Skip to main content

Meet the auto repair professor pivoting to EVs

Meet the auto repair professor pivoting to EVs

/

Demand for qualified EV technicians is poised to skyrocket

Share this story

With the number of electric vehicles on the roads poised to skyrocket this decade, millions of drivers are going to need auto mechanics who can fix their new batteries-on-wheels. But today, the vast majority of auto repair professionals do not have the training or equipment to repair EVs, which are anatomically very different from their gas-powered predecessors.

As a result, many early EV adopters have been forced to rely on vehicle manufacturers and dealerships to service their cars — a situation that can drive up repair costs and lead to frustratingly long wait times

Ruth Morrison, who chairs the Automotive Technology Department at Southern Maine Community College (SMCC), wants to change that. Morrison, who was an auto mechanic before she began teaching in 2003, took a course focused on hybrid and EV repair back in 2009. She’s wanted to teach the subject ever since. And with SMCC recently receiving funds from the state for additional workforce training, she now has the opportunity. 

Last month, SMCC did its first run of a new class designed to teach mechanics to work on hybrid and electric vehicles — the first in Maine, to Morrison’s knowledge, and one of a relatively small number of such programs nationwide. The Verge spoke with Morrison to learn more about what her course offers and the fast-evolving EV repair landscape. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Maddie: We’re on the cusp of a huge electric vehicle boom in the United States and also globally. What are the implications of that for independent auto repair? What new skills are mechanics going to have to learn?

Ruth: [Electric vehicles] have different components. They’re going to require different equipment and tools, and technicians are going to need to get trained in how to use them. The safety concerns are one issue, but then, the equipment we use in this class is specific to diagnosing the electric machines [motors or generators], the power inverters, and the batteries. And if independent shops want to get into repairing these components, rather than just putting in a whole new unit, then they’re going to need to get training in this. 

Which is different from what the dealerships have been doing. Dealerships will generally replace an entire battery rather than try and balance it or replace the cells and balance it after that. As there’s more of these vehicles that are outside of warranty, and people are buying them used, I would think that the consumers are going to want to spend less money and not have to foot the bill for the entire component, just get it repaired. And then, if somebody is buying a used car, it’s nice to know what condition it’s in before buying it. So there’s some predictive maintenance that can be done to see how the motor is, kind of like doing a compression test on a gasoline engine or a diesel engine. If you want to know how worn the engine is before you buy the car, you can do some sort of predictive testing. And for electric vehicles, there’s also predictive testing that can be done.

Maddie: How did your idea for a course focused on training independent mechanics on electric vehicles first come about?

Ruth: Well, I first took a class in [2009] with Dr. Quarto, who came and did training for us, and I wanted to start offering that training to our students. [Editor’s Note: Dr. Mark Quarto is a former General Motors engineer who teaches EV and hybrid vehicle repair through a company called FutureTech.] And there’s special tools that we had to buy. There was an expense involved, and I didn’t get a lot of support for getting tools up in order to do that. But now the Maine Community College System has received support from the governor of Maine, and she wants us to be training in green jobs, and so now we have the ability to buy the equipment and get ourselves trained, and that’s really opened the door for us. I’ve been struggling to fit this into our budget for a long time.

Maddie: As you developed the course, were there any other programs you modeled it after or took inspiration from? 

Ruth: Well, what happened was Siemens was involved with a chain called VIP Tires and Service, which is up here in the Northeast, and VIP had approached Siemens for guidance on getting their technicians trained in this area. So they [Siemens] approached me in summer of 2019 and asked us if we could train the technicians. And so then I started working directly with VIP, and the first thing I thought of was this course that I had taken with Dr. Quarto years ago. I looked around for other curriculum rather than reinventing one, and I liked his the best. So we have modeled it after the training his company offers.

Maddie: Did you find many other EV repair courses out there?

Ruth: There’s a few. I know that there’s one in Worcester, Massachusetts called ACDC. [Editor’s note: The Verge was unable to find data on how many EV and hybrid repair training programs exist nationally. Rich Benoit, co-founder of the Tesla-focused repair shop The Electrified Garage, told The Verge in an email he suspects there are “under 50 dedicated EV repair programs in the US.]

Maddie: Walk me through the nuts and bolts of how your course works?

Ruth: So when we first rolled this out for VIP, it was [also] a “train the trainer” event for me and my partner, Joe. What we did was use the web-based training from FutureTech — all of us did that web-based training first — then Dr. Quarto came and did a week-long hands-on class. That was back in December. And I think as we go forward, I’m going to break that big class down into smaller pieces. Because it was a lot of web-based training before we got to the hands-on. If we can break it down into systems, I think that would be a lot easier to offer to the general public. 

Maddie: Can you highlight a few things mechanics learn in the course?

Ruth: Sure. We went through the safety systems first — understanding how those worked and checking them to make sure they were working properly. And then, we did battery testing and balancing or reconditioning. So you can take an older battery and recondition it, and it’ll be much better for many years. And then we looked at motor generators and diagnosing those; we looked at power inverters and the air conditioning compressors. Pretty much all of the high voltage systems.

Maddie: When it comes to battery balancing, is the idea that we can take batteries from older vehicles and do a heart transplant into a newer vehicle? Or is it more about rehabilitating the battery to remain in the same vehicle?

Ruth: Both. So, somebody who drives a Prius might notice after five years that their gas mileage has gone down significantly. And that’s because the gas engine is powering the powertrain rather than the electric motor because the battery doesn’t have enough power anymore. So that battery in that vehicle could be reconditioned and bring it back up to its original condition. And then the gas mileage would go back to 45 [mpg] or whatever it started out at. And then also, one of the things we did during our class was get a couple batteries from salvage yards and reconditioned them.

Maddie: What kind of feedback did you receive on the course from the folks who took it?

Ruth: The company VIP, the technicians learned a lot. They’re ready to set up these services at their shops. They have enough hybrids, Priuses coming through their shops on a regular basis. They could be selling these services — the maintenance services, the predictive maintenance, and the repair services. It’s applicable knowledge that they can start offering for their customers.

Maddie: Do you have additional courses planned for later this year?

Ruth: Yeah, with the grant, we need to start training more people. I think we said it was going to be about a hundred people. By the time we were done in the next year or so, we’re going to start offering courses outside of our regular curriculum. So that would mostly be in the summer and maybe during our winter break again next year.

Maddie: The right-to-repair movement has played a pretty big role in opening up the independent auto repair landscape, but some repair advocates are concerned that with the EV transition, new repair restrictions could start to emerge. Are the mechanics you’re talking with bringing up any particular challenges repairing electric cars? Are there restrictions on these vehicles, or vehicle data that they’re not getting from manufacturers, that’s making repair harder? Is that something you’re concerned about in the future?

Ruth: I haven’t run into a problem yet. But yes, I mean, it’s always a problem. As an automotive technician, it’s always a problem to try and get the substantial information that you need and the diagnostic information. [EVs] are going to have the same challenge for sure.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 25 minutes ago Not just you

E
External Link
Emma Roth25 minutes ago
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.