Rochester Community and Technical College instructor Dave MacLeod runs his automotive technician class like a real-world repair shop.
Like the real world, each student is responsible for the car they repair. For many of the 44 students in this two-year program, the school’s annual car auction is where the rubber hits the road.
The inventory of vehicles up for bid this time include at least eight cars and one pickup. The cars include a 1998 Olds Intrigue, a 2005 Ford Freestyle, a 1990 Nissan Murano, a 2007 Honda Element and a 1994 Chevrolet Pickup.
All the vehicles were donations to the program, mostly from owners who thought their vehicles too costly to repair, MacLeod said. Students set about repairing and restoring them under supervision from auto instructors.
“That’s one of the things that we pride our program on: Working on live cars,” McLeod said.
The auction is a closed-bid process, and bidders are not obligated to buy the vehicle even if they turn in the highest bid. The offer then goes to the next highest bidder.
But the arrangement is different from what a buyer typically encounters on a dealership lot. The cars are sold on an “as is” basis. There are no warranties on the purchased vehicles, mainly because there are no students around in the summer to repair the cars. If the buyer encounters a problem with the car, the instructors are willing to work with the buyer to resolve the issue, MacLeod said.
“We don’t want anybody to have a bad experience,” MacLeod said. “We help people out.”
Vehicles may be inspected from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in Room HB124 at the Heintz Center. People can bid on as many vehicles as they want. The bids will be opened on April 24.
The auction is a valuable source of revenue for a program that must continually adapt to an evolving car market that has put more emphasis on complex, technical and computerized vehicles. The sale, now in its 15th year or thereabouts, typically raises $20,000 to $30,000 for the program. The average purchase price of a vehicle is between $1,000 and $1,500.
But cars have been sold for as little as $25 and as much as $5,000.
Many of the students — and nearly all of the second-year students — work at dealerships and car repair shops, combining real-world experience with classroom instruction. The car auction brings together both elements of their training.
“Having a car come in that doesn’t run and then sending it out running, that really feels good,” said RCTC student MaKenzie Swanson.
MacLeod said there is a “huge shortage” of automative mechanics both locally and nationally. New mechanics are not entering the job market as fast as older ones are retiring. More cars are on the road. And older mechanics are often not as willing as new ones to get the training needed to repair highly technical cars.
“(My students) all are working before they graduate,” he said. “Most dealerships and independent shops, if you contact them and ask if they are looking for technicians, will say, ‘Yeah, how many do you have?’”
The 2018 median pay for a car mechanic is more than $40,000, according the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Starting pay is around $18 an hour. But the upper ranges of the pay scale can be “just phenomenal” — between $80,000 and $130,000 — once a mechanic proves their capability, MacLeod said.
Two years ago, the RCTC program was accredited by the National Automative Technicians Education Foundation, meaning that the program met the highest standards of achievement. Since then, the RCTC program has partnered with half a dozen manufacturers and dealers interested in hiring RCTC grads.
The dealers donate equipment and funds to help the program, and RCTC supplies the mechanics as fast as they can graduate them, MacLeod said.
The car auction engages the gamut of skills taught at RCTC.
“If somebody is hurting for a car, and they are looking for a basic, reliable car to run, this is a good way to do it,” said RCTC student Brandon Utech.