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Call me old school, but newbies have nothing on me, says veteran mechanic

By Esther Dianah | October 9th 2021
By Esther Dianah | October 9th 2021

Boniface Karanja swears by apprentice training. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

For the last 27 years, Boniface Karanja’s life has revolved around fixing cars.

“I come here every day because this is where I get my daily bread,” he tells Money Maker from his Grogon garage in downtown Nairobi.

Karanja was introduced to the business by his uncle back in his rural home in Murang’a County before moving to Grogon in the city.

“This was like a graduation for me,” he says, referring to the initial challenges in learning the craft because of the variety of cars he had to work on compared to the exposure he got back in the village.  

Karanja says back in the day, becoming a mechanic was the first choice for many youths who did not do well in school or their parents could not afford school fees.

For him, it was the latter that drove him to become a mechanic. It eventually ended up becoming a passion.

“I love working on cars. I can do a better job than anyone trained in a technical school,” says Karanja.

He says a majority of the mechanics at the Grogon area learnt the trade through apprenticeship, starting as spanner boys.

“This work is only possible through passion,” says Karanja.

“Every mechanic starts as a spanner boy, but some give up along the way if they are not patient enough,” he says.

Grogon area, Kirinyaga Road, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Karanja notes that mechanics who learn the craft through apprenticeship end up becoming better at their job than those who undergo vocational training.

“Here, they do practical work, unlike those from universities. Most people come here to learn the practical aspect of what they learn in class,” says Karanja.

So what does one need to start a mechanics business besides the training?

“You need all the necessary equipment, the right attire and capital,” he says.

With about Sh50,000, Karanja says, one can get the most basic equipment.

He says one also needs to appraise themselves with changing technology trends, with many cars now having automatic as opposed to manual transmissions, and electric cars also coming into the pipeline.

Karanja says they learn on the job. “To keep up with new technologies, we analyse the cars and use the knowledge we gather from working different models to fix them. However, some cars are too advanced because their systems are computerised,” he said.

But despite the challenges that come with it, especially for old school mechanics like himself, he agrees that technology has made work easier.

“For instance, I can direct a client on what to do from the comfort of my garage,” says Karanja.

He advises young mechanics to save for old age.

“I advise spanner boys to learn to save the little they get because this job does not have retirement benefits,” says Karanja.

“I invest by putting up other small businesses. This is like my retirement plan because a time will come when I can no longer do this job,” he adds.

Boniface Karanja. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

On a good day, Karanja earns Sh3,000, but other days he goes home empty-handed.

Why the choice of Grogon for his business, considering the traffic congestion and insecurity associated with the area?

Karanja says the area is ideal because of the constant flow of traffic and the many spare part shops around.

“I believe the area plays a major role in the economy. White-collar jobs are hard to find,” he says.

Grogan covers Kirinyaga Road and Lower Kirinyaga Road, all the way to the Globe Roundabout and Riverside in Ngara.

The area also supports other income-generating activities, such as food vending, hawking, car-washing and spray painting.

Karanja says he hopes to set up a training institution to train mechanics in future.

“I have trained many people, and some own their businesses now,” he says. 

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