that can access the internet as they perform a diagnostic.

However, while a computer can diagnose a problem such as a spark plug misfiring, the technician must figure out what is causing the misfire, Gomez said.

Gomez said auto mechanics is a good field to get into, especially for those who like problem solving — like spark plugs that misfire.

He said the job market is glutted with people with master’s degrees who can’t find jobs. However, with a certificate in auto technology, a student can quickly find a job in all 50 states, he said.

Gomez said starting salaries range from $10 to $15 an hour and there are limitless opportunities for advancement.

Gomez said Halliburton, an oil services company with locations around the area, is interested in hiring some of his candidates to work on their fleets.

Once hired by Halliburton, a starting mechanic can move laterally into another division of the company or move up into management, he said.

Collins agrees that opportunities abound once a graduate gets his or her first job.

Collins said he has hired around a dozen techs from the ENMU-R program. He is hiring a new one this month, Omar Castaneda of Roswell, and is considering hiring another one.

Though Castaneda is only 19, Collins said he already understands the difference between just having a job and a career.

“I want to go as far as I can,” Castaneda said. “If there is an opportunity to move forward, I will.”

For more information about ENMU-R’s auto tech program, call Gomez at 575-624-7115.

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.