Passion for repair industry and customer retention leads to adopting collision repair
Dublin, Calif.—In an industry where things change literally every day, Rick Camacho, the owner of Automotive Consultants isn’t afraid to adjust quickly. At age 65, many shop owners are eyeing retirement, but Camacho is still going strong and embracing this rapid evolution gladly.
“I’m definitely passionate about what we’re doing here, and I know it’s evident with our quality service and customer feedback. In the old days, it was all about the mechanical side of the business and now it’s more about having the information and tools on hand to fix these sophisticated vehicles. Specific training is required and there is always something new to learn, so we have to adapt or get left behind.”
Camacho was initially trained to work on Porsches, Audis and Volkswagens after going through a Porsche Training Center in Southern California back in the early 1970s. So, when Automotive Consultants opened its doors in 1980, he worked primarily on the three German brands, but added Japanese brands in 1990 because of the changing market.
“We saw that a lot of the cars were being made by the same companies out of the same factories,” Camacho said. “The cross pollination of vehicle brands made it easier for us to work on a wider range of cars, because many of their parts and systems are very similar. In some cases, a German car is built in the U.S. and and the Toyota Corolla and the GM Geo are identical, for example.”
To keep his customers in the shop and provide a one-stop solution for his customers, Camacho features light collision repair services.
“We offer Paintless Dent Repair (PDR) and will often replace bumpers, because we’re already working on their car anyway, it just makes sense. We have good relationships with some local body shops, so we’ll refer them if it’s major work that we’re not suited to do.”
To grow at a steady rate and stay within in his wheelhouse, Camacho has always strived to run a lean operation. “We started out at in a garage with one tech and now we have a 5,500-square-foot facility with four employees. I want to keep it manageable and don’t want to sacrifice the important things like customer service and building personal relationships. Some shops see success and think expansion, but we’re just happy doing a great job for our clients and know that good things will follow.”
Diagnostics is a priority at Automotive Consultants, because without the necessary knowledge and training to do it right, Camacho can’t make a profit in this area.
“Many of our customers now come in with a code and they think it’s an easy fix to just clear it. But, we tell them that the code may only be the first step in actually finding the real problem. After doing this long enough, we find patterns and can anticipate problems because we’ve seen them before. In many cases, sensors get out of position, wires get pinched or camera lenses get dirty, but other issues can require more time and extensive troubleshooting.”
In many instances, the shop can find the source of any code after one hour, but the real skill is being able to pinpoint the more complex problems and devise solutions for them, he said. “With some procedures, it’s not complicated and all of the steps can be listed on one page, but others can be five to six pages long just on one diagnosis. So, you have to go through all of the steps and be detail-oriented, because we never want to guess.”
One tool that Camacho and his crew have called upon time and again is the Snap-on Pass Thru Pro II. “We have had a lot of success with this tool when it comes to flash reprogramming,” he said. “It’s a certified SAE J2534 pass-through device that connects to a laptop to update the software in vehicle electronic control units (ECUs) with OEM software that helps us to solve drivability and emission issues, for example. One of our techs, Fernando Arajuo is highly adept at working with it and it has become a huge part of our diagnostics here.”
Because he makes customer service an overriding factor, Camacho said he gets new and existing clients to bring him their vehicles even though they’re still under warranty with the dealership. “Many people think their warranties will become void after taking their cars to an independent shop, but that is just not true. We build a sense of loyalty with them, because we’re all about doing a good job and won’t ever try to up sell anything, unless it’s something necessary or safety-related. We will often do just an oil change the first time and it grows from there. There is a lot of business out there for everyone, so we don’t ever need to push anything, and our customers appreciate it.”