May 26, 2020

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Wheels keep turning

Local auto repair shops are doing their best to provide a safe environment while keeping vehicles in top shape

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Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Ryan Cook (from left), Dave Geres and Rod Klassen at Auto Check Service Centre. Some elements of the business, such as auto sales and safety inspections, have tapered off, but they’re still doing enough repairs to keep the doors open. </p>

Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press

Ryan Cook (from left), Dave Geres and Rod Klassen at Auto Check Service Centre. Some elements of the business, such as auto sales and safety inspections, have tapered off, but they’re still doing enough repairs to keep the doors open.

Although the coronavirus has profoundly affected many local businesses, it has had a relatively light impact on a pair of local auto repair facilities.

Dave Litwin, who owns Litwin Auto Body at 2075 Plessis Rd., reports his shop hasn’t been dramatically affected by the pandemic. "March was a really good month, actually one of our best," says Litwin, who hasn’t had to lay off any of his five employees. "Right now we are busy enough, but we are going week to week."

Litwin also says the companies supplying parts and shop supplies have been excellent and there has been no discernible change in service.

Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press</p>
Dave Litwin, who owns Litwin Auto Body</p>

Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press

Dave Litwin, who owns Litwin Auto Body

A measure taken by MPI in which auto body shops can bill the insurer to clean and sanitize vehicles has also been an added bonus. Litwin’s shop gets a flat rate of $50 per vehicle for this service. The car is wiped down by an employee in protective gear as soon as it comes into the shop to protect the employees working on it, and is sanitized again upon completion of the work before returning the vehicle to the customer.

While spring and summer are typically regarded as slower seasons in the auto body business, Litwin says his shop remains fairly busy all year round and he’s hopeful the pandemic won’t dramatically harm his bottom line. He does, however, have concerns that when all the existing claims have been repaired there will be a shortage of work.

"I think we are going to slow down in the months after this is over," says Litwin. "By the time people start getting back into the rhythm of things and getting back to work and driving daily most of the outstanding claims will be done and I worry there will be a shortage of work, but time will tell."

"March was a really good month, actually one of our best. Right now we are busy enough, but we are going week to week." — Dave Litwin, owner of Litwin Auto Body

Over at Auto Check Service Centre at 1037 Springfield Rd., Dave Geres has seen some impact on his shop’s business, and has reduced shop hours, but Geres, his business partner Ryan Cook and technician Rod Klassen remain on the job.

"There’s been some decline in business, we’ve gone down to a four-day week and are now operating Monday to Thursday," says Geres. "We’ve done that to make sure we have four busy days."

Although the shop is still open for business, there has been a number of changes caused by the pandemic. Service work is now done by appointment only — no more than one customer at a time is permitted in the front lobby, and Geres is personally wiping down all the frequently touched surfaces every time a customer enters or exits the building. Vehicles are also wiped down and disinfected before and after service work is done. Customers are also no longer permitted to sit in the waiting area while service is being done. Despite all these changes, Geres says customers have been not only compliant but also appreciative of the extra steps taken.

"I think everyone understands this is a unique situation and our staff have really stepped up and are taking the proper measures to keep our clients safe," he says. "The response has been very encouraging and supportive." One added bonus is there have been a few regular customers who are working from home and don’t require their car to be repaired with the same level of urgency they typically see. "We’ve got clients making an appointment and dropping their vehicle off for a tune-up or other maintenance and they are telling us, ‘take as much time as you need, we aren’t going anywhere’, so that has been a big help."

In addition to mechanical repairs, Auto Check is also a popular go-to shop for vehicle inspections, and sells about a dozen used cars a month — both components of the business have taken a sizable hit.

"That element of our business is definitely down, as far as safety inspections go I want to say at least 50 per cent less than usual at the moment, there is a lot less likelihood people are going to invite strangers to their driveway to look at a used vehicle for sale, so the need to get a safety inspection done prior to selling a car has dropped off for sure."

On the auto sales front, Geres acknowledges folks are likely reluctant to make a major purchase in these uncertain times, "I think everyone is holding their cards close, it’s just that climate where unless you need to replace a used car that was maybe in an accident, or need a car for work, most people just aren’t thinking about buying a vehicle right now."

Through it all, Geres says they are just one of many small shops around the province doing their best to keep the lights on and provide a safe environment for staff and customers while providing their essential services.

"People are keeping their distance and doing all the right things right now and looking at our numbers here with respect to the coronavirus, everyone in Manitoba has done a terrific job," he says. "We are happy to help, at times like these the last thing people want to worry about is how they will get their car fixed — so we have just been doing our best to make the process as effortless as possible."

Willy Williamson

Willy Williamson
Travel/Homes/Autos Editor

Paul “Willy” Williamson joined the Free Press editorial team in 2007, turning his back on a career as a corrections officer. His motor has been running non-stop ever since.

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Updated on Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 8:56 PM CDT: Updates formatting

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