ARS Automotive opened in 1969 as a one-man shop and moved to its current location in 1975. Today, it’s a 14,000 sq. ft. facility with mechanical and collision repair shops and 15 employees. After working in the family business for several years, Chris and LeeAnne Walko bought it from her stepfather (now semi-retired) in 2010.
Located in the borough of Plum, PA, just outside of Pittsburgh, the shop has been expanded five times over the years, and Chris said the family did most of the work themselves. When building the body shop, they embedded Korek in-floor frame puller rails in four bays. There’s also a Chisum Freedom XLT frame rack, a GFS prep-station and a modern DeVilbiss downdraft paint booth.
The mechanical shop does more than just service the body shop’s needs, although Chris called it “a great compliment. We can do all our suspension work and alignments in-house … we don’t have to sublet anything. If we get a car with a split oil pan, we can throw a pan on it and run the engine before providing a (collision) estimate.”
One of their specialties is Enhanced Safety Inspection of “reconstructed” vehicles that have been salvaged, modified or built from scratch. Joe Fordyce, service advisor and manager of the mechanical shop, explained it as a “one-time really deep inspection to make sure the vehicle is actually ready for the road.”
In addition to the equipment required for annual state inspections, such as a headlight aiming machine and a brake lining thickness gauge, enhanced inspection requires use of a window tint meter and other special tools. Joe said not many shops have this inspection license and it brings in some work from other shops.
Other shop specialties
ARS bought their new tire machine because they often deal with wheels that have been reconditioned. The same features that make this machine safe for low-profile wheels also helps avoid damaging the finish that is often “still a bit tender” on reconditioned wheels.
In the same bay is a well-used induction heater. Applying a rapidly changing magnetic field to metal causes the metal to heat up quickly without actually applying any heat. The ARS techs use the bolt inductor to heat rusted screws on trim pieces, making it easier to remove them without damaging the trim. They use the flat-panel inductor to heat the metal behind a fixed glass window to soften the bonding, and usually the glass almost falls out. Chris says under the right conditions, the flat-panel inductor can even remove a dent.
While ARS works on all makes and models, Chris noted that “If we do have a weak spot it’s European vehicles.”
When asked about diagnostic tools, Joe said they have one tech who “loves playing with electronics,” but there are a lot of dealers nearby, so access to a factory scan tool is not a problem. Joe says they get along well using a VeDiS for imports and a Modis or Tech II for everything else.
This is a well-equipped shop, ready for almost any job, and it shows in the quality of work and of the working environment. The day we visited, the noise of work mingled with the sound of laughter, and it was obvious that people were having a very good day working at ARS Automotive.