Last month, I found my driver’s license from when I was 20. In 1994, I got my first job working at a dealership as a porter, shuttle van driver and service writer trainee while going to college. It was the first step on my journey to work as a service writer, technician and eventually a magazine editor.
Just looking at the picture on the license, I can see a wide-eyed kid that just wanted to work with cars and make money. I remembered all of the mistakes I made, cars that came back, and — most of all — the people who helped me.
I began thinking about what I would say if I could go back in time and talk to this 20-year-old kid — to prevent mistakes and to avoid the missed opportunities. Here are seven things I would tell my younger self:
• Buy a decent torque wrench. There will come a time when you have to do a wheel bearing on a vehicle twice before you realize that you can’t use your “calibrated arm” to apply 170 ft.-lbs of torque with a 150 ft.-lbs torque wrench. So, buy a decent torque wrench sooner rather than later. Other tools will come and go, but a high-quality torque wrench will last a lifetime.
• You do not have to know everything. However, admitting that you don’t know the answer is just as important as knowing the answer.
• Take care of your back and knees. When you are 20, you can kneel on hard concrete for hours or lift a heavy cylinder head off an engine. But, there is always a more effortless and less painful way to do it. Your 40-year-old self will thank you!
• Do not overextend your credit with tool trucks. You can only avoid the tool truck drivers for so long before they threaten to “repo” your toolbox. Of course, you will use some of the tools you buy on credit 20 years from now. But some of the limited-edition sets gadgets you put on your tab now will take you years to pay off.
• Do not fix your girlfriend’s vehicle. It will start with an air filter and progress to intake manifold gaskets. When you say no to a clutch because you are too busy with school, it will lead to a fight because she thinks you are cheating on her with other people’s cars, and she does not understand that it can’t be done in a parking lot in front of her dorm. As a rule, you can only work on your significant other’s vehicle when you are married and have at least two children.
• The Internet will be BIG. I know you think that AOL is the greatest thing in the world, but it will get so much better. In the future, swapping CDs out of drives for service information will be a thing of the past. Information will flow at speeds unknown to you in 1994. Learn how to use the Internet and even how to code.
And most importantly…
• Shut Up and Listen. You will have the opportunity to work and learn alongside some of the best technicians and instructors in the world. Listen and learn from them. You should be paying them for the help they are giving you. The training and advice they will provide you will be priceless. Shut up and learn. If you fail to do this, you will regret this the most.
I can’t go back, and I guess that is what makes these lessons valuable. I only hope in 20 years, I find an old driver’s license and can look back with the same sense of growth.