Many people choose to ignore the check engine lights on their vehicles, that finicky blinker or other maintenance issues, thinking that taking it to the shop for repairs would require them to be without their only mode of transportation for days on end.
However, with people staying at home during the shelter-at-home order and those vehicles becoming driveway scenery, that excuse no longer holds much weight.
Auto repair shops are encouraging commuters that now is the time to stop procrastinating and set up a maintenance appointment, provided they have the financial means to do so.
Santa Clara County’s March 16 stay-at-home order classifies auto repair and auto supply shops as essential businesses. With already limited public transportation options further impacted by COVID-19 concerns, the automobile is often the only choice to get to and from an essential activity for those whose destinations are too far to travel by bicycle or walking.
“If you think about it, now’s the best time to do auto repair,” said Sarah Gomes, office manager of Preferred Automotive in Gilroy. “Get it done while you’re not using it.”
Like all other auto repair shops in the city, Preferred Automotive, 8460 Church St., remains open for business. Gomes said the shop is working with a “skeleton crew” after having to lay off two mechanics and an office employee, while the remaining two mechanics are on an on-call basis. Owner David Rose, who previously stepped back and let the mechanics do their work, is now one of the wrenchers, Gomes added.
Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Preferred Automotive has lost most of its largest customers, such as ride-sharing and fleet vehicles.
“We’ve taken a huge hit,” Gomes said. “It’s easily 80 percent of our business.”
Preferred Automotive, which is marking 20 years, offers a variety of services for all vehicles by appointment. Since the pandemic hit, the shop has shifted to a no-contact operation, such as allowing customers to drop off their keys in a drop box outside and over-the-phone payments.
After they complete the work, employees sanitize touch points throughout the vehicle, such as steering wheels, door handles and key fobs. The shop also offers vehicle pick-up and delivery.
“We’re doing a lot to accommodate everybody to stay safe,” Gomes said.
Other auto repair shops are doing the same. Gilroy Automotive Repair, 6460 Automall Parkway, and Gilroy Autoworks, 250 Nagareda Drive, for example, are offering free vehicle pick-up and delivery services for customers.
Automotive is one of the most hardest-hit industries since the outbreak took hold. In South County, most dealerships have shut down their sales departments, although some are allowing people to purchase vehicles virtually. Many have kept their maintenance services operational.
Nationwide, car sales for the first two weeks of April fell 55 percent short of pre-COVID-19 expectations, according to research firm J.D. Power.
With the shelter-in-place order only expected to be loosened in the coming months and not entirely lifted, Gomes anticipates a tighter timeframe for drivers to make appointments, as Preferred Automotive’s hours could be reduced. However, she said the shop will continue being there for the community.
“People are still going to have cars, and people are going to need their cars fixed,” she said.