Aspiring engineers deliver low-cost car maintenance in Far North

By James Perry

Automotive engineering students in the Far North have found the best way to improve their skills is to fix locals cars at a minimal cost.

The Kaitaia-based students, who are working towards achieving the NZ Certificate in Automotive Engineering (Level 3) offer a community “no labour charge” service for those who cannot afford the prohibitive costs of car maintenance.

NorthTec tutor Doug Clarke says, “[the students] are put in a position where they would be experiencing when they get out into the workforce. And that's not just working on customers cars, that's communicating with the customer, that's being professional all of those things are encompassed in the stuff that we do here.”

The programme has been operating for almost six years. Clarke estimates more than 400 cars have been serviced in that time, which has kept Far North motorists safe from the dangers of the road and the excessive fines that are often passed on to their owners, “what we've done here is we've gone combined the authentic learning experiences and also just that whole concept of giving back to the community.”

That concept means the customers don’t pay for the labour involved with servicing or repairing the vehicle, “we always say look, ‘tea, coffee, milk, bikkies, that's great’,” Clarke says of the heavily discounted work his students carry out under his supervision. “We work on their cars for nothing. They pay for the parts, we order the parts, and then we book their vehicle in and then we do it, we fix their vehicle.”

Joan Natanahira is one of the satisfied customers who has had her car given a check-up by the students. She says if she had to carry out repairs on her vehicle through the traditional means she would most likely have to do so part by part, bit by bit, and believes many other far north motorists are in a similar position, “I'd say for a lot of the whānau it's way cheaper for them, you know if they could just buy the parts and have the students here. It's a bit of a work experience for them as well to fix your car.”

Student Edith Hau says she took up the course as a way of keeping her own vehicle maintenance costs down and is looking forward to paying it forward into the future, “once I learn the skills from this trade I'll be able to help someone else,” she says.

Fellow student Aaron Murray also says his skills will come in handy with his wider whanau, “I've got a few cuzzies out there, but nah it's good to be able to fix them and stuff, they help me fix mine so sort of teach them as well.”