Although he’s still in his early thirties, Eric Schmittdiel has seen big changes in the auto repair industry over the course of his career. “When I started, most of it was mechanical. Now it’s mostly electrical or computer. You can’t even do rear brakes without a scanner now,” he said.
Even so, the computers haven’t replaced good diagnostic work. “So many people believe we hook up a scanner, and it gives us a code that tells us the problem. But the scanner might show an oxygen sensor code, and it has nothing to do with the oxygen sensor,” he said.
Peter Hill, Schmittdiel’s boss at Honest-1 in Roseville, said, “Eric is very talented. Nobody knows everything, but he has an ability even on vehicles he’s never seen before. He says, ‘It’s supposed to run this way,’ and when it doesn’t, he steps back and says, ‘Here’s what can be causing it.’ Another technician put a new engine in a VW. It wouldn’t start. Eric said, ‘Something doesn’t sound right.’ He advanced the timing, and it started right up.”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Schmittdiel said. “Cars come easy to me.” He said he’s had an interest in car repair since he learned to drive. His first car was a 1982 Chevy Caprice station wagon. “It was cheap and I could afford it,” he said. When he was “16 or 17,” he rebuilt his second vehicle, an S10. “I did it all based out of a manual,” he said.
He went to Century College and got a three-year AAS degree. “I had a job before I graduated,” he said. “I started at a Tires Plus, changing oil and doing tires. A lot of people coming in start with general service.” From there, he moved to a more advanced shop that did diagnostics and engine repairs. After a few years and a third job, he took the eight tests required for master certification in Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “It looks good on a résumé,” he said.
Because ASE is a nationwide certification, Schmittdiel was able to move to Colorado and find a job within 24 hours. He moved back to Minnesota because his family lives here. After “a few moves in between,” he started with Honest-1 three years ago. He’s now Lead Technician. “I’m kind of like a foreman,” he said. “Most people come to me for questions.”
What’s the best part of your job?
I enjoy the challenging things. Patience is a big thing. I don’t get frustrated easily. It doesn’t do any good. It sets you back.
What’s the biggest challenge on the job?
We’re in Minnesota. Things rust. A bolt breaks. There’s a lot of external contributing factors to how quick you can work.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Owning. I see myself working for myself. That was the turn-on for me with Honest-1.
Do you have a project car at home?
No. I have a family. That’s what I do for fun — soccer, skiing. If one of my kids shows an interest, I would love to have an older car and work on it with them someday.
When you’re in social situations, do people ask you for automotive advice?
Everybody’s got a car question. It doesn’t both me. If I can help by answering their questions, I will. That’s how I was brought up. But I wouldn’t assume everyone is like that.