Jonny Lightning delivers high-wattage solutions

Shop offers performance and electrical system fabrication for street and off-road
“I personally work alongside my mechanics and teach them what I know about how to use the scanners.” – Jon Kinne

Corona, Calif.—If there’s one thing that Jonny Lightning Owner Jon Kinne would say about his shop, it’s that it is anything but ordinary. On any given day he’ll be working on everything from a classic Camaro, Mustang, or Dodge Super Bee, to a slammed sport truck, a rock-crawler Jeep with an LS1 engine, or a fleet customer’s service vehicle. 

“We have the ability to think outside the box and will tackle jobs others find too challenging,” Kinne said. “In addition to general auto repair, we also specialize in wiring, fabrication, performance, and custom vehicles.”

After graduating from Fullerton College with an associate’s degree in automotive service and repair, Kinne started his automotive career at North American Raceco, building off-road race cars and Special Forces military vehicles.

“I was in charge of wiring and electronic assemblies, transmissions, and hydraulic assemblies,” he said. “It was a great job. I learned a ton from them. They sent me to the Citroen factory in France to learn about their computer-controlled diesel engines, because I was doing all of the wiring on those.”

But in 1994 the company changed hands because of a hostile takeover. So with encouragement from his late father-in-law, Tom McFaul, he opened Jonny Lightning (Kinne’s nickname, referring to the speed at which he works) in Placentia.  

“Tom was a no-fear guy who when he put his mind to something just went for it,” Kinne said. “And Tom said ‘Just open the doors and they will come,’ so with my wife Amie’s help, I did.”

Kinne said he already had some side work going and a small hobby shop where he was building “fun things,” so the business grew rapidly and in 2005 moved to its present location in Corona.

The economy has grown in Corona because of its central location, especially construction and related businesses, Kinne said, which has led to the shop having numerous fleet accounts, including MP Mechanical, TWR Framing, and Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling.

“In this area, I’d say 70 percent of businesses are related to construction in some way,” he said. “Most of our fleet accounts are construction-based, and they represent 55 percent of our business. We even did a couple of hovercrafts for Vector Control.”

These days, Kinne said, customers have the funds to have hot rods, off-road toys, and boats built or restored, so that part of his business has grown as well.

The 7,500-square-foot shop has eight bays, eight lifts, including Forward, Rotary, and Challenger. The six employees are Kinne and his wife, who handles the books, a service writer/parts manager, and three technicians.

“Our technicians are continually in training of some kind, and any class that they want to attend is available to them,” he said. “We use ShopKey Pro for shop management and information because I find their wiring diagrams to be the best.”

Technological advances and dealer service contacts are hurdles he has had to overcome, he said. 

“What helps us is customer education. We explain to the customer what we are doing and why it needs to be done,” he said. “We don’t use fear tactics on any of our customers, which can sometimes happen at other places. We want them to feel comfortable, not afraid, and it pays off in customer retention.”

Kinne said he’s found that female customers, who often feel taken advantage of at other shops, appreciate having an explanation of how a problem was diagnosed and what needs to be done to remedy it.

Another challenge he said the shop faces is getting the information needed to repair a vehicle, which is why he subscribes to Identifix.

“You have to be able to actually figure out the problem — a test light won’t help you anymore,” he said.

Diagnostics is a growing part of his business, Kinne said, and the shop has an Autel MaxiDAS DS708, a Launch X431, and an OTC 3100DLX AutoBoss.

“I personally work alongside my mechanics and teach them what I know about how to use the scanners,” he said.

For Kinne, it is about getting the biggest bang for the buck, and a shop needs a variety of tools, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. 

“We think nothing of going out to a car with two scan tools, knowing that one can get us there quickly and the other can go deeper if needed.”

Kinne said building custom wiring harnesses has always been a strong part of his business, but underhood wiring harness repair is also becoming more prevalent, especially on late-model vehicles. He mentioned that he has seen a lot of connector failures in Korean vehicles.

“Connector quality has gone down. Wire size is smaller, terminal size is smaller, and everything’s much more delicate,” he said. “For example, a 2005 Chevrolet has 18-gauge wire that goes to the throttle sensor, while a 2007 has 22-gauge.”

Kinne’s shop also builds custom exhaust systems and 250-Amp high-output alternators, does LS engine conversions, and installs Whipple superchargers, Vintage Air A/C units, smart keys, and underhood air compressors for off-road vehicles.

“We’re also an authorized dealer for ACDelco, Trail Ready Rock Crawler Parts, Interstate Batteries, Optima Batteries, Odyssey Batteries, and Banks Power,” he said.

The shop buys its repair parts from local dealerships and auto part stores, including Star Auto Parts and O’Reilly, and OEM undercar and aftermarket parts.

“We buy our electrical parts from Delphi and Deutsch, and a manufacturer of OEM wiring connectors and harnesses,” he said.

Kinne said he is seeing customers replacing older cars, but also customers who have “a mentality of how far can this car go?”

“The recent downturn in the economy has forced customers to keep older cars,” he said. “And now that they are paid off they want to keep them and not have a car payment. Newer cars can go well past 100,000 miles. I have customers in the 200,000-mile range who are looking forward to bragging about hitting 300,000.”

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.