Name: Susan Sweeney
Susan has been working over 25 years as an auto technician in which she has been employed by both dealerships andindependent repair center.
- Did you take Shop in High School?
Susan had no idea what to take in high school, so she ended up enrolling in cosmetology. She lost interest in beauty treatments and found her way into a car care application class. She eventually made her way over to the shop classes to see what they were about. The instructors gave her a tour of automotive, diesel. body shop, paint, and even plumbing and construction. She found herself going back towards automotive and eventually took shop classes.
- Did you attend Trade School?
After high school Susan attended Lincoln Technology Institute, she devoured every automotive class available, plus learned the business basics.
- Did trade school prep you for working in the real world?
Trade school taught her enough of the basics to get out into the field and feel confident that she could perform an oil change on whatever vehicle and if needed how to look up in ALLDATA, Mitchell, or even the Chilton books a maintenance schedule or where the oil filters were located. Having a strong knowledge in the basics gave her a strong foundation. Taking advantage of other training offered by manufacturers and clinics given by parts suppliers helped her to eventually conquer domestics to import models from gas powered to electric.
- Best piece of advice a mentor or instructor ever gave you?
The most impactful mentors encouraged curiosity on the job. Susan recalls being told, “Be sure to look everything up. Actively diagnose every car and truck. Determine the root cause.” Susan found that she learned so much by shadowing the most capable service techs. “I became friendly with a couple of master techs. Often, I asked ‘what are you doing?’, ‘why are you doing that?’ ‘Hey, can I help?’ ‘Can you teach me?’ It was by helping them doing simple tasks and the heavy lifting that I was learning.”
- How many different shops have your worked at?
Since 1996, Sweeney has worked at 15 different repair centers. Sweeney has worked for Chevrolet and GM outlets, six independent repair centers, including the nationally celebrated Girls Auto Clinic. Now she works for Ciocca Chevrolet in West Chester, PA. All this exposure has deepened Sweeney’s working knowledge of all automotive fields including body work.
- If you could have a “Do-Over” would you still be an Auto Technician?
Yes, she would still be an auto technician. Looking back on her career track, she regrets that “Back to my Lincoln Tech days, I should have taken many more classes and pushed harder at understanding the basics and gone for more training.” Susan advises technicians to “never pass up educational opportunities. Considering the pace of software-operated cars, its use of semiconductors, and lines of code entering the vehicle space, it would behoove someone to invest in more training now.”
- What ASE Certifications do you have?
Susan has six ASE Certifications including: brake systems, electrical, heating, steering & suspension, and service consultant. Sweeney has also racked up more than 25 in-house and vendor clinic certifications.
- What do you enjoy most about being an Automotive Technician?
Susan enjoys a diversity of work as it keeps the job from being too routine. She enjoys being able to increase the customers experience by explaining in everyday language the complex automotive systems, so the customer understands what and why their vehicle needs work.
Susan also enjoys being a mentor or advisor, which she has happily done, such as contributing to the writing of “Girls Auto Clinic” by Patrice Banks.
- What are some of the challenges of being a female working in an industry where 98% of the techs are male?
The biggest challenge is the complex working environments towards women in the automotive industry that makes getting the job done difficult.
- What are your words of wisdom for female technicians who is discouraged?
Inspired by wonderful people and tested by bullies, Sweeney believes that there is a place for everyone. “Don't let anyone convince you that "No" is the only answer. Do not let anyone ever tell you can't do it. You can! You just need the right support system behind you. You need a good mentor. Even if it is multiple people throughout your career. You need to buddy up with people who stay positive." Finding the right workplace to be able to work with good people is so important!
- What makes a good shop to work at?
The way the shop is run and how people treat each other shows whether there is a strong organizational culture and support system created by the owner. “A business that encourages knowledge sharing and rewarding people for performance has a better chance of retaining and attracting capable people, which is reflected in the quality of their work.”
- How do you see your job or this industry changing in the next 10 years?
As internal combustion engines fade, there is no going backwards. The path forward involves investment into diagnostic education. It will also require new types of tools and procedures with these vehicles that will require less of the traditional maintenance and tune-ups. Susan feels that "Training doesn't cost; it pays!" She emphasizes that electrical training will best serve the tech as diagnostics will separate the good mechanic from the informed technician. The engineers keep changing things to meet or exceed EPA standards so continuous training is a must!"
- On servicing EVs and hybrids
“Full-electric vehicles don't require much maintenance at all. Tires, maybe brakes and windshield wipers. Going towards diagnosing and repairing full-electric vehicles is the way to go in the next 10 to 15 years for sure.” Working at a Chevy dealership, Susan notes that, “Chevy has hybrids and full-electrics. It’s still the beginning stages of repair because the vehicles aren’t that old.”