Often when people recommend a mechanic to their friends, they usually describe their guy as “the best.”
Well, if their mechanic is Charles Frankum, then they aren’t really exaggerating.
Frankum, 61, of Gray, who has spent the past 24 years at Five Star Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Macon, was selected by Mopar as the top technician from more than 20,000 across the country. Mopar manufactures parts for Chrysler and Dodge vehicles, and all of the mechanics in the competition come from those dealerships.
Frankum, who plays Santa Claus for Five Star every year because of his long, gray beard, isn’t particularly boastful despite the honor.
“I’m just doing my job and doing it right,” he said.
If Frankum won’t brag about himself, plenty of his colleagues will.
“He’s awesome to work with,” said James Menard, who manages the dealership’s service center. “He’s the first person here and the last person to leave. (Co-workers) will ask him things all the time; they’ve got to.”
Bobby Cramer, operations manager for Five Star, said Frankum routinely wins “Employee of the Month” or “Technician of the Month” several times a year.
The technicians are evaluated on a series of criteria, including customer surveys, how often a car is fixed on a first visit, length of tenure and level of training. The list is pared to 1,000, then down to 27 technicians representing 17 states.
Last year, Frankum finished second in the Southeast for the honor, and he placed in the Top 10 in the nation. That earned him and the other finalists a trip to Auburn Hills, Michigan to see Chrysler’s operations.
“They treated us like royalty,” he said. “They took us to the Detroit Auto Show.”
At Chrysler’s main plant, Frankum and the others got to see things the general public doesn’t, such as the wind tunnel used for testing car designs and a room that’s kept at 40 degrees below zero to test cars and auto parts in extreme cold conditions. Some of the cars Frankum saw were concept cars that may not be introduced to the public for a few years.
“They told us to put away our phones, so we couldn’t take pictures of them,” he said.
Frankum’s love affair with cars began when he was 10 and his father took him to a dirt race track in Augusta. When Frankum found out his father’s mechanic owned one of the racecars, he asked to go to the mechanic’s shop. The following summer, Frankum got a job sweeping floors and cleaning parts. But he also began learning how automobiles work and how to fix them.
That’s turned out to be a lifelong learning process. Frankum said he and other technicians are constantly attending training seminars because the technology is constantly evolving.
“I’d say about 90 percent of my job is using the computer,” he said. “Diagnosing the problem and being able to fix it is the key. Anyone can replace a part. Diagnosing is the hardest part, especially with today’s cars and their electronics. Now, everything is so intertwined.”
For example, he said, if a car’s starter isn’t working, there are three different computer signals that lead to a car starting. Frankum’s diagnostic computer can point him in the general direction of the problem, but he said it takes time to figure out where the breakdown occurs.
This generation’s automobiles are a far cry from those when Frankum was starting out. Frankum attended what was then North Georgia Technical and Vocational School from 1972 to 1974. While there, he and a classmate won Plymouth’s troubleshooting contest.
Back then, however, the only bit of sophisticated technology in a car was the radio, he said.
These days, technology continues to advance to the point that Google is beginning to operate driverless vehicles.
“When (cars) start driving themselves, that’s when I’m going to retire,” he said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.