Auto Mechanics Could Be Hardest Hit by California Car Mandate

Auto Mechanics Could Be Hardest Hit by California Car Mandate

But auto mechanics warned that while most operating and maintenance costs are lower for electric vehicles, some parts can be more expensive to replace. Rojas also said electric car owners could experience problems down the line they haven’t yet thought about.

Electric vehicles tend to weigh more than conventional cars, which means they need special tires that can support a heavier load. Those can cost between $200 and $300 per tire, compared to the $50 to $150 average for a gas-powered car, Rojas said.

In addition, other services like replacing a windshield on a car like a Tesla, which has sensors and computerized features, could cost anywhere from $1,100 to $2,000, he said, compared to $200 to $500 for the windshield of a conventional car.

“Because the car is still under warranty from the dealership, nothing right now comes out of pocket,” said Rojas. “But as soon as the vehicle becomes older, they’re going to become more expensive.”

While zero-emission vehicle sales have been steadily increasing in recent years, Californians continue to primarily drive gas-powered cars. Electric cars in 2021 made up about 3% of all cars on the road but 12.4% of auto sales.

Some mechanics doubt that consumer behavior can change as quickly as the air board thinks it will. The proposal would require a massive overhaul of new charging stations and building codes.

“It’s nearly impossible to make all these changes by 2035,” Dirige said. “We don’t have the infrastructure to go to all electric vehicles. We barely have it now. And if you ask people, they’re afraid they’re going to end up with a car that is going to run out of electricity and they’ll be stuck somewhere.”

Mechanics will need new skills or new jobs

Rojas and his business partner, Raul Perez, employ two other mechanics, also Latino immigrants, who perform routine services such as oil changes and tune-ups.

Rojas said mechanics have to invest thousands of dollars of their own money to buy special equipment and tools. Some could use their existing tools and skills to service electric cars, since the cars would still require cosmetic repairs, tire rotations and battery inspections.

But many won’t be able to afford retraining for a new career or learning new skills in complex areas like electrical engineering needed to repair hybrid and electric models.

“If the government is interested in helping us economically to get retrained, it could really help the people who might be struggling but want to learn,” he said.

Auto Mechanics Could Be Hardest Hit by California Car Mandate
Walter Preza works on a car at JR Automotive in San Francisco. (Nina Riggio/CalMatters)

Shane Gusman, a lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said state leaders should help fund the retraining of workers who lose their jobs due to the state’s efforts to battle climate change.

“Unions are not standing in the way of responsible policies to protect the climate and try to slow down climate change,” he said. “But all of us need to think about the impact on workers. We need to try to come up with policies that protect the workforce, which ultimately protects our economy.”

To reduce job losses from its zero-emission vehicle mandate, the air board in its report says “policy options could be considered for job retraining and transfer support, particularly for lower income individuals.”

State Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from San Mateo, agreed. He said the “path of getting to zero needs to foster new well-paying, secure, middle-class jobs, and work to transition those from fossil fuel industries.”

“It is true that it is easier to talk about the energy transition when it is not our own jobs that are threatened by it,” he said.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, who chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies, introduced AB 1966, which would create a state fund to help retrain and transition workers from the fossil fuel industry to other nonpolluting sectors. He said the funds would also offer wage replacement and insurance, pension guarantees, health care options and peer counseling.

The bill, however, would not help auto mechanics.

“We all know that change can be difficult for anyone,” he said. “We need to make the transition to a clean-energy economy in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”