John Gardner, the host of Velocity TV’s Tech Garage, and award-winning automotive instructor at Chipola College, in Marianna, Florida, has a fanbase that ranges from his 18-year old students to 73-year olds restoring boats and with help from his Tech Garage tips.
Gardner has made a fan of us, and our interview reveals that his automotive experience runs as deep as his true passion for increasing professionalism and spreading knowledge to the auto care industry’s future technicians.
How Long Have You Been Around and Worked On Cars?
Gosh, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been turning wrenches, and I just fell in love with cars and working on cars.
Eventually I got certified by ASE, and later certified through a GM program. I’ve worked at a GM dealership for eight years, and after that, wound up teaching for GM.
Eventually, I ended up teaching at a technical trade school. I started teaching at night, fell in love with teaching, and jumped all over it. The automotive track doesn’t necessarily attract your traditional student, so a lot of the students are high-risk kids; it’s cool to be able to work with students who want an alternative choice.
We have a lot of fun, and some of them come back after 5-6 years, and they say, “You changed my life.” That’s one of most rewarding things ever.
What Was Your Biggest Challenge Working at a Service Center?
It was definitely ethics. That was 10 or 20 years ago. Ethically, I always wanted to be doing the right thing. Customers didn’t understand the new technology, and they were intimidated by it, and fearful of being ripped off. The industry had to change in reputation, and let the customers be involved. We couldn’t hide behind the shop anymore – we had to get in front of the customers.
Since then, there’s been a real paradigm shift – the industry, and organizations like Wrench Nation, are focusing more on car-care education, and women and car care. Now, it’s a profession, centered on building a relationship and building a rapport.
Teaching, I knew I could work to change the industry.
Anyone you’ve admired or looked up to in the automotive world?
There have been so many of ‘em, mostly other instructors.
Gary Miggins, in south Florida, mentored me. I first started teaching under him, and he gave his whole heart to it. He had such love for students, and I couldn’t have survived without him. He taught me how to teach, and that was another ballgame.
What Are Your Classes Like?
We’re all over the place – it’s crazy. We have 18-year olds working next to workforce rehab people, and even a 60-year old man who runs postal routes. So we tailor the curriculum between 18-60-year olds. It’s so cool. Each generation has different ways to think, and approach projects, and no way is right or wrong. It’s crazy. We call it controlled chaos.
Any Tips for Mechanics on How to Speak to Customers?
Meet them where they’re at, and appreciate the diversity of what you’re dealing with. Be honest.
If you’re not sure, explain that what you’ve done will probably fix the issue, but that they might have to come back for another look. I always say, “Be honest, and you’ll get a repeat customer every time.”
Who’s the Tech Garage Audience?
It’s all over the place, and generally hits folks who are able 30-50 years old. We’re not looking for the kids on the fast and loud. Our audience is the regular-to-heavy DIYer, as well as light-line mechanics. We go deep enough where we can reach the mechanics. We had email from a 73-year old man who’s toying with his boat, and who found the information useful.
We’ve got a partnership with the schools, and can ship them out through ASE and NATEF, as well as other companies that work with schools; we’re reaching students in classrooms with this material.
In Some Shows, You Speak Really Quickly. Do You Always Speak So Quickly in Class?
[Laughs] That was season #1 – and that was our biggest complaint throughout the season! I’m always a firm believer in giving people everything for their money, but we learned that it was way too much information to cover in a short period. In season two, we slowed it down quite a bit. And in season three, we could dedicate an entire show on an oxygen sensor.
In real life, I don’t speak so quickly. I’ll go through one of the TV segments in three minutes, but that would take three days to properly cover in class.
Which Resources Would You Recommend to a DIY Automotive Tinkerer?
I’m a firm believer in technical trade school – people can make $80-90K/year, and there’s a 98% placement rate. Employment as an automotive technician is huge, whether there’s a recession or not; we’re like doctors.
For anyone who likes to tinker with cars, trade school provides an awesome opportunity, whether through a local school, local trade schools, or a manufacturer school.
What’s Your Favorite Car?
If I tell you, I guess you’ve gotta write it down!
The old IROC Camaro. Personally I love it. It’s low as dirt. It was slow as molasses.
What Are Some of the Perks of Working with Velocity?
Oh yeah. The whole educational TV and industry partnership is new for everybody and all the vendors that are involved with the show. It’s been great to see how all the vendors are jumping on board, educating the kids. We’ve found a way to marry the TV and the partnerships.
We also do a lot for the vendor training. We did a piece about Castrol Oil 101, and we get to do a lot of that right here at Chipola College.
Also, we’ve been allowed to keep all the parts from the show to use in class for training. I got professor of the year in Florida, which is unheard of for an automotive teacher, and suspect the TV show and its resources have something to do with it.
What’s your other favorite show on Velocity?
Gosh, it’s all I ever watch. They’re all so fun to watch. Really, I can’t pick one.
What Kinds of Letters Do You Get from Viewers?
The most one we get is, “Thanks for breaking it down to make it understandable. This is cool. I can understand my car now.”
Our executive producer isn’t a car guy, and he’ll say, “Let’s do another take, so I can understand it,” which is probably useful. Sometimes I get talking, and get in so deep, and there are 20 other guys around, filming, so it’s useful to remember that, and it can take up to six takes to be sure the information is relatable.
We also get letters when I say something wrong – they’ll let you know. And I respect them for calling us out.
What’s Your Most Popular Topic?
One of the most viewed topics is brakes – right back to the basics. I tend to want to lean into computer-command control and sensors, but when we get back to the basics, it’s always the highest views.
Which Emerging Automotive Technology Interests You Most?
We’ve got an upcoming piece on emerging technologies, and my favorite is probably the clean diesel technology – it gives high mileage and durability, and it’s getting the most traction.
Thanks for all you do, and keep up the great work spreading passion and knowledge about the auto care industry, John.
From the team at Openbay, drive safely!