LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER: Automotive skills lead Thompson to career as auto mechanic

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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When Elizabeth Thompson spent quality time with her father as a teenager, she never envisioned those moments would come full circle working as an automotive mechanic with Andalusia Ford.

Her father was a mechanic at a younger age and started having children. Around the age of 13, Thompson offered to help and quickly caught on to the skills he taught her.

“My dad worked anywhere from diesel to O’Reilly’s, so I pretty much took after him. It was the classic of holding the flashlight for your dad. I became really interested in fixing things with him, and the first job we ever did together was fixing the starter on my sister’s car. I decided I wanted to pursue automotive mechanics after that,” Thompson said.

Thompson recently attended a SkillsUSA competition in Mobile and placed second as the only female in the automotive category. The knowledge she acquired from her father allowed her to fix her vehicle when an issue arose during college.

“I’m very technically-minded because school has never been a strong suit for me especially in math and science. I understood repairs better than any school material. I was always in the shop with my dad and helped him with vehicles. I enjoyed the time we spent together, and it gave me a little escape while we bonded. When I was in college, a problem happened with my car in the parking lot. If it weren’t that time with my dad, I probably would have been stuck seven hours away,” she said.

Born and raised in Andalusia, Thompson attended school at Straughn until ninth grade and was homeschooled from the tenth through twelfth grade. She was a member of the Sound of Gold Marching Band and also ran track. She attended Anderson University in South Carolina and planned on a major in Graphic Design.

“While it was a great school, I realized it was not for me and returned home. I enrolled in LBW’s automotive mechanics program at MacArthur and loved it. I thrived and made all A’s. My automotive technology instructor Will Reeves was really encouraging, and I received my ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certifications there,” Thompson said.

Thompson applied to a few places and said Andalusia Ford was the first to call her about a position. Her employment with the dealership began as an oil changer in October 2023.

“Andalusia Ford is a great environment, and I love it. The people I work with are amazing. If I need help with a vehicle, I will ask and receive support and encouragement. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other. Since I started, I have moved on to small engine repairs, some diesel work, cameras and recalls, and small maintenance things like plugs and boots. Sometimes, I will get into a large engine job and have to disassemble a bunch of things, which normally takes a few days. I recently completed a skipping issue on a Ford Ranger, and it works great now,” she said.

Thompson added that customer satisfaction is one of her top priorities.

“I enjoy everything about being an automotive mechanic. When we determine what is wrong with a vehicle and let a customer know, that is important. It’s exciting to bring a car that barely runs into the shop and fix it where it runs perfectly. I had one customer come back for a completely unrelated issue to the same vehicle I had previously resolved and took care of it.”

According to Thompson, Ford uses a three-step process for the diagnosis of a vehicle: customer, computer, and testing.

“We begin with an initial discussion of drivability issues and ask the customer if it is an electrical issue, a skip, or a computer issue. Then, we pull diagnostic trouble codes that lead us to a pinpoint test and allow us to find any mechanical issues. The Ford Ranger did not have any DTCs but was still skipping, and we had to go by our knowledge. We will usually test components or other modules afterward to see if it is a wiring or component issue,” she said.

Thompson recommends routine oil changes and inspections when maintaining a vehicle.

“There is nothing wrong with doing your own oil change, but it’s always great to bring your car to the shop. We do deeper inspections such as brake pads, rotors, wiring, and oil leaks. You want to be sure to keep up with basic cleanliness and maintenance of your engine and change out your air filters. It really goes back to doing the simplistic things,” Thompson said.

Having the opportunity to serve citizens in this community feels “amazing” to her.

“The public trusts us to do our job, and I hear people say good things about Andalusia Ford. The main thing is to give people a satisfying reaction to their car being fixed. Sometimes, other shops are unsuccessful in finding an issue, but it’s nice to find that issue, fix it, and leave the customer satisfied,” she said.

Andalusia Ford Service Manager Wayne Melton was looking for technicians when the corporate office called and inquired about hiring student technicians.

“Elizabeth brought her application to us and fit both criteria. I liked the way she talked and presented herself during her initial interview. We brought her in as an apprentice after school, and she was really impressive with a vast knowledge of the automotive industry. She has a good hands-on skill set and has worked her way up to a full-time position. We are very proud of her and hope to see her stay for a long time,” Melton said.

Elizabeth is the daughter of Shane and Laura Thompson with three siblings: Caleb, Leah, and Adrie. She and her fiancé Timothy Smith will be married in November.