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Garage opens doors for self-service auto repairs

Published January 14, 2010 10:57 am

Economy » Do-it-yourselfers find a well-lighted, well-stocked place for car repairs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Late last fall, the brakes on Jennifer Magee's 1993 Toyota pickup started sending hints they needed replacement. But she estimated the price tag for a complete work-up on all four wheels was steep -- around a grand.

A former co-worker and her boyfriend told the 24-year-old Salt Lake City resident about The Wrench-It Center. At the corner of 700 West and 1300 South, it's a do-it-yourself kind of place with a large, well-lighted garage, bays, hoists and lifts, and just about every tool she would need to tackle an all-encompassing brake job.

If the amateur mechanic gets into trouble, the center's computer system shows drawings of just about every part and how they fit together for all makes and models.

The shop, opened last September by Zachary Anderegg, is patterned after hobby shops on military posts and bases where soldiers, sailors and Marines gather to do their own vehicle maintenance.

The impetus to go into business was the tumbling economy. Anderegg's wife, Michelle, owned a yacht brokerage in Dana Point, Calif., but the business in big boats was not doing too well when the 2008 recession hit.

"It was a horrible year for us," Anderegg said. "I got to thinking that even in a recession, people need to drive cars, and all cars need maintenance. I had been in the Marines and knew about the hobby shop at Camp Pendleton [Calif.]. I thought, with less money to go around, maybe more people would want to do their own maintenance."

He scoured the Internet for any other business like it. "I heard something like this was common in England, and there is a place in San Francisco that operates like a club with members working on their own cars. I came across a place in Arizona that had only a couple of bays with two post lifts, and there was a small shop in Florida owned by a retired Army major," Anderegg said.

So, he figured, why not.

Anderegg got financial backing and opened up http://www.wrench-it.com/" Target="_BLANK">The Wrench-It Center in a former glass-manufacturing warehouse. He stocked it with individual tool kits that come with each bay or lift rental, a variety of fluids for sale, plus gear to lift motors and transmissions in and out of vehicles, balance tires and install them on rims. There also are power tools.

"We get folks in here who want to do everything from change their own oil to installing new motors and transmissions," he said. And some customers are moonlighting professional mechanics who need a space that offers both hoists and open bays.

Vehicle owners won't save money on a simple oil change, he said, but they have "the comfort of doing it themselves and knowing what kind of job they've got." The real savings come in the form of bigger jobs, such as replacing brakes and engines.

"One day we had three transmission-replacement jobs going on, side by side," he said.

Magee wasn't a neophyte with a wrench. "I was an automotive technician for seven years before I decided to change careers," she said.

The job took a full day. It would have been shorter, she said, but when she couldn't get the rear backing plates off, she went to the center's computer system and looked at the drawings of the rear wheel on her particular Toyota model.

"I discovered I needed to remove the rear axle, and then I discovered the plates needed to be pressed off, and there was another shop that did that," she said. The Wrench-It guys called that shop, made an appointment for that day and drove her there. Two hours later, they picked her up, brought her back, and she finished the job.

Total cost for the 10-hour, do-it-yourself venture, $500, about half of what she figured it would cost with a professional mechanic in a private shop.

"It would have been a bit less if I had used after-market parts from the NAPA store across the street," she said, "but I wanted original manufacturer's parts, and that's what I bought."

Then there's the story of Provo resident Mike Jeppson.

It took him two weeks at Wrench-It to put a new engine in his 1995 Toyota pickup. He got a used one from Japan with 60,000 miles. Including shipping, it cost $1,400. Rental of an open bay and a "cherry picker" to lift out the old engine and drop in the new came in at $670, he said. The job took so long because a supplier sent him the wrong clutch, and he had to ship it back and get the right one.

His total cost was $2,700. He said the lowest bid he got from a professional mechanic was $4,500, including the motor.

"The beauty of it all," he said, "was that Wrench-It never charged me for overnight storage during the two weeks it took. I'd clock in and out each day, and they charged me only for the time I was there."

Normally, he said, he would have done the job at home, probably in his driveway.

"But it's winter, and I didn't have a 'cherry picker.' "

jkeahey@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">jkeahey@sltrib.com

Do it yourself

The 2009 "Elbow Grease Economics" survey shows that more care owners are doing their own maintenance. Among the findings:

34 percent say they have to take better care of their cars because they can't afford a new one.

27 percent say they are doing their own upkeep or having friends or family members do it for them. Six percent of that number are doing it for the first time.

29 percent of female drivers are doing service themselves, or with a friend or family member.

Source » 3M Care Care and Harris Interactive