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Auto program fixes cars for community

Students use their labs to get real world experience by working on community members cars. According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau Statistics, the average American pays $8,000 to own and operate a car per year. JAY VALLE | Scroll Illustration
Students use their labs to get real world experience by working on community members cars.
According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau Statistics, the average American pays $8,000 to own and operate a car per year.
JAY VALLE | Scroll Illustration

Troy Spratling, a mechanical engineering professor in the automotive program, said that since 1970, the BYU-Idaho automotive program has been fixing cars for the community.

“Students get to have hands-on experience, and the public gets a great rate at the same time,” said Justin Miller, another mechanical engineering professor in the automotive program.

Miller said that the automotive program fixes close to 1,500 cars a year.

“We have classes going on all the time. We have classes on air conditioning systems, engines, transmissions, electrical circuits, so if someone has a problem that relates to that subject then those are the cars they do for their labs,” said Miller.

Miller said that everyone in the community can come. The automotive program has cars from students, faculty and the community.

“We even have people who tow their car from Pocatello or even Salt Lake to get big things like engine repairs done because it’s cheaper, they’ll save a cole thousand dollars,” Miller said.

He said there are definitely challenges in the system because these are students who are just learning, and for some of them, this is the first time ever taking a car apart.

“It’s a very successful thing,” Miller said. “The community likes it, students like it, and it’s a benefit for both parties.”

Miller said that the students in the automotive program have these lab courses throughout their degree. These students start working with breaks and tires and then they go into computer diagnostics.

They will have about 8 classes of these labs, Miller said.

“As far as electrical and mechanical diagnostics and repairs, we fix it,” Miller said.

A lot of these students are automotive technology majors, and their goal is to be technicians, but for the most part they’re working towards a career like engineering, designing or testing new vehicles, Miller said.

“They aren’t going to be repairing cars for a career, but the lab is the perfect way for them to understand how the technology works and how to solve problems,” Miller said.

Miller said overall this program has the most trustworthy gro of automotive students you can find.

“We’re humans, we make mistakes. Not everything goes as planned and sometimes it’s our fault, the students fault or sometimes it’s just part of the car and the situation,” Miller said.

Miller said that the automotive program is challenging because they get two types of cars: the ones that people don’t want to pay full price to fix, and the ones where no one can figure out what’s wrong with the car.

“The students in the BYU-I automotive program get to practice their skills with greater challenges,” Miller said.

Miller said that the biggest thing that they want people to know is that the students are not training to be auto mechanics. Graduates of this program are going to be designing, testing and helping develop new vehicles.

“They see the auto program and see cars and think they’re just mechanics and training people to be mechanics but no, we are just doing that for a lab experience, we aren’t necessarily training mechanics and technicians, we are training engineers,” Miller said.

Spratling said that very few automotive training programs have their students work on vehicles every class.

He said since the automotive program is small, it allows for unique experiences.

“We are grateful for the sport of the administration, and we’re grateful for the kind of students we get to have. Many institutions don’t get the caliber to do what we have,” Spratling said.

“Virtually everyone that graduates has at least one job waiting for them,” Spratling said. “Less than 20 percent of our guys are actually going to be technicians.”

Spratling said if people are paying money for their service, there is a whole new approach, challenge and pressure about fixing the car.

“By far this is the largest live program for students in the nation,” Spratling said.

Spratling said that for a program that had 40 to 50 students in the year 2000, they’ve done nothing but grow and that it’s been exciting. They now have 170 students.

“I’m going to say 90 percent of the 1,500 cars we get in a year are a success,”  Spratling said.

Spratling said that they are one of the highest placement programs on campus, almost all of their students have a job on graduation.

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