John Goulden of ACE Transmission Remanufacturing

Career advice for automotive mechanics (young and old)

John Goulden has seen it all. He’s an “old school” mechanic who spent decades turning wrenches and diagnosing automotive problems. But he’s also a technophile who’s earned top-level professional accolades. He’s currently the warranty manager at ACE Transmission Remanufacturing, fielding troubleshooting questions from auto repair shops around the country each day. John brings a level of expertise that is rare and indispensable. That’s why we chose him to share this valuable career advice.

What is your origin story, and how did you achieve success in the automotive repair industry?

I’ve always been a car nut. I’m a gearhead and a hot rodder. I took auto mechanics in high school, and I was always working on my friends’ cars.

Then, I went to a “nationally accredited” vocational school, which was kind of a joke. I knew more than the instructors. It was a big disappointment and a waste of money. But it was a start.

I got my first job at Pep Boys when I was 18. I started out replacing tires and worked my way up to basic engine work. I also mowed lawns on the side and was the mechanic for the lawn mowing company. So, I did small-engine maintenance and repair.

Then, I worked for a transmission shop (not related to the ACE brand) for about three months. That shop was a bad place to work, so I moved to a full-service shop, where I became the lead tech. I eventually became the shop manager and ran it for ten years.

In 2001, I was hired as an R&R tech at the original ACE Transmission repair shop in Springfield, MO. I turned wrenches there for about 15 years before transitioning into a diagnostician because I was the go-to guy for all things electrical. I handled any vehicle with electric concerns, as well as higher-end vehicles, show cars, and hot rods. I especially enjoyed converting classic cars over to newer technologies. I usually got those gigs because I’m a detail freak. I eventually moved into test driving and diagnosing more than wrenching.

Over time, I learned as much as I could through formal education. I earned ATRA Master and ASE A2 certifications, among other professional credentials. 

I transitioned to the warranty side when ACE opened this separate remanufacturing division. So, I assist shops with a lot of troubleshooting by phone. I also help inside the factory with R&D and quality control.

How should young mechanics gain knowledge and experience?

It’s all about a balance between formal training and real-world experience.

There are great automotive mechanic training programs and vocational schools that can give you the textbook knowledge you need. But you can also learn a lot through real-world, hands-on experience – just getting out there in the automotive trenches, turning wrenches daily.

But if you only gain experience through one avenue, you’ll make many mistakes, which can be very costly to you, your shop, and your customers.

High-quality automotive training programs can cost big money. But you might lose more money in the long run by skipping proper training – through costly repairs caused by rookie mistakes, from injuries caused by safety failures, and by slower career progression due to poor industry knowledge.

That’s why you’re better off getting a well-balanced education through formal and on-the-job training. You’ll make more money and have the confidence to pursue steady career advancement.

How can seasoned mechanics stay sharp through continuing education?

After decades in the auto industry, I still attend training programs as often as possible. I also constantly read tech articles to stay up-to-date because the industry is ever-changing. I’m a voracious tech guru. I love that type of thing.

Automotive technicians need to seek as many education opportunities as they can throughout their careers.

Just because you’ve turned wrenches for 15 years doesn’t mean you know it all. We live in an ever-changing world, and technology is constantly changing. If you don’t keep up with it, you’ll get left behind.

There are tons of online classes to take and tech articles to read.

Professional organizations such as ATRA and ATSG publish lots of helpful educational content through tech articles and newsletters. So make sure to subscribe to those and soak up information regularly.

These organizations also hold yearly seminars, which I recommend attending. At these events, technicians can take classes and learn from industry experts.

Auto parts vendors – such as O’Reilly Auto Parts, Bumper to Bumper, and Napa – also put on thousands of classes every year for automotive techs. These classes are taught by BorgWarner and other industry giants.

These training events are a good opportunity and are not too expensive.

The auto industry is still a place for “old school” hot rodders like me, but those with a hunger for technology and learning are the most likely to excel.

About ACE Transmission Remanufacturing: ACE keeps hundreds of units in stock at all times, so the one you need usually ships the same day! We include a 3-year 100,000-mile nationwide parts-and-labor warranty. We build units that meet or exceed OEM specs. Set up a wholesale buyer account today, so you can run a more profitable shop.

Career opportunities: If you’re looking for a stable work environment with great income opportunities, consider joining our family-owned business. We are taking applications at both our repair shop and our wholesale transmission remanufacturing plant.

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