Meeting needs of diversified fleets
Vancouver, Wash.—With what he calls a passion for fleet service, John Muonio has developed Wapiti NW Fleet Services into a key player in Clark County and Portland areas since founding the company in 2014.
With an AA degree in automotive technology from Mt. Hood Community College in nearby Gresham, Ore., Muonio worked three years at a BMW dealership, one year at a diesel specialty shop, five years as a technician/manager for an electrical company, then 15 years at a large municipal fleet shop before deciding to open Wapiti (a Native American word meaning Elk) in an industrial area of Vancouver.
With four bays contained within a 2,500-square-foot shop, Muonio said Wapiti services more than 50 light- and medium-duty vans and trucks each month. “We service vehicles 26,000 pounds and lower with many of those fire and police support vehicles for local cities and the National Forest Service,” he said. “We also service trucks and vans for landscaping companies, contractors, and others from LaCenter to the north to Portland south of us.”
Muonio said his goal is to stabilize his customer base with one-half government business and the remaining half diversified private fleets. “We know the value of good service to fleets, so we can provide the kind of service and repairs both government agency and private fleets require.”
While Wapiti provides the vast majority of service in-house, Muonio said they will do mobile work in special situations, such as a truck with a stuck boom or bucket in the air, or a vehicle down where a tow truck cannot get to it for removal to the shop.
The shop provides full-service diagnostics, maintenance, and repairs, Muonio said, with the exception of tires and transmission rebuilding. “We do replace transmissions with OE or Jasper products, and we will be adding tires to our offerings soon.”
The shop also has a parts department with inventories of filters, fluids, and other products, including hard-to-find parts.
With 50 percent of the vehicles serviced at Wapiti equipped with diesel engines, Muonio said his diesel techs “need to be self-motivated about being the best diesel diagnostic technicians in the business. Diesels can be more complicated engine systems, and the emissions systems are more challenging, but we have an experienced and knowledgeable staff, so the main challenge is knowing how far to go with each service or repair, much depending on what the customer’s long term plan is for a specific vehicle.”
Common diesel issues and pattern failures, Muonio said, include oil coolers, cavitation front covers, and valve train wear on 6.4-L Power Stroke engines; exhaust leaks and temperature sensor issues on 6.7-L Power Strokes; and injector and boost issues on Sprinter vans. “There are other issues, but, in general, all manufacturer’s systems are doing better than expected.”
In order to properly diagnose the variety of vehicles Wapiti services, Muonio said the shop uses an extensive array of diagnostic scan tools, lab scopes, and other equipment. “We have a Snap-on Solus Ultra, plus factory tools that include Ford IDS, GM Tech 2, the Toyota Techstream, a DRB III for the older Chrysler/Jeep vehicles, special tools for Sprinter vans, plus hydraulic test equipment, and more.
“Tooling a constant investment, but it’s important that we are able to service and repair the vehicles that our customers bring us, especially the fire, police, and forest service vehicles that have special requirements and regulations for service. For our own liability purposes, we need to meet those requirements.”
Muonio said the authority having jurisdiction makes the decision to follow specific guidelines or requirements for service on governmental emergency vehicles. “Fire departments generally follow NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) guidelines.”
With three ASE-certified technicians on staff, two of them Master Technicians, Wapiti staff also are EVT-certified (Emergency Vehicle Technician), Muonio said, adding the he is ASE-certified in both automotive and truck categories.
As members of ASA Northwest (ADA-NW), and active in the Vancouver/Portland Unit, Muonio said the entire staff has attended ASA-NW’s Automotive Training Expo (ATE) in the Seattle area the past four years. “It’s a great event for us as the techs can attend multiple technical classes, and I am able to get a variety of management training from instructors such as Dan Gilley and Cecil Bullard.”
In addition to ATE, Muonio said techs at Wapiti also attend about six other training classes each year sponsored by ASA, Factory Motor Parts, WORLDPAC, and others, as well as EVT training required each year. “We’ve gone as far as Canada for Sprinter training, so we are prepared to travel when needed to obtain quality training.”
With a well-seasoned staff in the shop, Muonio said he is now searching for a service adviser to assist him in the front office. “It’s different than being an adviser in a general repair shop or dealership as this is very relationship-based and more of a fleet manager position.”
The relationships that Wapiti has developed are all based on the trust and confidence the customers have given the growing company, he said. “We specialize in fleet service, and by being able to solve challenging driveability and electrical issues on both gas and diesel equipped vehicles with certified and experienced staff that are motivated to solve those problems has been very positive for the business.”
And the company has accomplished all this mainly through word-of-mouth marketing, he said, without formal contracts with private sector fleets.