Then and Now: Mechanics’ Evolution Since the 20th Century


Henry Ford’s Model T revolutionized the automobile industry. In 1909, the famed industrialist announced that he would build a new kind of car, one that would “ be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces.”

That announcement inspired a mixture of excitement and scrutiny. At that time, only a select few had their own automobile. While many more would have loved to have one, it just didn’t seem like an option. Cars were expensive. Each part was handcrafted and unique to the vehicle. But that all changed when Ford introduced his factory-line approach and interchangeable parts.

Within a few years, the car transformed from an exclusive luxury item to a common sight around town.

Onset of Computerized Trucks

Innovations like this continued throughout the 20th century, and today’s standard semi truck would be unrecognizable to Rudolf Diesel. While the inventor’s first diesel engine ran at staggering efficiency for the time (75%), modern fuel injections, hydraulics, environmentally-friendly technologies have made trucking a sustainable industry.

Pushing the technological envelope even further, some manufacturers now install computer software into their vehicles. The MIT Technology Review’s article “10-4, Good Computer: Automated System Lets Trucks Convoy as One” highlights one of the most anticipated upcoming technologies: driverless truck automation.

In this prototype, a traditional driver controls the lead truck while an automated truck trails close behind. A computer controls the second truck, forcing it to mirror the lead truck’s actions. When the driver presses on the breaks, both trucks slow. Separated by just a few feet, the trucks’ movements seem in sync.

While full automation is years away, modern mechanics already tackle aspects of the technology as they work on diesel engines.


What This Means for Mechanics

Mechanics have had to evolve along with the trucking industry. The way that we maintain engines now would seem alien to a mechanic from a generation ago. Back then, they had to undertake each task by hand. Therefore, diagnosing the vehicle’s problem took about as much time as it did to fix it.  

On the other hand, many modern mechanics rely on computers to help diagnose system failures in trucks containing microprocessors. This automated diagnosis means mechanics save time, money, and energy during the repair and maintenance process. That isn’t to say that today’s mechanics don’t roll up their sleeves and directly interact with the trucks engine, breaks, HVAC, and other components. This modern addition is simply another element to improve the profession.


Industry’s Need to Keep Up with Demand

According to the United States’ Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 statistic, diesel mechanics should expect their industry to grow 15% by 2015. We are in the middle of that surge right now. Because of the increasingly large freight loads trucking companies must transport, they need more trucks. Manufacturers will create new models, and companies will require outdated vehicles to be modernized to fit environmental regulations and company-wide standards.

But as anyone who works with automobiles knows too well, more trucks mean more repairs. To keep up with that demand, the trucking industry continually seeks out qualified mechanics. Whether you have experience maintaining trucks on a military base or have a degree in the field, your experience and mechanical aptitude could help shape the future of the industry and keep our roads safe.

If you are interested in taking part in a career where you can work with your hands while refining your computer skills, this may be the position for you. The field’s constant adaptation and evolution is an exciting prospect for anyone who is intrigued by automobiles or even technology in general. To learn more, keep an eye out for future blogs about the trucking industry or contact a mentor online.