Rankin's Bio: My interest in cars must’ve started at age 4 or 5. I remember taking my toys apart and begging my dad to let me go to a junkyard. I hung out at repair shops when I was a kid. I joined the Navy at 18 and started my formal mechanical education. Opened International Auto Sport at 23 after working at a Porsche dealer and several independent import repair shops and moonlighting during the Navy years. Started teaching at the community college level at age 30 and continued for 32 years. Opened Crankin Auto Care at 56. Authored Crankin Engines at 64. Currently serving as a consultant for secondary and post-secondary school automotive programs.
Blue Collar Homeschool (BCH): What led you into teaching?
Rankin: Quite frankly I think it was the Lord. I had reached a dead-end due to drugs and alcohol and was presented with an opportunity to teach by my one of my customers. I like to explain how things work in simple terms and I believe that my customers appreciated my straightforward explanations.
BCH: What do you like best about teaching a Blue Collar trade?
Rankin: Teaching people how to work with their hands and earn a living excites me because I am able to pass along the skills that I learned from other mechanics and this perpetuates quality the trade. We, who work dirty jobs, are often seen as ignorant because we are often not articulate.
BCH: What qualities do your best students exhibit?
Rankin: Perseverance and patience are good qualities for everyone. Often the best mechanics do not test well but their logic is way above average. Of course a high mechanical aptitude will enable automotive, aviation, heavy equipment, and marine propulsion students to solve disassembly and assembly problems. Higher math skills will aid in solving electrical and electronic concerns. That is where the logic plays a huge role.
BCH: What high school courses and areas of study most benefit a young person who desires to move into mechanics as a career?
Rankin: I will move away from mechanics for a moment. Collision Repair courses require a great deal of artistic ability. Body repair people are basically sculptors and painters so art courses in clay and paint will help those aspire to that profession.
Applied physics is theoretical mechanics. Studies in leverage, friction, vector force, electrical theory, pressure, and electro magnetism are examples of applied physics and these are easily demonstrated at home.
I think that we are stuck on Biology in the sciences but I never did think that taking a frog apart was as interesting as taking a bicycle apart. The taking apart venture is fun but putting the thing back together is tougher. Small engine courses are really beneficial especially if the engine starts when you finish the course.
BCH: Is it fairly common for graduates to easily find good employment opportunities?
Rankin: Are you kidding? ;) How many good mechanics do you know? A good mechanic can find a good job paying $30K-$70K in any area of the country. Dealers, independent shops, trucking companies, governmental agencies, and delivery companies all rely on mechanics. We as a nation have told our kids, “Don’t work with your hands.”, for three generations, Now there is a shortage of skilled blue collar workers. And wages are going up.
BCH: Do you think it is wiser for someone to open their own shop, or work for someone else as a mechanic?
Rankin: I think that everyone should start working for someone else. But if there is a lot of family help then the chance of success in a small business is better, The cost to open a shop, even a small operation, is probably $250,000-500,000. The skill set to operate a business is very different from that of an automotive technician. I was very fortunate in my last auto repair business. I had already built a garage building, I already had been blessed with three streams of income, and we were debt free.
BCH: Is mechanics better to go into than auto body repair?
Rankin: Auto mechanics is probably more profitable than body repair. The insurance companies set all of the prices of insured collision repair and few body shops can survive without doing insurance work. Restoration work pays well but a good reputation for high quality restorations takes time to establish.
BCH: If a student learns auto mechanics, does that training prepare them for careers in other forms of mechanics, such as motorcycles, boats, or other engines? Or do they need a lot of specialized training to move into other areas?
Rankin: Almost all engine work is similar enough to allow cross over. But only 10% of the repairs involve engine work. Maintenance, brakes, electronics, suspension, alignment, and climate controls are the systems needing the most repairs. Boats obviously don’t have brakes or suspensions but they do have specialized cooling systems and those systems are different from wheeled vehicles. Most good mechanics can fix about anything. The automobile is a complex machine with many systems. And there is no end to learning those ever changing systems.
BCH: In your opinion, is there a big difference in the quality of training available at a local Vocational school versus a "big name" trade school such as Universal Technical Institute (UTI)?
Rankin: All “big name” schools are set up to crank out a lot of students in a short time. The high cost of tuition allows them to buy expensive advertising and pay their recruiters well. The classes cover a lot of subject matter and the class size is pretty large. Conversely, community colleges use state and federal funding to operate their programs. Thus the tuition is a lot less. Usually classes are smaller and there is more individual attention. All of that said, the quality of the material covered is pretty close to equal. But in my opinion an automotive education over a two year span will result in more student learning than the same material covered in 9 months. Admittedly, I am biased toward community colleges. I did choose to make a career of teaching auto tech in community colleges for 32 years.
BCH: As a homeschooling Dad, how did your approach to teaching in your career influence how your family homeschooled?
Rankin: I felt compelled to teach my kids all that I could about the trades. My boy was more receptive than my daughter. But we worked as a family to build a 900 sq. ft. home and then add 900 sq. ft. on to the existing structure, We were the carpenters, plumbers electricians, and roofers. When our son was 16 He welded a 4’X8’ trailer. He then started a lawn care business and used the trailer to tow the lawnmowers. Our daughter went to the Community College during the 12th grade and earned a nursing certificate. I tried to instill a good work ethic in the kids and the same was true for my students. I preached honesty, safety, and pride in a job well done to my students and kids alike.
I hope you learned as much from Rankin's sharing here as I did! Auto mechanics is a lucrative, varied, interesting career option for young men and women to consider!