NAPA AutoCare Center builds on trust

Hotchkiss’ culture of honesty is backed by supplier partners

Denver—An unrequited love for his best friend’s sister and her boyfriend’s 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass is what led David Hotchkiss, owner of Hotchkiss Auto Repair, to a career in automotive repair at the age of 15.

It’s now 35 years later, and his 11-bay, 8,000-square-foot shop is bursting at the seams, averaging 420 cars per month, and compelling Hotchkiss to file for a zoning variance that would allow him to expand.

“It’s crazy, you know? I started in this business as a gas station attendant and now I own a shop. I bought this building eight years ago, thinking at the time that it was out of my reach, and now I’m overbooked,” he said.

He attributes his success to a good work ethic and upholding a “culture of honesty” between his customers and his six technicians and three service advisors. It’s a principle that he says rolls off the tongue easily, but can be hard to stand by when push comes to shove.

“At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to be able to face my customers with a clear conscience. I’ve known many of them for close to a decade now, so everything I do, from picking business partners and suppliers, to admitting faults, I do with their best interests in mind,” he said.

Hotchkiss relies on NAPA, WORLDPAC, ACDelco, Denso, and OE suppliers for his parts. The shop is also a NAPA AutoCare Center, providing its customers with NAPA’s two-year/24,000-mile peace of mind warranty, and an ACDelco Repair Center, which offers buying power as well as staff training benefits, Hotchkiss said.

Hotchkiss’ shop uses ACDelco’s online training as a primary resource for staying up to date on the latest technology and industry trends, and employees attend local seminars offered by NAPA Auto Care and WORLDPAC. Despite having passed the test to become ASE Master-certified himself, Hotchkiss said he doesn’t require ASE certification of current or prospective technicians, but instead relies on a 30-question hiring test that he wrote himself.

“I created my own hiring test to help me weed out the prospects who say they ‘can do it all’ in the interview, but prove to ‘know nothing at all’,” Hotchkiss said. “I also focus heavily on character and honesty during the hiring process. If something doesn’t add up on their resume, they’re more likely to be dishonest about a mistake on a repair, but one who owns up to his past mistakes will usually become an asset to the company. I usually only interview technicians who’ve been referred to me by a trusted source, like tool vendors or parts countermen.”

Hotchkiss said he has also paid to fly four of his long-time technicians and service advisors to Indiana to attend training seminars offered by Jasper Engines & Transmissions, his go-to supplier for drivetrain products.

“I swear by Jasper Engines & Transmissions. I believe in the company and I believe in the product, and they stand behind their work, no questions asked, which is a hard quality to find anymore,” Hotchkiss said. “I flew some of my employees out to Jasper’s facility so they could see the care Jasper takes with its products and gain confidence in selling them. That way, when one of our customers does need a drivetrain repair, selling them a Jasper product doesn’t come across as phony or pushy, but instead as the best possible option. Anybody can read confidence.”

The shop uses Mitchell OnDemand and Identifix as its information resources and shop management tools, as well as updated Snap-on scan tools for diagnostics, which Hotchkiss said is one of the ongoing challenges for independent repair shops.

“In the past, auto repair was about being good at taking something apart and putting it back together, but today, every technician in your shop basically needs a degree in electrical diagnostics and a scan tool to fix anything. It’s an increasing challenge that requires more hands-on attention from the owners to train and find skilled technicians,” Hotchkiss said.

He added that he doesn’t do any outside marketing, relying instead on word-of-mouth to gain new business, and going the extra mile to make his customers comfortable throughout the repair process. He currently has a fleet of five loaner cars, which he provides as a free service to customers whose vehicles have to stay overnight.

“It costs me $9,000 per year to insure my loaner fleet, but I’ll never drop that service because it helps our customers when they’re in a bind and it can get us out of a difficult situation if a customer’s car takes longer to repair than expected,” he said.

Hotchkiss has also built a reputation as a hot rod specialist and hosts an annual hot rod car show at the shop.

“Hotrods were sort of my first love in this industry and I’ve never given up working on them,” he said. “I still own the first car I ever bought, a 1971 Chevelle. I paid $400 for it and it needed to be completely restored, and everybody made fun of me for buying it except my grandmother, who liked that the heater still worked. I never forgot that, how she found a positive. I try to keep that in mind every day, it helps me remember where I came from.”

TECHNICIAN WRITTEN EXAM

  1. Please list the firing order on a V8 Chevrolet.
  2. Please list the dwell on a V8 conventional engine.
  3. What is the normal fuel pressure on a GM Vortec engine?
  4. What is the most common oil leak found on a GM 3.1 or 2.8?
  5. What does pd or cd on a ring and pinion stand for?
  6. What is normal backlash on a ring and pinion?
  7. What is the difference between limited slip and positraction?
  8. What is the most common exhaust leak on a Nissan Pathfinder?
  9. Which is the most common axle nut torque on a FWD vehicle?                                   
    A) 25-75 ft   B) 75-100 ft  C) 100-175 ft  D) 200-275 ft
  10. What is 144 inch lbs in ft. lbs
  11. What controls field on 1990 or Chrysler alternators?
  12. What is the most important thing to check on an automatic transmission?
  13. What is torque spec on a clutch pressure plate?                                                            
    A) 25-75 in lbs  B) 10-20 ft lbs  C) 30-40 ft lbs D) 50-88 ft lbs
  14. Which would cause a vehicle to pull, positive or negative camber?
  15. Left side has 2.0 positive caster, Right side has 4.0 positive caster. If the camber is equal, which way will the vehicle pull?
  16. Why do you not need an alignment machine to center a steering wheel on most Jeeps?
  17. What is the normal (hot oil pressure) on an older V8 engine?                    
    A)  5-10 lbs  B)  10-20 lbs  C) 20-30 lbs
  18. What is the normal bearing clearance on most rod journals? 
  19. What is the most likely cause of high HC? 
  20. What is the most likely cause of high CO?
  21. What is the purpose of an O2 sensor after the catalytic converter?
  22. What is normal air gap on an A/C clutch?                                                  
    A) .005-.015  B) .015-.025  C) .025-.040
  23. On a 90 degree day in Denver, what are the normal readings for R12?  
    High Side ____________ Low Side ________________
  24. Same question for R134
    High Side ________ Low Side ________
  25. What is the normal bleeder pressure to bleed brakes?
  26. How do you remove the air from a hydraulic clutch on a Ford Explorer when replacing the clutch master cylinder?
  27. What is the best way to remove air from a cooling system?
  28. At what temperature does water boil?
  29. What is the purpose of antifreeze other than keeping the block from freezing?

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.