Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012

Slow economy has good, bad for auto repair shops

Related

Slow economy has good, bad for auto repair shops photo
Jessica Uttinger
Mechanic Jack Alley, owner of Jack’s Complete Auto Service, stands with his wife Cindy, Thursday at his business in Middletown. Contributed photo by Jessica Uttinger
Slow economy has good, bad for auto repair shops photo
Jessica Uttinger
Mechanic Jack Alley, owner of Jack’s Complete Auto Service, leans over one of the many cars in his lot Thursday morning at his business in Middletown. Contributed photo by Jessica Uttinger
Slow economy has good, bad for auto repair shops photo
Greg Lynch
Mike Grubb works on a heater core for a Chevy Malibu at Eric’s Auto Service in Hamilton on Thursday. Staff photo by Greg Lynch
Slow economy has good, bad for auto repair shops photo
Greg Lynch
Jason Smith works on a timing belt for a Toyota Sienna at Eric’s Auto Service in Hamilton on Thursday. Staff photo by Greg Lynch

By Eric Schwartzberg

Staff Writer

For area auto repair shops, the recession has proved to be a difficult road to travel.

On one hand, some motorists are holding on to their vehicles for longer than ever, a boon to the auto repair industry. On the other hand, motorists struggling to make ends meet are doing only what’s absolutely necessary to keep those vehicles on the road and taking risks they shouldn’t take, according to industry reports.

“With the economy, there’s people not fixing things that really, really need to be fixed,” said Eric Pohlman of Eric’s Auto Service in Hamilton. “They’re driving with a bald tire, a loose front-end part and that’s dangerous.”

Pohlman said what he and others in the auto repair industry strive to do is educate people that a well-maintained vehicle will easily exceed the 100,000-mile-mark once considered an automobilie’s limit.

“We see 200,000 or 300,000 miles on a well-maintained car, so we’re preaching maintenance,” he said. “If you’re not changing your oil when you’re supposed to, if you’re not doing your fluids and what you’re supposed to do, there’s not many cars that are going to hold up to that.”

Business is doing well but Pohlman said he continues to be cautious.

“It used to be in this business, we knew which months were always slow,” he said. “Now we don’t know from month to month. We could busy in a month that used to be slow and slow in a month that used to be busy. It’s all (based) on how money is being spent, people’s finances and stuff.”

Business at Jack’s Complete Auto Service in Middletown has been steady, thanks to a consistent stream of people fixing their cars, according to Cindy Alley, co-owner.

“They spend $300 or $400 and say it’s cheaper than a car payment,” Alley said.

The repair shop, which opened in 1999, also is seeing customers wait to fix various items that are not a “have-to” case, bringing them back within a month to take care of the repairs.

The business has bounced back from the effect the “Cash for Clunkers” program had when people, instead of making repairs on their used vehicles, traded them in for new ones, Alley said.

“That kind of hurt us for a little while,” she said. “They made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

A spike in new car sales this year has meant more customers coming into both repair shops to take care of basic needs to maintain their vehicle’s warranty instead of getting the same work done at the dealership.

The past decade has meant a decline in the amount of auto repair employees and businesses in the Cincinnati-Middletown Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The amount of employees dropped from 7,013 in 2002 to 5,534 in 2010, with last year seeing a slight uptick of about 20 jobs, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The amount of auto repair and maintainance shops in the region has gone from 1,107 in 2002 to 972 in 2011, according to the bureau.

“I can see that happening,” Alley said. “There’s a lot of places around here that’s closed shop up because there’s not a lot of business.”

The trend in the auto repair industry is to do what’s necessary to help those who have held off on maintenance because they might have thought about buying a new vehicle and are now deciding to hold onto it longer, Pohlman said.

As a result, an increasing amount of motorists are coming to grips with having more problems to fix, the most urgent of which they often tackle right away, postponing others for weeks or months.

“We’re seeing people breaking them up,” he said. “A lot of people will admit they’re holding off on some critical repairs.”

Another challenge facing the auto repair industry is the growing need for workers who go beyond oil changes and brake jobs to those who know how to diagnose the high-end repairs needed on newer automobiles thanks to a growing glut of technology in each vehicle.

“These cars are high tech,” Pohlman said. “Some of these cars are running 12 or 13 computers in them. They don’t seem to fail as much, but there’s a lot more of it to fail.”

More News

 
 

Hot topics