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Will Autonomous Vehicles Really Make Mechanics Obsolete?

A mechanic's arm adjusting an automotive component with a wrench.

Judging by the theme of most robot movies, such as “I, Robot,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix,” the general consensus is: “The robots are coming for us.” When automation came to industry, labor unions said robots would put workers on the streets. Today, with the development of autonomous vehicles, the naysayers claim that millions of drivers will be out of work or off the road in less than a decade. Riders will be safer, sure, but at what cost?

Doom and Gloom

The Los Angeles Times suggests that the advent of autonomous vehicles could endanger the jobs of 5 million people nationwide, who “make their living driving taxis, buses, vans, trucks and e-hailing vehicles.”

Additionally, the growing success of ride-sharing and car-sharing companies, like Uber and Zipcar, has already reduced the need for consumers to own their own vehicles. Driverless cars could further reduce this need, and disrupt 10 industries in the process, according to CNBC.

The industries that driverless vehicles will affect range from insurance to package and food delivery to auto repair. With more robust safety systems that eliminate human error, collision repair shops could also be adversely affected, reports CNBC. However, there is a silver lining for mechanics in the age of driverless cars.

Change Down the Road

Regarding mechanics and technicians, some of whom have been working on cars for decades, will autonomous vehicles really make them obsolete? The short answer is no — for several good reasons.

Uber is Already Toying with Autonomous Vehicles.

First, don’t hold your breath waiting for mass adoption of driverless cars in the next few years. Availability doesn’t necessarily translate to desirability or affordability. Unless conventional vehicles are banned completely, it’s highly unlikely that everyone will make the switch. Many people still consider themselves drivers, not riders, and will continue to value that personal experience with their vehicles.

Additionally, in 2015, the average American car was 11.5 years old, according to USA Today. Even if all conventional-vehicle production stopped with the 2020 model year, the 2020s wouldn’t start to be outmoded until at least 2035.

Driverless cars will also continue to rely on many of the components that today’s vehicles are equipped with. Brakes and tires will still wear out, wiper blades will still need changing and electrical systems will still need diagnosis, maintenance and repair, all of which will require the hardworking minds and hands of skilled technicians. Mechanics will see fewer collision repairs, but they’ll still have work.

Finally, autonomous vehicles will create new jobs. Just as factory automation created programmers and robot maintenance technicians, driverless cars will create a whole new field of technical jobs, and modern automotive technicians are already learning and adapting to new technologies.

True, autonomous vehicles are coming, and many industries must prepare for disruption. However, the loss of jobs has been somewhat overhyped, especially in the auto repair field. Considering how the workforce has adapted to technological advances in the past, driverless cars will foment a shift in technical careers and mechanical jobs. Our new “robot overlords” will still need maintenance and repair, and today’s mechanics will rise to the challenge.

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on autonomous vehicles, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pxhere.


Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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