Longtime repair facility specializes in underhood services
Parts & People | April 2009
Des Moines, Wash. – Quality Auto Electric & Repair has been a fixture in auto repair for 24 years, said Founder and Owner Tim Szender, AAM. About 70 percent of the shop’s business is in underhood services with a seasonal emphasis on air conditioning that represents almost 20 percent, he said.
While attending the University of Washington, the Seattle native said he worked at a local Sears automotive center part-time and later served for two years as a full-time employee.
After a brief stint with his first shop in Burien, Szender said he moved to downtown Des Moines where he spent the next 12 years servicing vehicles. In 1997, he said he purchased his existing half-acre property and moved into the three-bay shop that has extensive parking and a fenced storage yard.
Szender said he has a well-tenured staff and has not had to hire an employee for 13 years. Dan Moe, the service manager at Quality, joined the firm 13 years ago. Brother Mark Szender has been with the firm 18 years and Diagnostician Steve Olson is a 16-year veteran, he said. Both are ASE Master Technicians.
“Our customer base has changed drastically in recent times, and we are seeing people invest in older vehicles rather than purchase a new one,” Szender said. “It’s something I haven’t seen in all the years we’ve been in business.”
Along with servicing older cars and trucks, Szender said there is a huge transition in the repair industry that involves hybrids, electrics, and diesel-powered vehicles.
“The industry is changing, and we’re seeing a transformation in the service we will likely perform in the future,” he said. He said his staff is well trained on alternate-fuel vehicle systems and that the shop has the tools to perform diagnostics on those vehicles.
Diagnostic service, including the shop’s basic vehicle inspection performed on all incoming vehicles, generates much of the underhood business at Quality, Szender said.
“Dealing with technology is a huge issue, and vehicle systems have lots of processing, so we have the tools to properly diagnose those vehicles that we service,” he said.
“We’re very technically oriented, so we buy lots of equipment that includes scanners, scopes, and other diagnostic tools, both OE and aftermarket.”
Because Quality Auto is noted for its diagnostic and underhood service work, Szender said 20 percent of its overall business is referral work from local mechanical and collision shops.
The shop provides services on virtually all vehicle systems with the exception of differentials and automatic transmissions that are serviced by a local firm, Szender said.
While Quality services most import and domestic brands, Szender said their mix of vehicles today is 70/30 percent domestic/import. “At one point the mix was closer to 50/50, but we’re seeing more domestic vehicles today.”
“Through diagnostics, we find most of our underhood repair work includes fluid issues, coolant service, belt and hoses, oil leaks, head gaskets, and lots of smaller items,” he said. Used oils are captured to provide heat to the shop through the use of a waste oil burner, he added.
As customers retain their vehicles longer in today’s market, diagnostics and road tests of vehicle become more critical, Szender said. “Our base (vehicle) inspection that includes full safety and lighting system checks is important to performing proper service.”
With climate control systems much more advanced today, Szender said servicing those systems has become a priority for his shop. “Servicing A/C systems will be a target for us this year as fewer shops want to do A/C work as systems become more complicated,” he said.
“Climate control is an integral part of each vehicle, and many import models have more electronic and controller parts than in the past,” he noted. “And with hybrid systems, everything is cooled with these systems.”
Szender said the shop regularly gets parts and expertise from Northwest Air Conditioning, a local wholesale firm that has specialized in climate control parts and equipment for more than 40 years.
“We like using them because of their knowledge of A/C systems. They understand parts and how the systems work,” he said.
The shop’s best information asset is iATN, Szender said.
“We’ve been with iATN since it began, and it’s the source we use the most because you can get amazing information on the site.”
Another vital source of information comes from Szender’s involvement in a core group of local NAPA Auto Care Centers, he said.
“We’ve been a NAPA Auto Care Center for 15 years or more and were one of the first shops in the area to join. Our core group of shop owners meets regularly to review marketing, exchange information, and select specialized training to ourselves and our staffs,” he said.
“The group provides an amazing networking opportunity for us all, and we get tremendous support from local staff at the NAPA distribution center.”
Szender also said his involvement in ASA Washington has provided him with a solid source of information and training venues. “We’ve attended ASA (Washington) retreats, local training programs, and have gone to CARS (Congress of Automotive Repair & Service) in Las Vegas,” he said. He also said he earned his Automotive Accredited Manager (AAM) degree from the Automotive Management Institute, a partner of ASA national, in 2003.