Justin Calhoun bought Custom Automotive Care in 2014 after working for the previous owner as a technician for eight years.Technician Jamie Sears demonstrates the in-house customized leak detection system that increases pressure.Service Writer Tracy Kirkpatrick keep customers informed with AutoVitals digital inspections.Owner Justin Calhoun says the FLIR C2 thermal imaging camera diagnoses electrical issues in minutes.Calhoun recently purchased this Milwaukee 2488-20 soldering gun from his Cornwell Tools rep Brad Wolverton. He says it was the best soldering gun he has ever owned.

Living the dream — from tech to owner

Outside-the-box thinking and investments in new tooling and training turn new leaf for Custom Automotive Care

Lincoln, Neb.— When his available diesel testing equipment just didn’t cut it, Justin Calhoun took matters into his own hands.

“We have been getting more and more diesels in for repair here recently and we had a leak somewhere in the system on a 6.0 Ford,” explained Calhoun, owner of Custom Automotive Care, in Lincoln, Neb. “The leak detection equipment we were using just wasn’t putting out enough pressure to find the leak, even though we knew it was there. I sat back and came up with an idea of using nitrogen gas, which has a higher PSI output.”

Calhoun obtained a small tank of nitrogen and had Dakota Fluid Power make a hose with proper fittings. Once hooked up, they were able to find the leak.

“We were putting 2200 psi through there with nitrogen. Sometimes if the technology doesn’t exist, you have to make it yourself,” Calhoun said.

He made it clear, though, that he was not knocking tool and equipment companies. “There is so much changing all the time in this industry that I am sure it’s hard to keep up with all the needs. There are a lot of quality tools and equipment that have helped make my shop successful here recently.”

Calhoun has made several changes since taking over the shop that he had previously worked as a tech in 2014. One of the most beneficial was the implementation of digital inspections through AutoVitals two years ago.

“Digital inspections allow us to be transparent. Customers can see exactly what we are seeing and it helps us communicate what issues they currently have and what future concerns can be addressed at a later date. AutoVitals syncs well with our Mitchell shop management system and we’re able to communicate with customers via email and text messaging with pictures and videos,” he said. “Now that concern is on file and we can advise on how to proceed with repairs or maintenance.”

He added, “It also gives our customers peace of mind. How many times does a customer ask when a repair is done, ‘Everything good?’ only to get out of the door and notice a tail light not working or something to that effect. They are calling and questioning your shop practices because you said everything was fine. With the digital inspections, these issues are eliminated, which is why we do them on every vehicle every time.”

Additional recent investments include a FLIR C2 thermal imaging camera and a Milwaukee 2488-20 Soldering Iron, which were both purchased from Cornwell Tools rep Brad Wolverton, and several other job-specific hand tools through local vendors.

“The FLIR thermal imaging camera saves so much time in diagnosing wiring and electrical issues. We do some bigger vehicles for a couple fleet accounts and tracing wiring problems can take hours, where we can now pinpoint the issue in just a few minutes. The Soldering Iron wasn’t a huge investment monetarily, but it is by far the best soldering iron I have ever had. It has a pivoting head and reaches operating temperature in seconds,” Calhoun said.

Some things on Calhoun’s “Christmas List” are getting the shop a couple of new lifts, programming tools, and upgrading the battery charging and maintenance equipment.

He shared some tips for new shop owners and for those considering getting into the game.

“What really helped me is linking up with ATI (Automotive Training Institute). I went through a 30-month re-engineering program to help transition from technician to owner and take this shop to the next level.

“I was paired up with a business coach and we spoke every week and we still do to this day, even though I’m an alumnus now. We would look at shop numbers, discuss marketing techniques and look at what I needed to do to make this shop successful. I also recently joined a 20 Group, which allows me to network with other successful shop owners across the country.

“I became active with Midwest Auto Care Alliance (MWACA) and now serve as their vice president for the Lincoln Chapter.

“My advice is to just be engaged and involved in the industry as much as possible.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.