From GED to Entrepreneurship: An Interview with an Auto Mechanic

Name: Daniel Maiorani
Current Job: Owner, Dub Autowerks
Interview Date: August 28, 2014

For some students, the conventional education system just doesn’t work. Especially when they are passionate about an area that doesn’t quite fall into a predefined college major. Some of them put their hobbies and interests aside to get a job that pays the bills, while others defy the system and turn their passion into a career.

Daniel Maiorani discovered his interest in cars as he entered his teens. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, he was always surrounded by American cars. But, every year there was a gathering of Volkswagens near his hometown. “I just remember being 11 years old and seeing the cars [VWs] and thinking how interesting they were. How different they were from everything else!” says Danny. By the time he started driving, he had developed a strong interest in cars and as soon as school let out, he would “go home and read about it”. Since the internet was still in its infancy, there were hardly any videos and it was “hard to find the information”, but he had to learn because he “just didn’t have the money to take the car to anybody” when it broke down.

During high school, he expressed his interest in being a mechanic to his high school counselor but felt actively discouraged by the school. “You need to go to college” was the typical response, Danny got from the counselor and he decided to stick it out for a while. Schools don’t believe that mechanics can make a decent wage. “I know German car mechanics that make $60,000 – $70,000/year” he says. For Danny, the breaking point came when he was told by the school that a course would satisfy his graduation requirement, only to later tell him that it won’t. Feeling completely disillusioned with the education system, he decided to drop out and almost immediately got his GED.

 

HE FELT DISCOURAGED BY THE
SCHOOL [TO BE A MECHANIC]

 

In September 2002, taking the first step towards turning his hobby into a career, Danny joined the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Arizona. UTI is billed as one of the leading schools to learn automotive engineering, along with the Wyoming Technical Institute (WyoTech) and a few others. However, Danny’s experience was not satisfying, prompting him to leave in 6-8 months. “They [UTI] hype it up a lot. But community college is the best way to go” he said. Community colleges in most areas offer affordable classes in automotive engineering and “there are classes for $300-400, offered by parts wholesalers and companies like Bosch that make automotive parts” that are a much better deal, he suggests.

 

COMMUNITY COLLEGE IS THE BEST WAY TO GO

 

Confident of his skills, Danny decided to gain more hands-on experience and enlisted in the Army, eventually dropping out of UTI. Using the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) exam, the Army tests the skills of the candidates and offers them positions in departments like mechanical engineering, IT, etc. “I scored very highly and they pretty much said ‘You can pick any job you want’ and I decided to be a ‘Light Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic'” says Danny. While serving in the military he was stationed in Germany and deployed to Iraq where he spent his time fixing up the trucks and putting additional armor on Humvees to make them safer. He was spared the convoys, because he and a friend were very skilled at fixing the vehicles.

After serving for a little over 3 years, he was discharged in December 2006, and he took advantage of the GI Bill to get his degree in Machining. The GI Bill allows all honorably discharged soldiers to pursue education at a subsidized cost, while still being paid by the military, which allowed Danny to collect a Sargent’s pay while going to school. After 2 years, in December 2009, he finally got an Associate’s degree in Manufacturing Technology.

While he had the knowledge, credibility had been a problem for a while. However, the experience he gained while in the military, gave him much needed trust. Once discharged, he “got offered almost every job” he applied for. He started working at a Volkswagen dealership in 2007, while still pursuing his degree. A few months after he started, he posted his first ad on Craigslist, offering his services as a mechanic and thus a business was born.

Dub Autowerks started with him working out of his Volkswagen Golf and driving up to people houses since their cars would be broken down. Hiring a mechanic on Craigslist is risky, he admits. But there are people who want to save money and he offered assurances by being dealer certified. Not only that, he was also ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified which put the minds of his customers at ease. “I was ASE master certified when I was 21. When I got in the Army and when I was on leave, I took all the ASE certification tests. I was one of the youngest master mechanics ever” he points out modestly.

 

FOR BUDDING MECHANICS, STARTING
OUT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COSTLY

 

Soon he was joined by another mechanic and the business started growing mostly from word of mouth. People interested in a hobby, generally know others with similar interests. “So I found one person .. they told everybody they knew and it spread really fast. So no matter what your hobby is, if you become the best at it … people are going to find you”, he advises.

For budding mechanics, starting out doesn’t have to be costly, he reminds us. Most of the specialized tools needed can be worked around with some ingenuity and if needed, they can be rented off the internet or bought cheaply from eBay. He kept his business costs low for a long time and worked out of his car before eventually upgrading to a small shop that accommodated 3 cars. Without car lifts, his team worked the old fashioned way with car jacks for a while, before getting a small loan of $5000 to install lifts. Danny describes his first few years in the business as an intense period without much sleep. “In 2009, I was going to school full time [to get the AA degree] and working here [at Dub Autowerks] full time and then in 2010 I was also working full time in a machine shop [which he joined to learn more about machining]. Mostly just 80-hour weeks” he remembers.

Finally after 2 years, in 2011, he decided to move to their current location, which is much better equipped than the previous location. Dub Autowerks now does car performance work in addition to general repairs for German cars. “It’s more fun but not necessarily more profitable” he says, but he is glad that he doesn’t spend most of his time doing “transmission jobs and rebuilding heads” which is how he started out.

 

PICK A SPECIALTY … AND BE PASSIONATE

 

Danny advises young mechanics to pick a specialty rather than being general mechanics and being really passionate about their specialty and cars in general. He still spends time reading magazines, books and trade journals about German cars to keep up to date and because he enjoys it and recommends it to every aspiring mechanic. Working hard at something you are passionate about, will make you the best at it and then you can make money doing it, no matter what your passion is Danny’s mantra and he lives by it everyday.

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