From left: Chris, John and Kevin Hinkley with technicians Frank Kurowski and Kevin Ortiz complete 200 hours of training classes annually.From left: John, Kevin and Chris Hinkley represent three generations at Kevin L. Hinkley Auto Tech as they stand next to a 1929 Nash Ajax that they restored. Technician Kevin Ortiz is trained to interact with customers, because the shop has no service writers on staff.

Cheerleading for schools and programs

Kevin Hinkley invests sweat-equity into advising local colleges and high school tech mentoring programs

Castro Valley, Calif.—Kevin Hinkley says he’s a big supporter of two schools in his area that offer auto tech classes and has hired several of its graduates over the years.

“All of the trades are hurting right now, so shop owners connecting with the schools is important.” 

As a member of the advisory council for Chabot College, the junior college down the road from his shop, Kevin L. Hinkley Auto Tech, in Castro Valley, he meets twice a year to share thoughts from the industry and they often use the council’s input for school curriculum and placement.

Hinkley is also active with the local occupational training program as well as with the local high school’s mentoring program.

“With a strong Regional Occupational Program (ROP) right here in town, we have one technician here from that program. Their head instructor is Dave Espinosa, who is a veteran of the industry and a great teacher. In addition, we have been working with students at Castro Valley High School to teach them the basics and how to develop a work ethic, because in many cases, this is their very first job.”

As an ASE Master Technician since the age of 21, Hinkley said he knows the value of training.

“Everyone here, including myself, completes 200 hours of classes annually, because without it, we’d be lost. We get great classes from CARQUEST that are held every other month and I’ve been attending them for at least 10 years. We get great classes from the industry and the private sector and have found some good sources from Allied, Kragen, and O’Reilly, for example.”

 

Building customer rapport

Hinkley said that building rapport with each customer coming through the door is something he learned from his father, John.

As a third-generation mechanical repair shop, he continues his family’s legacy out of a three-bay 2,000-square-foot facility with six employees.  

“It’s all about building trust. We never want them to feel like they’re a number and that’s why we always address their needs and concerns about their car. We need them and they need us — it’s that simple.” 

The shop has developed a vehicle inspection form that acts as a comprehensive record on each vehicle, illustrating exactly what needs to be repaired now or in the future.

“We check everything, including the car’s interior and exterior, fluids, under hood and under vehicle, including brakes and tires. It includes more than 40 items and we rank each line item, either with an ‘OK,’ ‘Fair,’ ‘Poor’ or ‘Fix.’ It’s like a report card on the vehicle and it’s an excellent visual tool for our customers.”

Hinkley admitted that he’s a stickler when it comes to certain repair procedures.

“We never tighten lug nuts with an air gun, because it’s very easy to over torque them. It takes more time to do it by hand, but that’s the way we’ve done it since day one.”

He said he has also become well known throughout the East Bay for fixing carburetors, a skill he refined many years ago.

“I get calls all the time from other shops and I tell them to bring them here. I’ve been fixing carburetors since I began in this business and we don’t get a ton of them here, but it can often lead to more other types of work.”

Hinkley, 62, said that he is proud of his family’s 50-year track record in Castro Valley.

“My father ran another Chevron station a mile from here from 1969 to 1995 before retiring. In 1982, I bought this location when it was also a gas station. Two years later, we became a full-service repair facility. We do tires and we’re a smog check center, so we will do just about anything except major transmission work. My son, Chris, works here, my daughter, Karen, does the bookkeeping part time, and my dad is 87 and retired, but he’s here a lot. Our entire staff grew up in Castro Valley, so we have a special connection.”

All of Hinkley’s technicians are called on to interact with customers, as the shop doesn’t employ a service writer, but relies on the techs and his manager, Ron Bridges, to perform those duties, he said.

“We’ve trained our technicians to answer their questions and it works well. Customers appreciate being able to see and ask the questions directly from the tech that worked on their vehicle.  We are not salespeople, we are technicians telling them what is wrong with their car and we respect that it is their car and their money. 

“I tell people we treat your car like it’s ours, and it’s true.”

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.