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Automobile Trades - The Future of the Occupations

( Originally Published 1930 )

The automobile industry is expanding due to the fact that cars are being manufactured at a lower cost thereby enabling many people to buy them. It is also expanding because many industrial concerns are increasing the number of automobile trucks, which they are using for transportation purposes. The result of this expansion is to bring about more work for those engaged in the automobile trades because all passenger and freight automobiles need some adjustments and repairs occasionally. When the number of such vehicles increases, there is bound to be more and steadier work for the men who can keep them in good running condition. The future, therefore, of these occupations seems to be very bright. The demand for well-trained men in this field of work is increasing, and the probability is that the business of repairing and conditioning automobiles will assume greater importance as the use of gasoline-driven vehicles increases. The boy who wishes to become an automobile mechanic, an electrician, a painter, or a body builder can feel sure, if he fulfills the requirements, that he is entering on a line of work which will be in great demand for many years to come.

The Work of the Automobile Mechanic.—In a preceding section it was stated that the automobile mechanic works in a service station or in a general garage. The work of the service station is carried on in two different sections. One section is called the service floor, and this is the place to which the customer brings his car when there is anything wrong with it. He is met here by the man who is called the service salesman. This man locates the trouble and writes the order for the repair or the replacement of the damaged part. Then he sends the car to the shop where the mechanics work on it. When the automobile is returned to the service floor, the service salesman checks the work of the mechanic to see that everything is working well. He has the authority to send an automobile back to the shop if the repairs or the adjustments have been made improperly.

The other section of a service station is the shop where the automobile mechanic is employed. This is where the actual work of repairing, adjusting, and replacing damaged parts is performed. In some shops, the work is divided among a group of men, each one of whom is a specialist at some particular kind of job. Thus, there are some men who work on rear axles only; others who repair and adjust engines; and still others who do nothing but grease automobiles. Some employers prefer all-round mechanics, that is, men who can make repairs or adjustments to any part of an automobile. The man who is familiar with the construction of many different kinds of cars, however, is usually found in the general garage which does not specialize in the repair and the upkeep of any particular make. The work in the shop of a service station is similar to that of the general garage except that the service station devotes itself to one make of car only, and it employs highly skilled specialists.

The Operations Performed by the Automobile Mechanic.—A brief account of the work of the service floor salesman has already been given in a previous section. The beginner in the automobile repair shop becomes acquainted with the construction of cars through his work as oiler or greaser. In this position he is called upon to grease and lubricate all parts of the automobiles. When he has learned this job thoroughly, he is given an opportunity to work at minor jobs under the super-vision of a mechanic. His first attempts usually consist of removing parts from the cars. When he shows proficiency, he is allowed to make repairs that do not require a great deal of skill; and if he does the work well, he is given more difficult tasks. Thus he learns the trade step by step.

The work of the automobile mechanic consists, in the main, of making adjustments and repairs and of replacing parts on the engine, the transmission, the differential, the clutch, the steering apparatus, and on some parts of the electrical system. He is also called upon to take apart, clean, and repair all makes of carburetors. The engine is that part of the car which furnishes the motive power to drive it. It is located in the front end of the chassis under the hood. The engines in use today have either four, six, or eight cylinders, and they use gasoline as a fuel. They are called internal-combustion engines. The transmission is that part of the car which controls its speed. By means of this mechanism the car can be moved forward at low, second, or high speeds, and it also can be reversed. The differential is located in the rear axle housing, or covering. The purpose of this device is to enable the rear wheels to revolve at different speeds when the automobile turns a corner. The clutch is a device which permits the engine to be connected with or disconnected from the transmission. This enables the operator to start the engine while the car is at rest, and it allows him to set it in motion gradually. The mixing together of gasoline vapor and air is called carburetion. This is done in the device called the carburetor. It is necessary to change the gasoline into vapor and then mix it with air before introducing it into the cylinder. In this manner energy is obtained to start the engine and to keep the car in motion. There are five distinct types of carburetor which the mechanic may be called upon to repair or adjust. We all know what the steering apparatus is; so it will not be explained here.

The actual work of repairing includes, in some cases, the removal of the parts from the automobile, while in other instances this is not necessary. We have said before that the automobile mechanic in the general shop is called upon to do a great variety of work in the course of the day. It would take more space than is possible here to give a detailed description of all the operations he performs. Some of the things he may be required to do are as follows: install a winter front on a radiator, make a complete chassis lubrication, replace front spring hangers, remove squeaks and rattles, install bumpers and wind-shield wipers, overhaul the rear axle, adjust steering gears, adjust the foot brakes, tighten up the entire chassis, overhaul the entire car; grind valves, remove carbon. These are just a few of the jobs that may come into the shop during the day, and the mechanic must be able to work on all of them.

The Tools and the Materials Used by the Automobile Mechanic.—The materials used in repair and adjustment work consist of capscrews, bolts of various kinds, iron, brass, and copper rivets, brake linings, valve-grinding compounds and parts of automobiles. The tools required by the mechanic in his work are of many kinds. Some are such common ones as the hammer, the screwdriver, the pliers, the cold chisel, the wrench, calipers, micrometers, and various kinds of drills and taps. He also uses a great many hand and power tools which are used exclusively in the automobile industry. Some of these are wheel pullers, gear pullers, valve-grinding and valve-refacing tools, various kinds of reamers, which are tools used for enlarging holes, and wheel aligners. Those who are interested in this trade may become familiar with the tools by observing the work of the automobile mechanic or by attending the classes conducted in this subject at the part-time vocational school, and the trade school or the technical high school.

The Work of the Automobile Electrician.—The work in the automobile electrical service station is divided among a number of men. One group handles batteries only, while another group devotes its efforts to repairing or replacing damaged parts of all other units of the electrical system on an automobile. The work is further divided among floor service men and shop men. The service floorman is the one who meets the car owner, inspects the car, and makes a diagnosis of the trouble. If it is possible to do so, he makes the necessary adjustments and repairs while the owner waits for his automobile. If the trouble cannot be adjusted immediately, the car is sent to the shop with a tag on it which contains the report of the floor service man together with the necessary directions.

The Operations Performed by the Automobile Electrician.—The shop man works on the car directly, or he takes the particular unit out of the automobile and makes the necessary repairs and adjustments on it while he has it at his bench. His work includes repairing or overhauling the wiring system, the ignition system, the generator, the starter, and other parts connected with the electrical system. The electrician goes through the following operations in the process of overhauling or repairing particular units. He takes the unit apart, cleans all of its parts, and tests or inspects them for breaks or other defects. Then he assembles it, putting in new parts for those that were damaged or worn out. The unit is again tested before and after it is replaced in the car. The pictures on page 136 show automobile electricians at work.

The generator, which the electrician is called upon to overhaul or repair, is that part of the electrical system which converts some of the energy created by the engine into electrical power which it sends to the storage battery. The storage battery stores the electricity and furnishes the electrical energy for starting the motor, for ignition purposes, for lighting the automobile, for operating the electric horn, and for various other purposes. The starting motor is an electrical device the purpose of which is to turn over the crankshaft of a gasoline engine at the time the motor is started. The ignition system furnishes the electric spark which explodes the gas in the cylinder of the engine, thus producing the power which runs it. There are three kinds of ignition systems: the single-battery system, the magneto system, and the Ford ignition system. There are other units of the electrical system of an automobile which have not been mentioned here, but with which every person who wishes to enter this trade must become familiar.

The operations which the electrician performs require a thorough knowledge on his part of the construction of the electrical systems of many kinds of automobiles and of the principles of electricity involved in the process of overhauling and repairing of the various units.

The battery man performs the following operations in his work. He knocks down or takes apart the battery and examines the plates and the other parts. This examination enables him to determine what can be used again and what must be thrown away. The jars are tested for leaks, and those that leak are replaced by new ones. Then he builds up the groups of plates, inserting the insulators, and reassembles the entire battery. The next step includes sealing the battery with compound and burning on the lead connectors. Finally the battery is charged. It is then ready to be replaced in the automobile.

The Tools and Materials Used by the Automobile Electrician.—The main tool of the electrician is the screwdriver. He also uses small wrenches of all kinds, soldering irons, pliers, the lathe, the drill press, files, hack-saws, and pulling devices of all kinds. This workman also uses a machine called an arbor press, the purpose of which is to press bushings and bearings off and on shafts. The most common tools of the battery man are the lead-burning torch, the gas flame, the drill press, end nippers, lead molds, pliers, and many of the tools used by the automobile electrician.

The materials used by the electrician consist of wire, solder, copper terminals, bolts, nuts, and screws, of smaller sizes, parts of units, shellac, and various kinds of insulating material. The battery man uses sulphuric acid, distilled water, lead, peroxide of lead, sponge lead, hard rubber, wooden separators to hold plates apart, and sealing compound.

The Work of the Automobile Painter.—The work in an automobile paint shop is also divided among a number of people. Some of them clean the cars, and others remove the paint. The sandpapering is done by still another group; and each operation of applying the coats of paint, the stripes, and the varnish is done by a different workman. However, this is true only in the big shops where many people are employed. The painters in the small places must be able to do all of the work on an automobile from the cleaning to the varnishing.

Operations Performed by the Automobile Painter.—There are three ways in which the outside of a car may be refinished. One method consists of removing all the old paint and putting on a new surface, another is that of painting over the old coat, and the third method is simply that of applying a color varnish. The first step in the painting process is the thorough cleaning which is given to the automobile by the man who specializes in this kind of work, or by the painter himself, depending upon the size of the shop. Then the paint is removed, if it is an entire repainting job, by the application of a liquid paint remover, and a coat of metal priming is applied. The purpose of the priming is to provide a surface on the metal to which the coats of paint will adhere. The next step is to put on the surfacer. This is a heavy paint which is used to cover up the rough places. After drying, the automobile is sandpapered by hand, in order to make a smooth surface upon which to apply the color paint. Putty is put on those defects which were not affected by the application of the surfacer or filler coat, and these places are again sandpapered. The expert painter now takes up the work by applying a coat of ground color which is a neutral shade. On this he puts the flat paint which is in the color desired by the owner of the automobile. This is allowed to dry, and then a coat of varnish is applied, which is later sandpapered with sandpaper that has been dipped in water. The stripe or stripes are then painted on the car; and the final coat of varnish is put on, after which the automobile is allowed to dry. The wheels and the bottom of the chassis are also painted. For this kind of work the painter must get under the car.

The Tools and the Materials Used by the Automobile Painter.—The tools of the painter consist of brushes of various kinds, each of which is used in applying the paint remover, the primer, the surfacer, the flat paint, the stripes, and the varnish. His other tools are broad knives with which the putty is applied, sandpaper, felt for rubbing down the coats of paint, and the airguns. The airgun is used quite extensively today, and it is fast replacing the brush as a means of painting automobiles. It is a device which forces the paint by means of air pressure through a nozzle, and in this manner it sprays the substance on the car. A painter can do much more work with the airgun than he ever did with the brush. The brush is still used, however, for painting stripes and for applying the varnish. All those who enter the trade will find it necessary to become familiar with the operation of this device, because they will probably be called upon to use it part of the time at least. On page 140 there are two pictures showing different. methods of painting automobiles. The man in the upper picture is using an airgun.

The materials of the trade are turpentine, paints of various colors, varnish, putty, special paint for the bottom of the chassis, liquid paint remover, surfacers, and primers.

The Work of the Automobile Body Builders.—The rebuilding of wrecked automobiles and the repairing of damaged bodies is carried on by a group of men who are known as automobile body builders. This term, however, covers a number of different trades, each one of which is necessary in the process of rebuilding or repairing the damaged automobiles. The men who work in the body-rebuilding shops are blacksmiths, sheet-metal workers, woodworkers, trimmers, and those who install the glass. No one man is capable of doing all of the required work when a car body must be rebuilt or repaired.

The Operations Performed by the Automobile Body Builders.—When an automobile is damaged, and it is taken to a body-rebuilding shop, it is inspected by a man who makes an estimate of what must be done to it. Then, if it is necessary, the blacksmith strips the car; that is, he removes the fenders and takes the body off the chassis, he straightens the axles and the frames, if this is required, and he lines up the wheels. He welds pieces of steel together by heating them in the forge. In the process of straightening the frame, the blacksmith uses the acetylene torch to heat the bent part, and then he pounds it into shape with a hammer. A blacksmith is shown in the act of heating a frame with the oxyacetylene torch in the picture on this page.

When the sheet-metal worker is called upon to make repairs to the body of an automobile, he may remove the sheet metal, or he may fix the damaged part without doing so. This depends upon the difficulty of the job. He straightens the metal or brings the body back into shape by means of the electric hammer. Any small indentations or depressions are pounded out by hand, filled with solder, and filed down so that the repaired part is as smooth as it was before the damage was done.

If he is not able to straighten out the metal, he is required to secure a new panel and to place this on the body of the car. When a break or a hole is found in the sheet metal of an automobile, it can be repaired by the electric spot-welding method. The sheet-metal worker must be thoroughly proficient in the use of the spot-welding apparatus. A sheet-metal worker is straightening out a dent in the picture on this page.

The woodworker is able to do his part of the job only after the sheet-metal worker has removed the sheet metal and the trimmer has stripped the automobile of the upholstery. This man's work is similar to that of the cabinetmaker and the carpenter. His job is to replace or to mend all the wood parts that are broken or damaged.

The trimmer is the man who works on the leather and the upholstered parts of the automobile. His work includes the fitting and the altering of side curtains on touring cars, the ripping out and the replacing of upholstery, the building of new tops and side curtains for touring cars, the repairing and the rebuilding of old tops, the upholstering of seats, cushions, and insides of closed automobiles, and the making of seat covers and rugs. All of this work requires a great deal of skill and many years of experience.

The man who installs the glass windows and windshields is also the one who repairs the devices called window regulators. These devices enable the automobile driver to lower and raise the window in his car. The man's work, therefore, consists of putting in new windows and windshields whenever it is necessary to do so, of making repairs to the glasswork if possible, and of installing or repairing window-regulating devices.

The Tools and Materials Used by the Automobile Body Builders.—A great variety of tools and materials is used in an automobile-building shop. The blacksmith uses among other things such tools as hammers of different kinds, screwdrivers, bending tools, the acetylene torch, the forge, the anvil, steel-cutting chisels, and a variety of wrenches. He works with steel which he can make into various parts of the framework of an automobile. A material known as welding compound is used by this worker when two pieces of steel are welded together by heating in the forge.

The hand tools of the sheet-metal worker consist of tinner's hammers, tinner's dies (which are held on the side of the sheet metal opposite to that on which the worker is pounding with the hammer), files, the electric hammer, the spot-welding apparatus, the soldering iron, and the fire pot. He must be able to use such machinery as the trip hammer (which is used for stretching and shaping the metal), the cutting machine, the rotary cutter, the beading machine (which is used to put a flange or a rim on sheet metal), and the punching machine. He works with such materials as sheet metal of various kinds, solder, and aluminum molding, which serves the purpose of covering up the seams where the back of a closed car joins the top.

The tools of the trimmer consist of the hammer, the shears, the center punch, the screwdriver, the eyelet punch, cutting knives of different kinds, needles, thread, and tape measures. In his work he uses such materials as broadcloth, mohair, rubberized cloth, imitation or genuine leather, celluloid or mica for side curtains, cotton padding, hair, moss, excelsior, and tacks.

The woodworker uses the tools and the materials that are common to the carpenter and the cabinetmaker. The glass installer works with the hammer, the glass cutter, the screwdriver, and the center punch. The materials consist of glass, tape of all kinds, velvet for covering the channels in the window frames, and steel channels.


The working hours in these trades vary. In some shops the mechanics work eight hours per day, and in others they are employed for a nine- and sometimes a nine-and-one-half-hour day. As a rule the service stations are closed on Sunday and in the evenings. Some of them, however, keep their shops open all night long and also on Sundays and holidays. This is a practice which many general garages follow. The shops that do the painting, electrical work, and body rebuilding also close on Sunday. The workers in these trades usually receive fairly good wages. The earnings vary according to the experience of the worker, the type of work which he is doing, and the place in which he is employed. However, it can be said that the experienced man in all of these occupations will always be in great demand; and, therefore, he will be able to ask for wages that will compare favorably with those paid in any other trade.

The workers in most of these trades are kept busy all year round. There was a time when the late fall, the winter, and the early spring months were the slack periods for the automobile mechanic and the electrician. Today, however, these men are kept busy almost all the time because people do not stop using their automobiles as they formerly did when the cold weather came on. The busy season in the auto-painting trade runs from early in December to late in June, but there is also some work during the other months of the year. The work of rebuilding the bodies of damaged automobiles is not seasonal. It depends upon the number of such cars that are brought in for repair and overhauling.

The workers in these trades come in contact with grease, paint, oil, varnish, and dirt in the course of the day. Most modern garages and service stations, electrical service stations, paint shops, and body-rebuilding shops, however, provide places where the workmen may change clothes and remove the evidences of the day's work. There are no particular dangers in any of these trades, and the power machinery that is used is usually well guarded. However, accidents may occur in these occupations just as they happen in others regardless of the precautions that are taken.

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