Orange County shop owner parlays 4x4 passion into business
Huntington Beach, Calif.—Pete Tremper, owner of Orange County Offroad & Auto Repair, which opened in April 2011, said he’s living a dream that began 20 years ago when he was just a kid.
Toward the end of 2010, Tremper said, he made the decision to open his own shop in an auto repair circle in Huntington Beach. “I always wanted to do off-road stuff, but I knew that if I just opened an off-road shop, it would be risky right now,” he said.
Tremper also didn’t want to leave out regular cars because most Jeep owners also have other vehicles, he said. “I thought combining the two would be a good idea, and so far it has worked out great,” he said.
Tremper said that when the shop opened, “I got more cars than anything else, but at this point it’s about 50-50. We’ve started doing more general truck and 4x4 repair and performance work on diesel trucks, which is helping out a lot. We’ve used Jasper fuel-injection kits and pumps for diesels, which are good, and we’re looking at adding BG Products services in the future.”
Tremper said he started working on cars 20 years ago at gas stations in Wilmington, Del. “Then I went to the University of Delaware and Delaware Tech, where I took auto repair classes for two years,” he said.
Before moving to California 11 years ago, Tremper said, he worked at a Honda dealer in Delaware for three years, then a transmission shop where he learned a lot.
Tremper, who is an ASE master technician and smog technician, said his background is in general auto repair and service but he always had a passion for off-road trucks and Jeeps.
“I worked at Expertech in Huntington Beach for two years, where I got my smog license and my ASE Master certification,” Tremper said. “But I was getting bored doing smog and maintenance, and I wanted to do off-road stuff, so I went to work for a local Jeep shop for eight years.”
Since opening his own shop, Tremper said, business has grown about 20 percent. “Off-road trucks and Jeeps are my love, but we’re prepared to work on any make or model car, truck, Jeep, or SUV,” he said. “We also do custom work. I’ve got a ’76 Cadillac and a custom Jeep coming in soon, which will be fun.”
At this point, OC Offroad is a small shop — just Tremper and his wife Heather, who handles the front office with QuickBooks and Mitchell 1 Manager Plus, but will be going on maternity leave soon to have their second daughter.
“Every customer is important, and no job is too small or too big,” Tremper said. “I pride myself on providing excellent customer service and repair work.”
People are keeping their cars longer because they don’t want car payments, Tremper said, which has resulted in more preventive maintenance work for the shop.
Tremper said he takes the time to explain all needed repairs and services to his customers before any work is done. “I do a free, 21-point inspection and run a diagnostic check with a Solus or Verus to determine if there might be an issue like brakes or a sensor, and I give them a list of what needs to be done,” he said.
It’s quicker to run diagnostics on newer vehicles than it is to do a visual inspection, Tremper said. “I’m not going to charge a customer $95 to tell him his gas cap is loose.”
Tremper said he has positioned his shop as a dealer alternative for routine maintenance and service.
“My customers don’t want to take their vehicles to a dealer because they’re more expensive and they lose their vehicle for two weeks, so they bring it here,” he said. “That Navigator is a prime example — it’s here for a 30,000-mile checkup.”
Tremper said he prefers using OEM parts when possible, which he buys mostly from Dealer Source and One Stop. “I also buy some parts such as Borg-Warner from O’Reilly’s.”
When the shop first opened, Tremper said, he offered coupons in a local magazine, which did not generate much new business. “I’ve done some advertising, which will work eventually, but I don’t have the time or money to follow through on it right now,” he said.
The Internet, his website, free check-engine light inspections, free general check overs, and referrals from other customers are bringing results, Tremper said. “Word-of-mouth has been my biggest asset,” he said.
Tremper said he performs work for other repair shops at a discount rate. “We’re a pretty close community here. If someone doesn’t have a particular tool for a job, someone else will loan it to them,” he said.
“We haven’t been open long, but Pete has the passion for what he does, which is really important,” Heather Tremper said.
Her husband agreed. “You have to want to fix these cars to be successful. If you don’t want to fix them, it isn’t going to happen,” he said.