For many, planning and scheduling an oil change is a necessary evil to care for their vehicle. But, for Ethan Tierney, an oil change is just another day at the office.
The Albemarle High School senior first became interested in mechanics as a kid, when he would watch his dad and other family members work on their vehicles at his house. So, as a sophomore, he started attending CATEC to take advantage of the program’s Auto Body Technology courses.
“I ended up switching to Auto Tech because I was looking for something a little more hands-on in the engine,” Ethan said.
And that’s exactly what he got. The first assignment of the class, he said, is to work as a team with other students in the class to disassemble and then assemble an engine.
“We made a big mess,” he said with a laugh, “with all the parts everywhere, but we got it done.”
Now, with the skills he’s learned from the Automotive Service Technology class, Ethan is interning with the Albemarle County Public Schools Transportation Department to gain some real-world mechanic experience.
In the department, Ethan works with one other intern and six mechanics to keep the ACPS bus and vehicle fleet up-to-date with routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations. This routine maintenance, he said, is an important part of keeping students and staff safe on their bus routes and other trips in county vehicles.
“The buses especially have to be in tip-top shape so that they’re safe for students,” he said.
Recently, he said, he’s shifted to working on other vehicles in the county fleet to get more experience with investigative work. For example, he worked with a mechanic to investigate a complaint of a transmission that felt like it was “slipping” and a “weird noise” coming from under the hood.
“We found all the manifold gaskets and bolts were broken, so we had to replace all of them,” he said. “You have to have a lot of patience when it comes to working with engines, because you have to stick with the problem until you figure it out.”
With just one semester left until graduation, Ethan is looking forward to putting his internship experience to the test, either at a shop or a dealership.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there for mechanics,” he said. “You can make a good living out of that kind of work.”
And, just like when working to fix a mechanical problem, Ethan’s advice for students who are interested in auto body or auto service technology is to stick with the program, even if it’s difficult at first.
“I would say to give it a few weeks before you decide you don’t like it,” he said, “and don’t be scared to ask for help if you need it.”