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Mechanic shortage could increase cost, time for car repairs

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If you already think it's expensive to get your car repaired, brace yourself. A shortage of mechanics that can repair today's higher-tech vehicles is expected to increase the cost of repairs, and the time you'll wait for them.

Auto repair shops are already finding it hard to find qualified mechanics.

"It's gotten to be a difficult process. You're trying to find people that are qualified," said Emmerson Miles of Miles Auto Service in Richmond, Virginia.

Fewer young people are going into the auto repair industry. And higher-tech vehicles with things like sensors, anti-lock brakes, and airbags mean repair shops need mechanics who understand computers as well as transmissions.

The automotive industry has changed.

Where repairmen used to use only wrenches and tools to repair cars, now they use laptops for diagnostics. And what they're repairing are essentially computers.

"Electric cars, more and more electronics, cars that park themselves, next year Cadillac will have a car with super cruise control, a car that can steer itself," explained Lawrence Schwendeman, program head of automotive technology at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

Many high schools have cut auto shop courses -- mechanics used to grow up tinkering with cars. Today's kids tinker with computers and video games, and are drawn to professions in those fields instead.

Said Schwendeman, "Just not that many hot-rodders out there anymore."

Schwendeman says if more students realized auto repair means working with computers, they'd be more interested. So auto manufacturers are working to fix that.

"The automotive manufacturers are starting to do some programs in the community colleges, trying to attract people," said Miles.

The good news: Auto repair students are landing jobs. J. Sargeant Reynolds student Brian Junior told us, "I talked to my teachers and they were able to help me find a job."

The bad news: The Labor Department predicts the demand for mechanics will increase 17 percent over this decade, as drivers keep cars longer and need more repairs.

With fewer mechanics available, predicted Miles, "The consumer ends up paying for it, because it goes into labor rates."

Added Schwendeman, "Certainly you'll see longer waiting periods to get your car fixed. You'll have to wait to get it done."

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