“Any technician knows there are highs, and there are lows; every technician at some point second guesses if they really want to be in this career or not. Having the right attitude helps. Learn all you can from an older, more experienced mentor in the shop.” ~ Jose A. Campos III, In-Shop Technician, asTech.
Flip through the Campos family photo album, and in nearly every picture, young Jose is holding a toy car. If not playing with cars, he was asking his grandfather a “million questions” about them. Like many automotive professionals and enthusiasts today, Jose Campos spent his youth under the hood with an older family member. Often, Campos was right beside his grandfather, a father of four himself who worked with his hands to support his children.
“He had a one-man shop in a small city called Edcouch Elsa, down in the valley, by the Edinburg and Weslaco areas of Texas,” Campos recalled. “My grandfather worked a full-time job, and then after work or on the weekends, he would work in his shop, trying to make ends meet.”
The Little Blue Saab
During his high school years, Campos was a mainstay at the local O’Reilly’s, a job he still fondly remembers. Around this same time, Campos’ father said that if he applied what he learned from his grandfather and his part-time job at O’Reilly’s and could maintain his own car, he would buy him one for school. “My dad eventually bought me an old 1989 Saab 900,” Campos said. “I ended up falling in love with that car, and I’ve been a Saab fan ever since.”
Campos and his high school friends, one of whom worked at O’Reilly’s with him, developed a reputation for being the “car guys” in town. Go anywhere in the valley, and there was a good chance Campos was there, zipping around in his little blue Saab. “I wouldn’t say my driving was always kind to the vehicle,” Campos joked. “But driving as much as I did back then helped me become a better mechanic.”
The car guy reputation – and his little blue Saab – most certainly preceded Campos. It wasn’t long before people started coming to him for advice on how to fix and maintain their vehicles. “I ended up developing my mechanical skills out of necessity,” Campos explained. “O’Reilly’s was really the only parts store in town; it was one of the few places they could go. And I think everybody just kind of recognized my blue Saab parked there after a while.”
Out of The Frying Pan . . .
After graduation, Campos and his high school sweetheart (now wife) took off for San Marcos. Campos quickly found work in an express lube, although it was an adjustment at first. Behind the parts counter, he was used to air conditioning during the hot summer months, which isn’t a luxury express lube techs enjoy. “I went from the cool AC to working in the pit with a hot motor above me,” Campos said. “I normally worked the hood, where I had a chance to upsell and hone my customer service skills, but since I was mechanically inclined, they would toss me in the pit real quick.”
Life in an express lube is similar to the scene in Gone in 60 Seconds where Angelina Jolie tells Nicolas Cage you have to work twice as hard when it’s honest. An express lube is far from glamorous. The fast-paced and challenging environment offers little room for error, and the daily grind can get the best of aspiring technicians. It is, as Campos described, very hot in the summer. Conversely, it’s freezing during the winter. In the dealership world, it’s lower on the scale in terms of pay and benefits (when I was working in an express lube in 2011 in South Dakota, the average wage was about $10 an hour).
It’s also a dirty job, no matter what position you are working in. Although it varies, there are typically three positions: hoods, courtesy, and lower bay. The ones working the hood are responsible for checking all filters and fluids and adding the oil. Courtesy workers wash the windows, vacuum the vehicle, and check all tire pressures. The ones in lower bay (i.e. “the pit”) drain the oil, change the filter (if it’s not an “up-top” filter), and perform an underbody inspection. Ask any lower bay tech what vehicles they hate, and it’s usually ones they routinely burn their arm on trying to get to the oil filter.
Yet, there is an upside. For those that want to build a career as a certified technician, the express lube is one of the best places to cut your teeth. It’s also one of the best places to get noticed and recruited.
Over The Wall
Near the end of my time as an express lube manager, I had the privilege of helping a lube tech go “over the wall,” which was our dealership lingo. It basically meant we sponsored someone for OEM factory training (BMW Step in this case). After completing the training, we would hire them as a full-time technician. The phrase “over the wall” referred to the wood and glass divider wall inside our dealership that separated the express lube from the service drive.
Indeed, Campos received his opportunity to go over the wall. It happened out of the blue, but Campos was ready. “One day, at work, the service manager came over to our side and asked if any one of us was mechanically inclined beyond what was required for the express lube,” he recalled, “I raised my hand, grabbed my 100 piece tool kit, and kind of started my career from there. Luckily, I was soon put under a good mentor who opened up the world of automotive electronics to me.”
With the new opportunity, Campos pushed himself to earn as many certifications as possible. As of this writing, he has completed 80 I-CAR courses, passed 26 ASE tests, and currently holds 26 ASE certifications. “It was the combination of my parent’s advice that motivated me,” Campos explained. “My father always told me to learn something every day no matter how little or how big, and my mom always said, no matter what job you are doing, strive to be the best at it.”
Career With asTech
Today, Campos is gainfully employed by asTech, a collision diagnostic services company specializing in automotive diagnostic, vehicle electronics repair, and calibration services. As described by asTech, the company uses proprietary technology that allows for bidirectional communication between OEM factory scan tools and ASE certified or dealer-trained technicians, ensuring a safe and proper repair of complex electronics systems. Currently, asTech offers three different methods of delivery: remote, in-shop, and mobile. The patented asTech device allows shop technicians to connect remotely to an OEM tool and ASE certified or dealer-trained technicians over the air to perform vehicle health checks, reprogramming, and calibrations.
“Every vehicle that comes in and goes out, we do a pre-scan and a post-repair scan,” Campos explained. “The asTech patented device links to the OEM software, so every car I scan, I am using the actual manufacturer’s software. And from there, I will write a report on the codes.”
Currently, Campos is training his replacement in anticipation of a well-deserved promotion. Once he is settled into his new role, Campos plans to continue his training and education. “asTech actually has a partnership with I-CAR, so they provide employees with that training, which is fantastic,” he said. “It’s my biggest goal right now to earn as many of those I-CAR certifications as I can.”
When not working in the shop and writing reports, Campos enjoys spending time with his wife and four-year-old son. Like many automotive professionals and enthusiasts, Campos has a lengthy to-do list with his project cars, all Saabs in his case. “My son is quite the little gearhead, so he will be out there helping me,” Campos said. “I really just try and enjoy those moments with him.”
Almost as soon as Campos gets inside from working on his Saabs, the phone rings. Like many automotive technicians before him, Campos has a second job as the official family mechanic. There are two service calls this time around: one for his uncle’s truck that can, thankfully, wait until this weekend, and another more urgent one.
“Mom’s car broke down yesterday, so we’re doing a variable valve solenoid and probably a fuel pump,” Campos said. “I can’t believe it, but that thing has like a hundred million miles on it.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.