Be Like Noah on Electric Vehicle Technician Training: Plan Ahead

Buying electric vehicles and charging stations is not enough. Training in maintenance and repair cannot be neglected.

Photo: Fairfax County

In 2007, diesel engine manufacturers were forced to meet more aggressive EPA exhaust emission regulations, marking the beginning of the aftertreatment system. That was about 15 years ago, but there are still a lot of technicians who don’t know about these systems, as I find out in my post-processing courses.

I’m not saying that everyone I teach is lost. Some companies have taken the time to train their technicians, but that’s not enough to make me feel comfortable. Technicians often thank me after the course for the knowledge shared and tell me that they now feel more confident in diagnosing aftertreatment systems, including the fact that most of the time the problem is created “upstream “.

Why did it take 15 years to start taking the system seriously? Did we keep kicking him in the road, hoping he would disappear, and are we now paying the price? Aftertreatment system technology will likely continue to evolve, and hopefully we’ve learned the lesson and stay up to speed – it’s not going anywhere if we’re going to keep running ‘clean diesels’.

Today we have more new technologies entering the industry. Are we going to ignore alternative forms of vehicle power, such as electric drives, hydrogen and natural gas, as we have done with aftertreatment?

Electric vehicles are not going away

The Fairfax County Maintenance Academy has developed and implemented electric vehicle training.  - Photo: Fairfax County

The Fairfax County Maintenance Academy has developed and implemented electric vehicle training.

Photo: Fairfax County

Just like the system that keeps diesel engines clean, the electric vehicle is here – with other alternatives close behind. The electric vehicle isn’t going away anytime soon, and in fact, I’m seeing new technologies being implemented to coincide with that. Are we going to take it on the road, or this time, are we going to start training our technicians now? It’s time to start! The technology will only get more complicated and frustrating within the industry, as will the after-treatment systems.

I have worked in the automotive service industry for over 44 years. I have seen technologies come and go. I was here for the first mandatory anti-lock braking systems that we ended up ripping off vehicles because they were causing more harm than good. That’s not the case here! Manufacturers and their new technology to help our environment design their systems to be more reliable. Perfect, no. But they are competing for our business and don’t want to fail.

Here at the Fairfax County Department of Automotive Services, we’ve taken a proactive approach. We currently have 24 BEVs, and the FY2023 budget will more than double that number, to 52. And the number of hybrid electric vehicles will increase from 171 to 286 currently. Although the current fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles consists of light-duty vehicles and school buses, we are looking at electric garbage trucks and Class 8 trucks.

Our Maintenance Academy has been developing and implementing electric vehicle training for some time. In addition to hiring the manufacturers to come into our classrooms and help us spread the information, I think we have a better chance of surviving the future onslaught of this technology.

The county purchased transit buses, school buses, solid waste trucks and medium-duty trucks, as well as installing electric charging stations for these vehicles.

In the biblical story, Noah built the ark before it started to rain. Let’s get information and training out before the downpour starts!

Paul Cupka - Photo courtesy Paul Cupka

Paul Cupca

Photo courtesy of Paul Cupka

Paul Cupka is superintendent of training and quality assurance and support for the Fairfax County, Virginia Department of Automotive Services. He has worked in the heavy truck maintenance and repair industry for over 44 years and is a Certified Maintenance Manager and Certified Safety Manager by the North American Transportation Institute and the University of Central Florida. He has seen many technologies come and go over the years and believes alternative fuels and electric powertrains are here to stay.

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