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SMC Auto Club plans projects

Southwestern Michigan College’s new Auto Club has already exceeded Kyle Schrock’s expectations. At October’s inaugural meeting, “I thought we’d do a community service project. They were talking about raising money to give back to people who are less fortunate,” Schrock said.

SMC has always encouraged faculty, staff and students, even community members, to bring vehicles to be fixed to provide students with a broad range of real automotive challenges.

“The more vehicles they see, the better trained they are when they leave,” Schrock said. “(Patrons) get their cars worked on with no charge for labor. They buy their own parts, which we get a discount on, so it’s a win for everyone.”

New with the advent of the Auto Club is that “we used to ask for doughnuts or pizza for working on cars,” Schrock said. “Now we ask for cash. It doesn’t have to be much, we just ask for a donation to help fund the Club. If patrons don’t want to give anything, that’s fine - I don’t want people donating if they can’t afford it. One lady brought her car in because a place told her it would cost $1,000 to fix. We were able to cover the part and charged her nothing, but she insisted on giving us $40 because we saved her $1,000.”

Schrock, an SMC automotive technology instructor, sponsors club meetings every other Wednesday and once a month on Friday.

“It’s mostly a place for students to hang out and work on their own stuff that doesn’t fit into class. A lot of my students work outside of school, but last Wednesday, more than a dozen showed up. Meetings are also for special projects, which I think are a way for first-year and second-year students to come together, make new friends and bond a little bit,” Schrock said. “It’s fun learning, too. It’s something I wish I had when I went to school.”

After high school in Goshen, Schrock spent 18 years as a mechanic and also worked in a recreational vehicle factory. “My high school had an automotive program and I went to tech school. I worked on semis for a while, but most of my experience is with UPS (United Parcel Service). I worked on their equipment for 12 ½ years.”

“The way things are going” with vehicle computerization, “you’re not going to be able to pick it up without some sort of training,” Schrock said. “The nice thing about our program is its adaptability. Two classes, steering and suspension and hybrids, are especially getting more computerized. Those systems are advancing quickly with autonomous vehicles coming to the market. Look at Tesla – these are electric cars that can drive themselves. Lots of high-end vehicles already have autonomous features.”

That doesn’t mean, however, the end of auto mechanics. As Schrock likes to say, “The wave of the future is the car driving itself to the shop. I’d say that’s going to happen within 20 years.”

As the next club project, Schrock wants to build a Road Runner. Plymouth introduced the muscle car 50 years ago. The Roadrunner also became SMC’s mascot in 1968.

“The goal is to have old-school with modern technology under the hood,” he said. “The Jeep we’re building now until the end of the school year is our first experiment in electronic engines that do not belong in the vehicle.”

The rebuilt Jeep would join a 1960s Shelby Cobra replica built in 2000-01 and a customized 1996 Chevrolet Silverado extended cab show truck containing a 4,000-watt stereo system. The two vehicles currently are displayed in the lobby of the Jan and A.C. Kairis Building.

“My goal is to start the Road Runner in the fall as a new project,” Schrock said. “We’re also in the infancy of a partnership with a St. Joseph cars ministry. Cars are donated or they buy them cheap and fix them, but they’re getting to the point where they can’t keep up. It’s another way for our students to help out the community.”