Co-owner John McDermott (left) and Paolo Vasquez say the $100,000-parts inventory features products that they can’t get quickly or involve older vehicles.Co-owner Russell Kimble, an ASE-certified Master Technician, performs underhood service work at Car Tender.

A passion for imports and motorsports

Former dealership techs thrive in import market as they also meet demand for customers’ domestics

Seattle—Car Tender has been a fixture on Seattle’s bustling Capital Hill since 1971, said Owners John McDermott and Russell Kimble. The trained import duo, both ASE-certified Master Technicians, purchased the import repair facility in 1999 after careers as Volkswagen/Audi and BMW technicians at Seattle-area dealerships.

“There used to be several repair shops on the Hill, along with other automotive-related businesses, but there are fewer and fewer as property values rise and space becomes valuable,” McDermott said, adding that with fewer shops their business remains busy.

“We get lots of new customers as there is a transition of people moving on and off the Hill.”

Kimble added that more than 20 percent of their overall business is from a loyal base of customers, including many involved in various racing venues. “Those core customers are like family and often stop by just to visit.”

While Car Tender is a full-service import specialist that works on Audi, BMW, Fiat, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Volkswagen, and Volvo vehicles, McDermott said many of their customers also have domestic vehicles that also require service, including one client that owns 11 vehicles ranging from T-Birds to specialty Dodge brands. “Our preference would be to work on just BMW, Audi, VW, and Land Rover vehicles, but we service them all. At one point, we were probably 65 percent BMW, but that has changed over time.”

With a background in German service, McDermott said he worked for University Audi in Seattle, as well as BMW Seattle, for some years after graduating from the Arizona Automotive Institute (now UTI). Kimble, a BMW specialist, had 20 years of BMW training and experience and also worked at BMW Seattle prior to Car Tender. “We were fortunate that we inherited David Steere, a Mercedes-Benz specialist, when we purchased the business. He has been a Mercedes-Benz technician since 1986 at the shop and is amazingly talented,” McDermott said of the ASE-certified Master Technician.

The 5,000-square-foot facility, with 3,000 square feet of shop space, has eight service bays and a monthly car count of about 180 vehicles, McDermott said. “We used to service a higher number of vehicles per month, but that changed as our average RO now is about $1,000, so we don’t need that higher count to be profitable.”

The shop operates with four ASE-certified technicians, plus the two owners, with five of the staff being Washington State Authorized Emissions Specialists.

The Bosch Service Center has been an ASA Northwest member for 20 years, is a member of the ASA Sno-King Unit, and has been a longtime participant in ASA’s Automotive Training Expo (ATE). “We had eight employees attend ATE this year and it was an excellent experience for everyone, including our technicians, service consultants and Paolo Vazquez, our parts manager and service assistant,” McDermott said.

Car Tender has also been a AAA-Approved Auto Repair facility since 2001 and has been named a AAA Top Shop for several years.

The shop has also been certified by EnviroStars for their recycling and hazardous waste practices, the owners said.

With about 50 percent of the shop’s work involving diagnostic repair, using a BMW mobile diagnostic computer, the BMW PC-based ICOM system that interfaces with factory servers, a Jaguar diagnostic platform, AutoLogic system for Land Rovers and BMW vehicles, plus a variety of Snap-on tools for various diagnosis on other vehicles. R.O. Writer software is used as the company’s management system.

With several employees being racing enthusiasts, the shop is active in the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA) and McDermott races in the BMW Pro3 class. “Our people are involved with all sorts of sports car racing from Dodge Neons to Mazda Miatas, BMW SPEC46 to sprint and endurance racing,” he said, adding that Kimble races motorcycles. “We’ve been involved with building and supporting the winners of the NASA 25 Hours of Thunder Hill the past two years in a row.”

Having built viable relationships over time with their involvement in BMW CCA, McDermott and Kimble said it’s been positive for their business and established a new family of customers for the shop, especially since Car Tender has been a longtime Dinan Performance Products Authorized Installation & Service Center, the premier manufacturer of BMW performance products and systems. “I have been installing Dinan parts and accessories since 1987. The first car I modified was a BMW 635i while working at BMW Seattle,” McDermott said.

“The Dinan products, ranging from performance engine and tuner parts to suspension systems, are different than most because of their extensive R&D and engineering processes Dinan performs,” McDermott said. “These are high quality parts that work well together and truly enhance the racing enthusiast’s needs,” Kimble added.

The parts department at Car Tender has a $100,000 inventory managed by Vasquez, McDermott said. “It’s generally the parts or pieces that we can’t get quickly or involve older vehicles, such as hoses, clips, nuts, bolts, and specialty items, but we stock a variety of products.”

Car Tender has a simple mission, McDermott said. “We want to help our customers drive well-maintained vehicles and keep them informed of their car’s needs. By helping them prioritize those needs, we can move forward based on each customer’s budget.”

 

Parts & People

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