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From boyhood dream to reality: what being a mechanic means in an industry on the cusp of change

While other mechanics are shying away from an industry taking on new technologies, Dan Rached of Dakota Automotive is taking the challenges of learning something new head on.

Dan Rached was born a mechanic.

As a kid, he was fascinated with cars. He would take his remote control toy racers apart and put them back together in a juvenile attempt to make them go faster.

“As I got older, I started working on single-cylinder engines like lawnmowers and dirt bikes before moving on to cars,” Rached, 33, explains. “I've been fixing engines all my life.”

So, it was inevitable that Rached would come to eventually own his own garage, Dakota Automotive on Campbell Ave.

From the Ottawa Valley, Rached took car mechanics at Algonquin College and started apprenticing at Dakota Automotive in 2013. Five years later, when Dakota's original owner announced he was retiring, Rached bought the business.

“It was a great opportunity. Andrew built a healthy business because he was a friendly, honest mechanic that customers liked,” Rached recalls. “I learned from one of the best mechanics in the city.”

When Rached took over Dakota, he expanded the list of services, but with only two bays. He and his mechanic Kris Kot are limited to how many cars they can service, especially during tire change season, to about 50 cars a week. Scheduling is a tight squeeze.

Ideally, Rached would like to move to a bigger garage with four bays. However, the automotive industry is quickly transitioning from fossil fuels to electric. Most of the major car manufacturers have committed to converting their fleets to electric power over the next 10 to 15 years, which might make gas-powered cars, and their mechanics, obsolete. Many traditional car mechanics are either adapting or retiring.

Despite all the seismic changes coming to the industry, the mechanically-minded Rached is excited by the changes and keeps up to date with the latest automotive computer technology.

“Working on cars today is more challenging than it used to be,” he says. “A lot more electronics means I require specialty tools. It also makes repairs more expensive because so many parts are electronically based and need specialty equipment. You're not buying a door latch for $50 anymore. It's a module with its own brain and thinks for itself.”

“The infrastructure for fully electric cars isn't there yet,” he adds. “What's going to happen when everyone in the heat of summer plugs in their air conditioner and their car at the same time? You could argue electric cars are better machines. But we won't go fully electric until they solve the power supply issue. Until then, we'll need mechanics.”

In the meantime, Rached has comfortably settled into the routine of running his own shop and setting his own hours. He enjoys the close relationships he's made with his customers. The only responsibility that comes from owning a garage is all the paperwork.

“When I was an employee, the previous owner Andrew had been doing it so long, he made it look easy. So I was surprised to find owning the garage meant almost as much paperwork as mechanic work,” he says, laughing. “That's okay. I work harder when I'm working for myself.”

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