Whiteman Airmen save money at the auto hobby shop

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- As winter approaches, automotive technicians throughout the mid-west see their shops fill up with customers who want to prepare their cars for the cold months. At Whiteman, the employees of the Auto Hobby Shop are a little busier too. 

Some of their customers do their own work, making use of the vehicle-lifts and the massive array of tools available to them for a minimal hourly-fee.  Others take advantage of the experienced technicians who perform the work for them. It's a service that service manager Rafael Ramirez said is not widely-known. 

"A lot of people are surprised when we tell them that we can work on their cars," he said, as he struggled to fit a stubborn tire back onto its rim. "They think the shop is only for the self-helpers." 

Customers can make an appointment to have their car repaired, drop it off before work, and pick up their repaired car that afternoon. 

Maj. Scott Plakyda, a pilot for the 303rd Fighter Squadron did just that on Tuesday. 

He realized that a 1996 Pontiac Trans Am with performance tires isn't very capable in the snow and ice. Major Plakyda had Mr. Ramirez install a set of snow tires to enhance winter traction. 

"Rafael did an awesome job," Major Plakyda said. "Now I can drive safely during the winter." 

Mr. Ramirez and his crew perform routine maintenance like oil changes, tire rotations and brake jobs, and even more in-depth work such as timing-belt replacement. They also have specialized equipment dealerships charge up to $100 to plug into a car.   They are also certified to do Missouri State Vehicle Inspections.

"We do engine diagnosis," said Mr. Ramirez. "If you have a check engine light on, and want to know what the problem is, we have a tool to read the trouble code and find the problem."  

While the hobby shop provides many of the same services dealerships or independent shops offer, there are a few repairs they don't perform. 

"We don't do air conditioning, mufflers, major internal engine or transmission work," Mr. Ramirez said.

For the mechanicly-inclined, the hobby shop offers more than five bays, complete with vehicle-lifts and an arsenal of hand-tools to make large and small jobs easier to do.

The majority of the "self-helpers" who come to the hobby shop change their oil and do brake jobs, according to Mr. Ramirez.  Others have taken on larger projects, such as engine replacements.

"It's pretty nice to have the facility available," said John Martin, a Whiteman team member, as he inspected the undercarriage of his Dodge diesel pickup. "The guys are friendly and the place is clean.  It works pretty well to do your own work." 

Mr. Martin's Dodge, which has racked up nearly 385,000 miles, and going strong, which he credits to faithful maintenance. 

"It makes about 20 miles per gallon empty, and around 10 with our pull-behind camper on it," he said. 

Art Roy, another self-helper, replaced two fuel injectors and a timing-belt on his 1999 Honda Accord Tuesday afternoon, and helped himself to a huge savings. 

"To have the Honda garage do the work I just did here, it would have cost me about $800," he said. "That's $600 in parts and $90 per hour for labor, versus the $190 it cost me to do it here. 

Whether work is done by technicians, or by self-helpers, money can be saved at the Auto Hobby Shop. 

"Before you go downtown, check us out. Maybe we can save you some money," Mr. Ramirez said. "On big jobs, we average a savings of 60 to 40 percent over the dealerships." 

For more information, call the Auto Hobby Shop at 660-687-5689.