Shop Profile: Reliable Auto Repair

You might already be familiar with some of Mike Steptoe’s work, as he is a frequent PTEN tool review panelist. As the shop owner of Reliable Auto Repair in Fort Atkinson, Wis., Mike is located near PTEN’s offices and loves to talk tools.

He was a natural for us to interview first regarding his shop setup, as we begin this issue profiling shops for you to get ideas in making your space more efficient. It’s not just having the right tools that can save time on jobs, but keeping them in some kind of logical (if only to you sometimes) order saves time finding what you need or thought you had.

Mike’s shop has five bays, and the shop is in an L-shape, so they’re not all in a row. At the corner of the “L” between the bays is a room that houses all the oils and filters, coolants and washer fluids, belts, wiper blades, hose clamps, gaskets, replacement bulbs and more for basic and oil-change-services. The items are centrally located here to “save steps” for Mike who mainly works in the front two bays and his other techs who use the back three.

The shop has four lifts, and the one drive-on lift is right next to the office “which is especially convenient for a quick drive-on inspection or troubleshooting for a customer,” Mike said. In his shop, Mike said having a part-time service writer would be a big help in the future, whereas now he has to divide his time up between working in the bays, helping customers, ordering parts and anything else.

“A big issue for us, and many shops right now, is time management,” Mike said.

“Even something as simple as our oil changes now, we keep the oil wrenches and filters and [oil plug] socket wrench right on the recovery tank for the used engine oil. The tire gauge is hanging right on there, too,” Mike said. He added that the all-in-one wrench saves time at each oil service where the majority of plugs are covered by one of the sockets.

“This saves us lots of time having everything for that service always in the same place, ready to move to whatever bay needs it.” Similarly, Mike has a tool cart set up specifically for brake work.

“There are a lot of nice tool carts available out there now,” Mike said. “This one is setup for doing brake jobs, where all the spring pliers and retaining-ring pliers and anything related to brake work is here and can easily be pulled to each wheel during service.

“I know some people set their carts up as ‘digital’ carts too, with a scan tool and voltmeter and electrical service equipment on it.”

Mike keeps his toolbox centrally located to his bays. “Keeping my toolbox organized saves a lot of time … so I know the sockets will all be in this drawer, pliers here, wrenches here,” he said. He also splits up sockets by metric and standard in separate drawers.

For bigger equipment and “anything that’s not an everyday deal,” there is a small room off to the side of Mike’s bays that houses most of the battery chargers, electrical service equipment, bigger diagnostic equipment, A/C machines, etc. That way it’s still readily available, but not a hindrance during every day jobs.

Mike’s Top 10:

1. Ingersoll Rand Impactools.
“They all seem to be plenty strong and plenty light.”

2. Snap-on Tools digital battery tester.
“It’s quick and easy to use, and sells us a lot of batteries.”

3. RTI MCX-2 Coolant exchange machine.

4. RTI ATX-3 Transmission fluid exchange machine.

5. Matco Tools wobble sockets.

6. Matco Tools ratcheting wrenches.
“These are nice, a little bit longer than average; ratcheting on one end and fixed on the other.”

7. Mac Tools Mac Edge sockets.
“These do grip pretty good.”

8. Snap-on Tools short sockets, coupled with tight-tolerance ratchet.
“These save a half-inch in clearance in tight spaces.”

9. Mac Tools Mac Mentor scan tool.
“Does most of what we need, plus a little extra.”

10. Clean Burn waste oil furnace.
“It paid for itself in three years; it's saved us lots of money.”