Repair shops booming as more people keep their old cars
CAPITAL REGION The owners of auto repair shops say business is booming because people are fixing up their old cars rather than buy new in a weak economy.
Jim Legnante, owner of Jim’s Ballston Citgo on Route 50 in Ballston Spa, said he and his five mechanics are keeping very busy and he doesn’t expect the trend to change any time soon.
“I’ve been in business almost 40 years and I find that whenever there is a recession or a so-called economic downturn, our business goes up,” Legnante said.
“There’s no reason not to keep a car for a long time, if you do regular maintenance. When I started, it was unusual to see a car with 100,000 miles on it. Now, we see cars with 200,000 or even 300,000 miles on a regular basis.”
He said his business deals mostly with oil changes, state inspections and light repair work.
“We do brakes and tires and some lighter repair stuff and we’re really busy now,” he said.
Gary Childs, who owns Childs Auto in Wilton, said his business has never been better.
“We usually close down between Christmas and New Year’s because it’s slow, but this year we stayed open and had a banner week,” he said.
Childs said many of his customers are looking for tune-ups to assure their cars are getting the best gas mileage possible.
“That was the case when the price of gas was high, but I see people are still looking to squeeze the most mileage they can out of their cars,” he said.
Ralph Bombardier, executive director of the New York State Association of Service Stations and Repair Shops, said people holding onto their old cars is good for small service stations in more ways than one.
“A lot of the newer cars are very technical and repair shops are having trouble getting data, instructions and equipment from the manufacturers to do repairs,” he said. “If the little guy can get the equipment, it often costs more than what the company will charge their [dealer service centers].”
Older cars are less complicated, he said, and most mechanics have all the equipment they need to work on them.
As an example of the problems with newer cars, he said, some have sensors located in common areas that can be tripped during routine maintenance.
“There are cars that have sensors in the tire valve. When you change the tire you can trip the sensor, but only the dealer can reset the computer,” he said.
James Fullerton, fixed operations manager in charge of parts and service for Nemith Motors in Latham, said dealership service centers make great investments in equipment and continuing education for mechanics to keep up with specific maintenance of new cars.
“It’s true the equipment is constantly updated,” he said. “A local mechanic might be less expensive initially, but if they don’t know exactly what they’re doing it could cost more in the long run.”
He said his service departments have seen steady business, but no great increase or decrease over the last year.
“We may have been a little busier than usual over the holidays, but I would say overall we’ve been about the same,” he said.
Bombardier said small repair shops are finding many customers are waiting to do repairs, which ends up costing more when they get the job done.
“If your mechanic tells you during an inspection that the brakes are passing but need attention soon, you should make an appointment to get the work done rather than waiting for the job to get bigger,” he said.
Some people are sprucing up their old cars and trucks rather than replacing them, according to Mike Glock, owner of Showroom Car Care in Scotia.
He said his business is diversified in three areas so when one portion decreases in business, the others keep things financially afloat.
“I see that my detailing business has been down a little over the last year,” he said. “People don’t seem to be splurging on interior cleanings and wax tops as much. But our accessories are selling well.”
The accessories include bed liners and step guards for trucks and specialty floor mats and other interior features that can change the look of a vehicle.
“If a car is getting to be a couple of years old and the customer is getting bored with it, they can jazz it up and hold onto it rather than going for a new car payment,” he said.