Elmore County Technical Center automotive class

Daniel Dye / The Herald

Holtville High School student Phil Frasier, left, and Gabe Taunton from Stanhope Elmore High School work on pulling parts off a vehicle in automotive technology class at Elmore County Technical Center.

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of stories highlighting programs at the Elmore County Technical Center.

Students taking automotive technology classes at Elmore County Technical Center (ECTC) are learning in a setting that is as close to the real world as possible.

From the commercial car lifts to boxes of tools and more, instructor D.J. Warren serves as a teacher and a boss while students gain classroom and hands-on experience.

One group of senior-level students are putting a new motor in a Nissan Murano while another group of first-year automotive tech students are taking parts off a non-running SUV.

Several students are hoping to make a career out of what they are learning in Warren’s class.

“I’m thinking I might become a diesel mechanic,” Wetumpka High School senior R.J. Sutherland said. “There will always be vehicles on the road no matter where you go and they will need to be worked on.”

Sutherland has the ideal diesel mechanic resource available to him in Warren.

Warren used to work as a diesel mechanic for a large company in the area. 

He’s also a third-generation automotive mechanic and automotive tech instructor.

“My grandfather started a shop and taught at John Patterson, when it was known by that name,” he said. “My dad is there (at Trenholm State) today. I teach here (at ECTC) and my brother teaches for Autauga County.”

Elmore County High School senior Alex Brown intends on going straight into the workforce after high school.

“The classes are just really hands on,” he said. “You can get good experience and use what we are learning to continue on with the education or go right into the workforce. More than likely I’ll work in a shop after high school. It’s just something I enjoy doing.”

Brown said he rebuilt the transmission to his vehicle in Warren’s shop.

Sutherland said more than anything else the class and Warren have taught him patience and pride of work.

“You cannot be short-tempered in this class,” Sutherland said. “There are times when you have trial and error. The class has actually taught me mainly patience.

“It’s completely differ when you do it yourself. You put your hands on it and have the pride and sense of accomplishment.”

According to Warren, Sutherland has done a lot of work on his truck in the class.

“It does not look like the same truck at all,” Warren said.

While Warren indicated many students have gone on to successful careers with dealerships and large corporations, he said he makes sure the students learn life skills.

“We show them how to fill out a job application,” he said. “We show them how to shake a person’s hand and look them in the eye. Some kids do not know these things. We’re teaching these kids skills that will help them to provide for themselves in the future.”

The practical side of the class also pays off for the students, Warren said.

“If they leave my class and they know how to change the brakes on their car they can save money,” Warren said. “A dealership may charge $300 to $400 to change brakes. For around $100 these kids can change their brakes in their driveway.”