Jonathan Couch
Couch's Automotive Racing Services/New Caney ISD

Tell us about yourself. What made you decide to become a service professional?
Both grandpas were extreme DIYers, my Dad worked for Hertz Rent A Car for 47 years and built street rods at home, and my uncle restored Tri-Five Chevrolets as I was growing up. I never stood a chance. I don't recall a time before I knew how to work a 4 way lug wrench. I do remember getting pretty seriously involved with family vehicle projects when I was 10 or so. I would listen to the war stories of Dad's 64 Corvette moonlight drag racing or my Uncles 70 Chevelle 454. I got really good with carburetors in my very early teens and picked up engine machining in my late teens. I opened Couch's Automotive Racing Services officially in Feb. 2005 (at 22 years old). Both grandpas made things that didn't work, work again, Dad made things show stopping pretty, my uncle made things like new again, I found my role in making things go fast. I started doing port work in my parents backyard at 15. I worked as a flag tech from 18-22 and I'd do machine work at home. The machine work became more profitable at the time which is how I was able to build enough cash to start CARS.

Where/How did you get your training to get the knowledge you have today?
Everywhere I could but of course it all started at home. When I did get in the industry I asked a lot of questions to a lot of people and if there wasn't a consensus I just chose the method/process that worked best for me. I would wear people out with questions. If there was a specific topic I hadn't mastered, I'd head to the local college to get the blank spots filled in. I am a product of 4 different college programs on top of everything I learned growing up. I can honestly say though there's no teacher like experience and experimentation. The flow bench and the dyno don't care about your feelings - they are pretty ruthless teachers but effective ones none the less. As for vehicle repair services customers are great teachers too. They usually don't have a problem pointing out where you fell short even though you did exactly what was necessary. After working in the industry for some time and in a declining economy in 09-10 timeframe I was invited to return to one of the colleges in the area to teach engines. I found a real love for sharing my experience with my students and I've been teaching ever since. This way I still get to work on race cars but I can now choose my customers instead of rely on them. It's definitely an arrangement that works for my family.

How long have you worked as a service professional?
I have no idea. My official start date was probably somewhere in the late 1980s to early 1990s but I couldn't begin to guess. I'm 39 and was hard at work on vehicles 30 years ago for sure.

What role has being ASE Certified played in your journey?

I have been ASE Certified since I was 19 years old. My Auto Tech teacher and my Dad pushed me to become ASE Certified. Dad knew the value of the ASE brand from working at Hertz and my Auto Tech teacher obviously knew what the value of ASE was because he was training techs to work in the industry. I definitely wouldn't have gotten my start nor would I have gotten where I am today without having the distinction of ASE Certifications. A colleague of mine did some digging and informed me about the World Class Technician program with ASE, so he and I started racing to the finish. He got hung up on one T series test that bought me time to catch up then I muscled my way through Collision repair. He bowed out for other life's pursuits but not only did I finish World Class Technician in 2017 (awarded 2018) I went ahead and tried my hand at all of them. I know for certain without ASE, it would have been hard to compete back then especially as young as I was when I got into it.

What ASE Certifications do you currently hold?
A1-A9, B2-B6, C1, E1-E3, F1, G1, H1-H8, L1-3, MIL2-8 P1-2, S1-7, T1-8, X1 Master Automobile Technician with Light Diesel, Master Collision Technician with Estimator, Service Consultant, Master Truck Equipment Technician, Alternate Fuels Technician, Maintenance and Light Repair Technician, Master Transit Bus Technician, Advanced Engine Performance Specialist, Electronic Diesel Engine Diagnosis, Hybrid/Electric Vehicle, Master Military Technician, Parts Specialist in HD and Automobile, Master School Bus Technician, Master Med/Hvy Truck Technician, and Exhaust Specialist.

What are some of the top challenges you do/did face as a service professional and how do/did you overcome them?
I started with what is as good as the cash in my hand and the clothes I was wearing when I opened CARS. Sure, I had tools. Some would say a lot. I had spent a small countries GDP on tools by then. However, engine machining tools and equipment plays on a whole new level and if you want to tackle the spectrum of vehicle repairs like I was doing the tool inventory I had as a bumper to bumper flag tech working on cars was a drop in the bucket compared to what I have now. The last time I had all of my tool boxes lined up side by side in the same place was 2017 and they barely fit in my 40 foot wide engine machine shop. I've probably added half again as much since then and hardly have room to grow. The volume of tools isn't the only problem. Consumable costs on body work are no laughing matter and diagnostic equipment for typical repair concerns hurts pretty bad but nothing makes me cringe like getting an invoice for the tooling costs to perform the level of engine machine work I like to provide for my customers. It all hurts but for comparisons sake I can hide tooling in my closed fist that's worth more than my latest and greatest scan tool and it’s such a tight market it’s just something you have to live with.

Do you have any advice for today’s students who might be thinking about entering the automotive industry or becoming a service professional?
Be flexible and adaptable and you must become the best at whatever it is you choose to do. A partial commitment or "good enough" won't cut it. You never graduate. Learning is constant and the more you learn the more you earn. There's no such thing as knowing too much and you must approach new technology with a ferocious appetite. Read everything you can get your hands on and go to conferences when you can. Network with people. You never know who may have what you need to dig yourself out of a tight spot. You never know what you don't know until you do and everyone else knows at least one thing you don't. If you learn just one thing from everyone else every day you'll die a genius.

What do you like most about being an automotive service professional?
While the occupation has it's stressors it's a pretty good crowd to run with. It's a massive industry and no matter what zip code you're in there are more opportunities for a career in this field than any other. You may not get super rich super fast but no matter how bad the economy you'll never starve either. During the COVID lockdown the essential workers stayed at work. I had local shops calling me asking to take their overflow. Personally I still get to play with race cars and I get to share those experiences with my students. I like to watch them grow and hear their success stories which increase in number with each passing year. The last 20 years of being certified and the last 30 of being in this industry in whatever capacity has allowed me many experiences and opportunities even some millionaires only dream of.