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Federal-Mogul is opening a “Guru Garage” in Baltimore as one of 15 automotive repair training facilities in major cities across the country. Their goal: to help preserve independent garage and car repair shops. (File)

Auto training network hopes to bolster independent service shops

It’s not a cornfield in Iowa, but that doesn’t stop Brent Berman, the director of Federal-Mogul’s “Garage Gurus” network, from describing the company’s new location in Linthicum Heights with a maxim from “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.”

“It” is the Baltimore location for the auto parts manufacturer’s national training program, and “they” is Baltimore-area automotive technicians, who will have their first chance to see the training center at a launch event Thursday.

After debuting to positive reaction in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York earlier this year, the Garage Gurus program is making its way to Baltimore, giving independent technicians in the area courses and training on the latest automotive technologies. Eventually, the network will reach 15 major cities across the country.

Federal-Mogul is opening a “Guru Garage” in Baltimore as one of 15 automotive repair training facilities in major cities across the country. Their goal: to help preserve independent garage and car repair shops. (File)

Federal-Mogul is opening a “Guru Garage” in Baltimore as one of 15 automotive repair training facilities in major cities across the country. Their goal: to help preserve independent garage and car repair shops. (File)

Broadly, technicians work either in dealerships or the independent aftermarket, such as auto repair shops. Surveys from Consumer Reports indicate that customers prefer independents to dealerships in a variety of categories, such as overall satisfaction, quality of service and courteousness of staff.

But while car dealers are responsible for providing updated training to employees in their affiliated dealerships, independent technicians don’t necessarily receive regular instruction and can fall behind when handling newer technologies.

“Once a technician graduates from a vocational school or technical institute, there really is nobody out there coast to coast providing skills training,” Berman said. “It’s definitely a hole in the industry because with the technology changes, with the electronics being boarded on all these vehicles, it’s badly, sorely needed.”

Before this year, Federal-Mogul had set up a variety of “tech first” support systems, including a mobile app, a technical hotline, training vans sprinkled throughout the country, and hands-on technical training offered in St. Louis.

The Garage Gurus program is an expansion of those preliminary efforts, and each garage will be highlighted by a full, hands-on technical training center, Berman said.

“Instead of asking the technicians to come to us, we could basically take the training and experience and move it into their backyards,” he added.

A number of independent technicians in the Baltimore area are using a wait-and-see approach once the garage is unveiled. Bill Taylor, owner of Frame-Rite Auto Repair in Westfield, said he had received a brochure detailing the launch event but had not yet committed to attending.

Taylor said that it would be good to have access to regular courses on new technologies, and he said he was glad that a major company is getting involved with training, especially with a permanent location—as opposed to the roving courses that appear once a month or more infrequently.

“We take advantage of just about every training opportunity that we get,” he said. “Generally, we depend on out-of-state companies to send trainers … if you have one place that you go all the time, you can probably plan it a little bit easier and have your employees go there.”

Berman said he expected upwards of 300 attendees to Thursday’s opening, and after being trained in Federal-Mogul’s products he hopes they will stay loyal to the brand and recommend them to their consumers.

“Most consumers really don’t know anything about the parts that technicians and mechanics are putting on their cars, so technicians can be kind of an evangelist or an ambassador and explain that this is a quality brand,” he said. “We’re hoping that we’re part of that discussion.”