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Posts Tagged ‘Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage’

Who is a true Garageman?

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For those of us who have been in this industry awhile, we have noticed that there are certain qualities that become typical characteristics of Garagemen.  I want to try to describe that here.  I’ve seen how these traits become engrained into a true garageman’s character. Why?  I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s the nature of cars. Cars are designed by people and they wear out.  So, the people who can really fix them require certain talents and develop these traits.

I like to compare garagemen to farmers. The true garageman knows when a car is fixed properly or not;  just like only a farmer can judge the crops and farming techniques of another farmer.

Like a farmer, the garageman’s success depends on his discipline, his knowledge, and his use of tools.  A farmer has to wake up early to complete his work; he has to plant his crops at the right time in the right depth and in the right soil; he has to follow set procedures to insure the plants will grow.  A successful crop only results when a farmer has self-discipline, knowledge and the right tools.  Garagemen are the much the same. There is a discipline one must follow in repairing a car; there is a huge body of knowledge one must read and gain from experience, and one must have the right tools.  Of course there is a significant difference, too.  The garageman is not dependent upon the forces of nature for a successfully repaired car. For that reason, farming can be more risky than fixing cars, but we have our own force of nature and that is, you the customer. You can sometimes be as challenging for the garageman as drought or floods would be for the farmer.

Besides discipline, knowledge and owning the proper tools, here are other characteristics of a true garageman.  Men (and a few women) who like to work on cars want to understand how things work.  They take things apart to find out what’s inside and what makes it tick.  When a part fails, they’ll open it up to analyze  what went wrong. Slight discoloration of metal may draw a blank stare from a layman, but show it to the garageman , and he will explain in detail how it’s the absolute cause of a bearing failure.

To find out how things work, it means being willing to get your hands filthy dirty every day. It means washing your hands over and over. It means crawling under cars, lying on your back underneath a car six inches from your face, smelling noxious fumes.  It means standing with your hands over your head for hours, or being hunched over a truck straining to fit your hand into hidden places that could be hot, sharp, and hurt. These are examples of things that our customers often don’t think about.

Being a true Garageman, means to love the truth. There is no BS about fixing a car. If it’s fixed, it works; if it doesn’t, well you can’t blame anyone but yourself. And actually, true garagemen prefer it that way.  They are great truth seekers.  Garagemen can spot a lie a mile away—whether it’s the customer who says he’s not going to fix his car because he’s selling it next month,  a mechanic who says the master cylinder is leaking when it’s not, or a service adviser who is recommending rotors and pads when pads alone will suffice.  Nothing will make a true Garageman more angry than a lie.

True garagemen take pride in making things work.   With every broken vehicle, it is war. It is war to get the right parts especially on some cars, like that 1979 Porsche sitting in our shop. It is war to diagnose a drivability issue.  It’s war to install a rear main seal. It’s man versus the Machine.  So, when the car is fixed, it’s victory. Every fixed a car is a war won. Garagemen take pride in every one of those victories. Nothing will make a true Garageman more frustrated than a mechanic who doesn’t care because that means he wasn’t really willing to fight. That mechanic has no honor in the eyes of a true garageman.

The true garagemen can say I don’t know and ask for help. He knows that the guy who says I am a great mechanic is not.  He knows that there is no end of knowing everything about cars. There is always something to learn because cars are always changing. He knows that to win the war means sometimes bringing in reinforcements. And it means being willing to lend a hand to others when they are struggling with that car.  You cannot go it alone all the time.

The no word is not in a true garageman’s vocabulary.  Garagemen thrive on challenges. They possess the WE CAN DO IT spirit.  Sometimes, perhaps, many times, they should say no and end up saying yes.  They might not make money on it; the war might be painful; but they will rarely, if ever, say no.

So, who is a true Garageman? He is someone who is curious even when it’s risky or unpleasant. He is a truth seeker who doesn’t stand for any bacon sandwiches; he derives satisfaction from seeing something broken made whole, he is willing to help others and ask for help; he embraces the challenge even when it’s not going to better his bottom line, and he does the right thing even when it hurts.

In my opinion, the world would be a better place if more true garagemen were running it.

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Can You Always Trust the Dealership?

November 21, 2011 1 comment

Last week, we had a regular customer call us very concerned about her Asian model car. This was a 1996 vehicle with over 193,000 miles.  The owner was on a limited budget.

Recently, we replaced a broken timing belt and timing chain (Yes! This car has both.) The customer stated that within a few days after she picked up the vehicle, it started to run rough and had a loss of power when the air-conditioner was on. Not sure what to do because she was in another part of town, she took it to the Asian car dealership. The dealership said her distributor was bad and recommended a new one.  In addition, the dealer said she needed new plugs, plug wires, an oxygen sensor and crank sensor– all for– gasp! A lot of money.

There was only one problem. We had replaced most of what they were recommending five months ago.

We asked her to bring the vehicle back to us and offered to tow it at our expense. She chose to drive it and waited while we made a thorough examination. What we found saddened us. It was not because we found defective parts or problems we had caused. It’s because this dealership was about to take this young woman for a $1700.00 ride.

The distributor, spark plugs, and plug wires were all fine. They still looked brand new. In addition, when we checked the estimate from the dealership, we were shocked that the dealer was going to charge $330 labor just to install these parts. That was nearly two times more than what we had charged the customer several months ago. Inflation must be out of hand, huh!

So, what was the problem? Well, the insulation coating the wires connecting the crank sensor had rubbed off, so the crank sensor circuit was not working. We taped the wires and fixed the problem. At no charge, I might add.

The dealership had been right in one aspect – she did need an oxygen sensor, which we informed her of and gave her an estimate on replacing.

Our customer will need to replace the oxygen sensor eventually, but hopefully with our care, we’ve improved the road-worthiness of her vehicle and made her a more loyal customer.

Not all dealerships are this bad, but over selling is a general problem. Dealerships don’t make money selling new cars any more. Over half their profit for the entire dealership comes from the service department; yet they have to honor recalls and warranty work which pays them very little. In addition, their overhead is so much higher than a typical repair shop, they have to charge a higher labor rate. So  their real way to make money is on customer-pay repairs.  Sometimes, I guess some places find false problems in their hunt for work.

At Adolf Hoepfl Garage, we have been serving customers since 1946. We believe that repairs are a matter of trust. When we tell you something is broken, it is broken.  If we make a mistake, we stand behind our work and fix it.  We take pride in taking care of each customer and their vehicle. So, while we may not have marble floors, chandeliers and lattes, we believe our principles will outlast this dealership model.

Classic Cars Connect People to People

It’s been too long since I have updated this  blog.  Life has been so rich and full that finding quiet time to concentrate and reflect has not materialized–or evaporated– before I could set my little self down. I hope that you, happy readers, are also enjoying life in these full summer days.

Recently, we held our first car show.  Our Facebook page at Adolf Hoepfl has tons of photos. Go to  www.facebook.com/adolfsgarage or to photographer Wayne Sandlin at www.pbyd.com (Click on Events and Password is carshow.)

The oldest vehicles entered dated from the 1930s and went up through 1972. We had three Volkswagons from 1957 to 61, a beautiful 1966 Thunderbird,  and a candied apple red 1956 Chevy Bel Air.  All these cars were works of art.  Just gorgeous to behold.  And at our shop which is pretty old-timey (built in 1946), they looked like they belonged there.

In fact, Eugene, the former owner of our business, came with his wife, and it set me to thinking.  He worked on ALL of these cars when that was all people had to drive.   Now we consider them treasures.

We had over 200 people enjoying our American car history, swapping stories, eating BBQ, chili dogs, listening to Blue Grass in 100 degree heat.  When we planned this event, I had no idea how much joy we would bring to auto enthusiasts. The man with the Thunderbird just told me the other day that ours was the first show he had ever entered.  I was so honored because his car was truly beautiful. It was a privilege to have all these fine people and cars at our shop.

It makes me wonder. What will we treasure 50 years from now?

Car Talk’s Garage Buried by Snow

Recent record snow falls in the East coast reminded me of my one and only snow experience. It’s a car story.

On December 8, 2003,  I was stranded in Cambridge, Mass. by a record snowfall brought in by a Nor’easter.  It cancelled 335 flights, one of which was my ride home.  With Logan Airport shut down for 16 hours, unable to return to Houston,  I decided to use my “free” day to search for Click and Clack.  You know Car Talk’s garage? I had no idea what an adventure I was getting myself into.

But before I tell you the story, I have to show you this picture.  The night of the storm, a limosine pulled into the hotel and a beautiful bride and groom dashed from the wintry outdoors. I just happened to catch this image with my Kodak.

Dashing between snowflakes, here comes the bride.

Okay.  Back to my car story.

I knew from talking to a guy from the airport that Click and Clack’s shop was called the Good News Garage.  The fellow had taken his car there once but he didn’t remember where it was.  He remembered that their real names were Tom and Ray Maggliozzi and that Ray ran the shop.  I asked him what he thought of  Ray.  He said that he felt like the guy was honest, but, surprisingly, unable to fix his car. I found that hard to believe.  Next to my husband, Ray was the God of the Automobile.

I set out early in the morning on foot. The snow fell so fast and was so deep that few streets had been plowed. Snow drifts taller than six feet towered over me, but these icy walls did not daunt me. With temperatures in the mid-20s, I set out on foot armed with my Kodak Max, purse, and cellphone.

The doorman at the MIT Hotel where I was staying told me that Click and Clack’s shop was at Pearl and Decatur about a 45  minute walk.

When I arrived to Pearl and Decatur, there was no Click and Clack Garage. I spoke to a  rosy-cheeked guy who was shoveling snow off his driveway. He  told me to go to Tudor off Brookline to find their shop.

I get there.  I look around. Again, no garage. Just the Massachusetts Electric Store.  I go inside and ask the owner. He had no idea where Click and Clack worked their automotive magic.   Together we tried to find their address on the internet.  No luck.  Can you believe it?  We’re talking about Click and Clack who have been on the radio for a 100 years. How can their garage be so well hidden?

So I leave and soon spot two bearded guys wearing baseball caps, and I think maybe they would know.  They told me to walk further down Brookline.  As I head that way, I’m  careful  to step into  the footsteps of those who had walked before me so I wouldn’t get snow inside my boots.   I’m now wondering whether I would have been better off staying at the hotel and looking at the snow rather than wearing it.

Car in snow.

That’s when I ran into Joe. He was driving a Chevy pick-up, and it was the first moving vehicle I had seen that morning.  It was hard to tell where the cars were as most were so  buried they looked like miniature hills or large camel humps.  Joe  asked me where I was going, and I told him I was looking for Click and Clack’s Garage.  “Oh!” he says, “I know where that is.  I can take you.  It’s just a few blocks around the corner.”

I didn’t hesitate. I hopped in.  It turns out that Joe knew Ray Maggliozzi.

So after talking to five people and hitchhiking with a stranger, I finally arrived.

The garage itself was an oldtimey brick building probably from the 1920s or older.  I walked into the garage and met a friendly guy,  but he lacked the Tappett sparkle.  I asked him  if Ray was in.  He was not.  What a let down!  I was polite, but what I really wanted was to  say was, “Hey!  I came here from Houston, Texas.  I walked  for miles in two-foot deep snow after one of the worst snow storms in Boston history and had the dickens of the time finding you.  I risked my life by hitching a ride from a perfect stranger, and now you’re telling me that  Click and Clack are not even here?”

That’s life.

But where is the garage, you ask?

Well, if I told you, you wouldn’t have nearly the fun that I did.  At least, now you know where not to look.  However, I did take a picture for you. And,  if you decide to drive there, I have some car tips about dangerous weather.

The Good News Garage

 Car tips for driving in Dangerous weather:

1. Stay home!  Is it really worth it to get out?

2. Make sure your car is road worthy.  Make sure your tires, your windshield wipers, your washer bottle, your coolant are in good condition. You don’t want to be stranded.  When weather is terrible, most people stay home (see #1), so you may be not only stranded but isolated.

3. Have your cell phone, charger, and carry an emergency kit with you. Costco, for example,  sells an inexpensive car emergency kit with food, water, thermal blanket, flashers just in case you are stranded for several hours.

4. Make sure you have a good battery before you head out. Any good shop will be able to test yours for a nominal fee .  As the Tappett brothers say, “Get the meanest, ugliest battery that will fit in your car.”

5. Make sure your coolant is a 50-50 mix. That’s 50% coolant to 50% water.  Too much coolant can be as bad as too little.  The freezing temperature of coolant is reduced when it’s at a proper mix and that’s a good thing.  You don’t want your engine coolant freezing.  It goes without saying that you should fix any coolant leaks before you head out.

6. Make sure your gas  tank is full.  If you get stranded in the freezing cold, keep your engine running as a source of heat.  If you’re caught in a snowstorm of the century, make sure your tailpipe doesn’t get buried in now.  Get out and brush snow away periodically.

7.  If you’re in snow country and have to drive in snow, you need snow tires.  If you’re in an area that also needs tire chains, keep them in your trunk, but know how to use them before you need them.  Practice before you are knee-deep in the white stuff, in the dark, tired, cold, and hungry.  These things always happen at the worst possible time.

8. Finally! Some words of wisdom from the Tappett brothers themselves!

“Even with good coolant, snow tires, stability control, all-wheel drive, and the bag of Doritos in the trunk, keep in mind that driving in snow, sleet, and ice is very treacherous. And even if you maintain control of your car, not everyone else will. So don’t ever get lulled into a false sense of security. Do everything slowly and gently. Remember, in the snow, the tires are always just barely grabbing the road. Accelerate slowly and gently, turn slowly and gently, and brake slowly and gently. To do this, you have to anticipate turns and stops. That means what? Going slowly and leaving and leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars. Rapid movements lead to skids and loss of control. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottoms of your feet – step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don’t break the eggshell.

“If you’re nervous about driving in winter, consider spending some time practicing. Go to an empty parking lot and try sending the car into a little skid on purpose. Slam on the brakes, then practice turning into the skid and see what happens – and practice until you’re comfortable regaining control of the car. Doing this in a large, empty parking lot (preferably without light poles) allows you the luxury of skidding without ending up flat on your back, looking up into the eyes of seven different EMTs. The more comfortable you are maintaining control and regaining control, the better a winter driver you’ll be. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget your laptop computer with the cellular Internet connection so you can kill time here at Car Talk while you’re waiting for the tow truck

Winter driving presents a number of challenges to both you and your car. Cold weather tests the limits of your car’s mechanical abilities. Treacherous driving conditions test your abilities as a driver.

The consequences can be very dire. You could end up sliding towards a guard rail wondering if your affairs are in order, or, as Dave Barry would say, stuck on a deserted road and then passing through the digestive system of wolves. It pays to be prepared. What can you do to get ready for the snow and sleet-covered roads and dipstick-freezing temperatures? Plenty!”

Thank you, Click and Clack!

So that’s my one and only snow-car story!

Kathryn van der Pol, great admirer of Tom and Ray Maggliozzi, aka Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

If you want to visit Car Talk’s website, here you go.  http://www.cartalk.com/index.html

One Thing Always Leads to Another

Our Anniversary Bench

Three years ago, a customer named Lorine came in to have her car worked on, and we started chatting.  She told me about a great cafe  inside a historic hotel in Blessing, Texas.  The hotel was established  in 1906 when the town of Blessing was a major train stop. She went on and on about the home cooked food, the atmosphere, the friendly people, and my mouth was watering just to hear her talk about it.  Our 29th wedding was coming up and my husband and I decided that would be a fun thing to do.

So, on June 3, 2007, off we went to Blessing, Texas.  For some reason, we left late, probably because of something at the shop so we didn’t pull into the parking lot until 2:05 p.m.  For those of you who wonder where Blessing is, it’s not far from the coast between Victoria and Palacios, Texas.  It’s really in the middle of nowhere, and it’s a very small town. We found the hotel easily, walked in, and an elderly lady wearing a large white apron said, “We just closed five minutes ago.”

The Blessing Cafe and Hotel

By this time, we were hungry, and I was devastated. It’s our anniversary and THE PLACE we had picked to celebrate was closed.  I could feel the tears welling up and big fat lump rising in my throat. This was supposed to be a blessed occasion, and I didn’t feel blessed.

What to do?

The lady was nice enough to let us look around, but we left because we were in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday with  no place to eat.

Palacios was less than an hour away and it was the only city anywhere on the map. So off we headed in a stony silence.

Fortunately, we found a nice seafood restaurant and had a good meal.  Then we decided as long as we were there, we might as well look around Palacios and see what there was.

Off the main road was a shop called Texas Furniture owned by Glen Barnette.  When we walked into to his work shop, Sybren immediately noticed that Glen was building model airplanes, the kind Sybren used to fly in his teens.  So he and Glen hit it off right away.  While they’re talking up a storm like they’ve been friends for 50 years, I noticed Glen’s cabinets, tables and chairs, a model of an Australian house Glen hoped to build one day, and I remembered that we had wanted a bench for our customers to sit on outside while they were waiting for their ride.

I had a paper towel in my purse, and I sketched out what we wanted.  A big oak bench that could seat five, with cup holders on each end, curved legs and most important, a Texas Star centered in  the back.

Glen said he could do it, and it would take about a month and a half.  We left a deposit and drove back to Houston, much happier than when we left Blessing.

Six weeks later, we drove back to Blessing.  Got there at 11:30 a.m.  We loved the meal.  It was every bit as good as Lorine promised it would be.  Then we headed to Palacios and picked up our beautiful anniversary bench.

Food is served on antique stove tops.

When we brought it to the shop, we realized that it was too nice to set outdoors without a plan.  So, for several months it sat inside one of the bays while we tried to think of how we could use it without it getting stolen, getting ruined, or being a hassle. Nothing came to us, so it just sat there gathering dust.

Then one day, one of our customers let us know that one of the two chairs inside the waiting room was broken.  Someone too heavy had sat in it and bent it out of shape.

We had to have a replacement right away.  We often have customers who wait and they had to have a place to sit.  Then we remembered!  The bench.  We took out the chairs and lo and behold, the bench was a perfect fit.  It was meant to be.

Sometimes, when all the customers have left and we’ve closed the shop, we’ll sit on our bench and hold hands.  We now know how blessed we are.

Our Anniversary Bench

Rain Brings Memories of Flood

It’s been raining off and on all day today.  This reminds me of  how I used to worry every time it rained.

Will the shop flood?

Our business is not in a flood plain, but it’s situated at a low spot where Shepherd’s inlets clog easily.  We had them cleaned out about seven months ago, and so far we haven’t had any rain in the shop since.

In the past, our shop flooded a couple times a year.  At the first sign of water coming into the shop, I would make a beeline to the closet and grab my galoshes.  I would pick up any boxes with parts and get everything off the floor.  I even bought special bed risers from IKEA  for our waiting room bench.  It’s our anniversary bench and I didn’t want it ruined.

When it would start to rain really hard really fast, our technicians dropped what they were doing, grabbed  push brooms and prepared to shove water out the bay doors.

The water would first seep, then pour into the parking lot as cars whizzed by.  The fact that the street was virtually invisible did not deter motorists from plowing ahead at the highest possible speed.  Soon, car-generated waves would roll into the shop.  It also flooded  from the rear when the side street went under water.

When the flooding began, we established a rhythm: a wave rolls in; we push it out.  One or two men would be stationed at each bay to repel the water.

Another tech would grab the sandbags that our founder Adolf  Hoepfl had set aside for this purpose and pile them in front of the office door.  If the rain was really bad, we would use a pulley and hoist the state inspection machine out of its hole in the ground in order to keep it dry.

When it was over, we set up giant fans all over the place to dry out the floor when it was all over.

I am so glad that doesn’t happen anymore. That was a lot of work.

Mom, is my Car Safe to Drive?

December 1, 2009 2 comments

Our oldest daughter called this week. “Mom, my brake light is on.” Our 23 year old daughter was calling me from Newport, Florida. She was heading to St. Augustine for a little sight-seeing and was driving a rental car, a Nissan Sentra to be exact. “What do I do?” Now, my daughter is no dummy. She is an officer in the Coast Guard, happening to be ‘at liberty,’ military lingo for ‘having time off.’

“Pull over, and I’ll tell you how to check the brake fluid.”

I explained to her that the brake light on the dashboard comes on when it senses low brake fluid. A computer sensor on the master cylinder ‘reports’ when the fluid reaches a minimally acceptable level. While the light shouldn’t be disregarded, it doesn’t always mean that the driver is in imminent danger of experiencing brake failure. It does mean stop, check and take care of it.

After Laura figured out how to open the hood, she found the brake fluid reservoir—often it’s close to the firewall. She opened the cap and saw that the fluid level read minimum. Well, she had her answer. Slightly low on fluid, but not in danger. What we didn’t know was why.

There are multiple explanations. The car had 12,000 miles, fairly new for most car owners, but that’s considered “old” in the rental world. The vehicle could have a slow leak either coming from the master cylinder or from a wheel cylinder. Another possibility is that the car had been poorly maintained and over time, the brake pads wore out. This would cause more brake fluid to flow toward the calipers and reduce fluid in the reservoir.

When Laura called me back and told me the fluid level, I said, “What’s also important is how the brake pedal feels when it’s pressed. How’re the brakes working?”

“Oh, they’re fine.”

“Pedal’s not mushy?”

“Nope.”

“Well, okay then. Go have fun in St. Augustine! Your brakes aren’t going to quit on you.”

That was what she wanted to hear. When a dashboard light comes on, all of us are naturally concerned because we don’t know whether it’s safe to continue driving.

“Mom, one last question, how will I know if I’m developing a brake problem?”

My advice to her was to watch for puddles on the ground near the tires or under the hood. Check the fluid once more when she stopped for gas and tell the rental car agent when she gets back.

If Laura had said that her brake pedal had been mushy or acting funny in any way that would be a major safety issue. Mushy brake pedals mean brake failure is imminent! If YOU ever experience this, stop driving. You are a road hazard! It’s possible that a mushy pedal will not be accompanied by a brake warning light, but usually, it will.

Without a technician to check Laura’s Nissan, we could not know why the fluid was low, but we knew that she able to stop the car safely and that was what mattered.

Mom saved the day.