Last month, I found my driver’s license from when I was 20. In 1994, I got my first job working at a dealership as a porter, shuttle van driver and service writer trainee. It was the first step on my journey where I would work as a service writer, technician and magazine editor.
Just looking at the picture on the license, I can see a wide-eyed kid that just wanted to work with cars and make money. I remembered all of the mistakes I made, cars that came back, and most of all the people who helped me.
I began thinking about what I would say if I could go back in time and talk to this 20-year-old kid to prevent so many mistakes and to avoid the missed opportunities. Here are six things I would tell myself:
Never road rage in a vehicle with the shop’s name on the side. This one is common sense, but some how you managed to forget this when seated inside the 1992 VW Eurovan that was a rolling billboard with the phone number for your boss on it. You are right. She did cut you off. But it does not give you the right to honk, yell and flip her the bird. She will call your boss and you will get yelled at.
Do not fix you girlfriend’s vehicle. It will start with an air filter and progress to intake manifold gaskets. When you say no to a clutch, it will lead to a fight because she thinks you are cheating on her with other people’s cars, and she does not understand that it can’t be done in a parking lot in front of her dorm. As a rule, you can only work on your significant other’s vehicle when you are married and have at least two children.
Buy a decent torque wrench. There will come a time when you have to do a wheel bearing on a vehicle twice before you actually come to the realization that you can’t use your “calibrated arm” to apply 170 ft.-lbs of torque with a 150 ft.-lbs torque wrench. Buy a decent torque wrench sooner rather than later.
Do not overextend your credit with tool trucks. You can only avoid the tool truck drivers for so long before they threaten to “repo” your toolbox. You will use some of the tools you buy on credit 20 years from now. But some of the limited edition sets, spark plug gapping tools and assorted branded gadgets you put on your tab now will take you years to pay off.
The Internet will be BIG. I know you think that AOL is the greatest thing in the world, but it is going to get so much better. In the future, swapping CDs out of drives for service information will be a thing of the past. Information will flow at speeds unknown to you in 1994. Learn how to use the Internet and even how to code.
And most importantly…
Shut Up and Listen. You will have the opportunity to work alongside some of the best technicians in the world. Listen and learn from them. You should be paying them for the help they are giving you. Do not be in a big rush to work on your own for flat rate. The training and advice they will give you is priceless. Shut up and learn. If you fail to do this, you will regret this the most later on.
I can’t go back, and I guess that is what makes these lessons valuable. I only hope in 20 years I find an old driver’s license and can look back with the same sense of growth.