Texas State Technical College students studying automotive technology put their skills to the test most Fridays, working on cars with real-world problems in a simulated auto repair shop.

TSTC faculty, staff and students can take their cars to the on-campus Kultgen Automotive Center, supplying the needed parts themselves.

About 250 students are in the class this semester, said Ben Matus, an instructor for the course.

“They work on cars with actual problems instead of just school cars,” Matus said. “They come in here and look up procedures to prepare them. Of course they diagnose the problems first, locate the problem, replace parts if necessary, and then check to make sure it’s operable and correct.”

The program, launched about three years ago, has students work on cars with problems that can be solved within a few hours. The real-world experience of the shop includes interacting with customers and filling out paperwork.

Luis Reyes, 19, of McGregor, said a desk job just isn’t for him.

“Once I got into high school, I already knew what I wanted to do as a sophomore,” Reyes said. “I like to be able to fix my own stuff and work on my own cars and be able to help people out. Every once in a while, I’ve been driving down the road and seen somebody broken down, and I’ve helped them out. It’s something I love to do.”

There are more than 22 million registered vehicles in Texas, and Matus said he gets calls from local auto repair shops and dealers looking to hire students.

“We tell them they’re not graduated just yet, you’ll have to come back in May,” he said. “The students do work part-time sometimes if it’s local. The businesses are very gracious to work with our students and allow them to go to school and work sometimes. We’ve got students who are right out of high school or we’ve got students who are 30, 40, 50 years old who wanted to work on cars. They wanted to do that all their life.”

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