Written by Bosede Olusola-Obasa - Nigeria
Do you know that your mechanic may be the reason your car is having too many problems? How up to date with modern technology in automobiles is your cherished mechanic?
Cars, Sports Utility Vehicles and light trucks are among the most loved by Nigerians across different income classes.
More interesting is the fact that the vehicles come with contemporary technology, which many mechanics are not familiar with. But, because of the desperation to stay in business, many mechanics pretend to know everything so that they don't lose customers.
However, stories from motorists indicate that in the last one decade, the best that roadside auto mechanics have been able to offer their long-standing clients may have been achieved through guess work.
In Lagos State alone, there are about 1.2 million 'illiterate' mechanics. Many of these mechanics lack modern skills and have thus been left behind in global automobile servicing trends.
Many cars are now fully automated, requiring that any mechanic who handles them must possess basic computer knowledge to diagnose faults and rectify them.
Mr. Duyile Adeaga told Saturday PUNCH that he had two cars when he relocated to Lekki area in Lagos few years ago. Due to the peculiar traffic he had to face daily to and from work coupled with some bad roads, he had to constantly visit his mechanic.
He regretted that he didn't discover that he was being fleeced all along until his cars were badly damaged.
Adeaga noted that he seemed to have developed an emotional bonding with his mechanic such that even when he defaulted in delivering quality service, he still patronised him.
He said, "I learnt my lesson the hard way before deciding not to use unskilled mechanics forever. I had a 2005 Honda Accord and 170 Lexus Jeep. Between my house in Mayfair Gardens Estate, Awoyaya and the first gate of Lekki Phase 1, I used to spend three hours to work and three hours on my way back everyday.
"I worked in Ikeja but the poor state of Lekki-Ajah Road and adjoining routes to Ikeja made me prefer to go through Epe, Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu. Then, I would hit Lagos Ibadan Expressway to get to Ikeja.
"The daily routine of traffic and bad roads ensured that I always visited the mechanic and I would drop the car after pointing out my observations to him. By the next time I'm driving the car, I would notice that something else had gone wrong and I would return to him. But he would deny touching that part and ask me for money to change the part in addition to his service charge. "That vicious cycle continued until my beautiful 2005 Honda Accord was grounded and I angrily auctioned my rugged 170 Lexus Jeep."
In her case, Mrs. Fadipe Olori said although she realised the need not to give her fairly used Sienna SUV to her regular mechanic, she fell back into his hands because he was always easily accessible.
She said that many times the mechanic had asked and was given money to buy parts but failed to do so.
She said, "There are countless cases of deception and practical stealing from my mechanic, Wale. He has served me for so long that he usually comes to the house to check my car.
"If my car stops on the road, I would call him to come and fix it. But many times, he would fix one problem and another would surface.
"There was a time he said the problem had to do with my gear. He asked for money to fix it but I later discovered that he didn't buy anything; he just pocketed the money. The same problem resurfaced on my way home at night, I just managed the car home. It is unfortunate and it is because they know that their clients need their cars to move around and they can't fix it themselves."
Mr. Haastrup Okoli, a banker, who works on Lagos Island and lives off Lagos-Abeokuta Road, said because of the kilometres he covers to and from work daily and the bad road network in Lagos, the shocks of his Toyota Matrix seemed to have fallen apart.
He said when he took it to his mechanic's workshop, he was told that he needed to replace certain parts and he promptly provided the money.
But like the tales of woe narrated by other vehicle owners, the problem resurfaced two weeks later and he had to return to the mechanic.
A business woman in Egbeda market, Mrs. Nike Adebayo, said she once paid for the 'ignorance' of her mechanic when she needed to do the first major servicing of her car.
She said for the first two years after she bought her space bus, it developed no problem until she asked her mechanic to service and clean the engine.
She said, "I told this guy that the engine should only be cleaned with oil, but he washed it with water. That was the genesis of the problems.
"Everything went wrong; I was almost abandoning the car because it became unfit for the roads in every sense of the word. I had to take a drastic decision to seek a more professional hand and that was how the SUV was salvaged. These mechanics are so backward but they won't admit to it.
"I discovered that unlike the old fad, it's no longer how long your mechanic has been in the trade, it is how well he is catching up with the technological trends in automobile maintenance."
Virtually every car owner in Nigeria has a tale to tell about their mechanics. But some learn their lessons earlier than others. Meanwhile, like a soothsayer, your auto mechanic can bet that you can't stay too long without him.
"Like a necessary evil, you keep visiting his workshop although you don't truly get service satisfaction," a respondent said.
But some automobile mechanics who spoke with Saturday PUNCH said that they were aware that they might soon be out of business if they didn't upgrade their knowledge base.
One of them who gave his name as Dauda said he couldn't read or write but learnt the trade from his master some years ago and had been feeding on that job.
He confessed that there were types of cars that he could not work on.
Dauda, who is in his early forties, said, "I don't know how I am going to update my knowledge because I cannot read or write. I opted for mechanic work as a young boy because I was not coping in school. I learnt that people now know what is wrong with cars by using computers. I have started to think of something else to do."
Baba Raheem has been in the trade for two decades and has been able to train his kids through it.
He said that he was not perturbed by the technological advancement in the market, adding that he had gained enough from it to sustain him.
"I have trained my children; if I can no longer do the work, they will feed me. I won't go hungry," he said.
But Mr. John Adeyemi is a mechanic with a different story. Though he has put in 25 years in the trade, he can neither read nor write.
He said he asked his son to enrol for a course with a reputable automobile training outfit so that he could make up for his deficiencies.
Adeyemi said, "My son, who is a graduate, works here with me. He will soon be through with his six-month course. He will learn diagnosis and other related knowledge. We are also investing in modern equipment so that we can evolve with the trend and remain relevant in the business."
The Chief Operating Officer, Automedics Limited, Mr. Gbola Oba, said that perhaps after several years of frustrating adventures with road side mechanics, the time had come for vehicle owners to take an audit of the status of their mechanics.
He confirmed the position of Mr. Adeyemi that some roadside mechanics were now eager to sharpen their skills.
Although the percentage is still very low, he said that even elderly men, who had been in the business for decades, attended upgrade classes or enrolled their children. He however regretted that some of them were averse to self-development.
He said that the preponderance of laidback technicians in the industry was a major issue because it is grounding big and small businesses alike, especially those who own a fleet of vehicles.
Oba said, "This pretence and deceit triggers a chain of mischief, fraud and other types of misery for the owners."
However, he called on car owners to show interest in the way their vehicles were being handled.
He said, "This is because the modern vehicle is as simple to understand as a smart phone. But they know more about the phone than the car.
"The function of the desktop on the phone is similar to your car's dashboard. You even have fewer icons on your dashboard than on your phone. Your car is your second important pecuniary investment, but it is mostly ignored. When you see check engine, ABS, don't ignore it, you have a duty to find out what is happening.
"How many Nigerians read the manual that comes with their cars? Yet, these manuals help you gain certain basic knowledge that guides you in using your car.
"Going through your manual will save your more than 25 per cent the amount you pay to your unschooled mechanic."
Oba said it was unfortunate that Nigerians were among the most laidback in automobile knowledge. He said that although many vehicles were now fully automated, the average mechanic in Nigeria had yet to catch up with the technology of cars manufactured eight or 10 years ago, not to talk of the more recent models and latest technology.
He said, "There are vehicles that sometimes require your mechanic accessing the server of the manufacturer via the Internet to re-programme the software.
"Nigerian mechanics are going through the second leap of technical disconnection with global trends in automobiles."
He urged government to encourage young graduates with interest in this field to acquire relevant skills because it would make them self employed and reduce unemployment. He added that unlike what many thought, the services of the qualified mechanics were affordable.
Still on the way out of the trouble being faced by car owners, the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Technical Education Board, Olawumi Gasper, said young people are being trained in several vocations, including motor vehicle mechanics.
Gasper said the problem of illiterate mechanics was a source of worry to the state government, but it was not considering sanctions yet.
He said, "Governor Babatunde Fashola has rightly said that the sector will regulate itself. There is an upcoming army of certified and trained auto mechanics that will redefine the trend in Nigeria."
He said the state already had three platforms of tackling the issue. The first is through training in the technical colleges located in Ikorodu, Adosoba, Festac, Badagry, Epe, Ikotun, Agidingbi.
"Due to their ages, between 14 and 16 years old, we don't expect them to start working on vehicles, but they still go ahead to sharpen their knowledge to become trained mechanics."
He said that there was another platform that trained itinerant mechanics and artisans. These, he said, were trained through partnership programmes with established outfits.
"Lagos State is spending a lot of money to do this upscaling. We partner organisations with reputable garages and workshops to train them in new trends since they have been in the business before. They undergo eight weeks training because the state government wants quality service for Lagosians.
"We are not there yet because out of about 1.2 million automobile mechanics in Lagos State, we have only trained about 1,000. It is expensive," he said.
The third stage is the conversion training programmes for graduates, whom he described as the "future of the market."
He said, "I call them miracle guys because they pick the lessons fast. They are the future of this sector. They also possess entrepreneurial skills. We have not met the target but we are doing so gradually."