Frigid temperatures send shops into overtime

The frigid temperatures that have gripped much of the country in the last two weeks have forced automotive repair shops to work overtime to replace batteries, starters and alternators in addition to other issues caused by the record low temperatures.

For many shops, the emergency work has forced them to reschedule non-emergency jobs. Shop owners, managers and technicians have been working long days and forgoing their regular breaks to meet the demand.

“We’re extremely busy, almost to the point we are overwhelmed,” said Dan Duggan, owner of Duggan’s Auto Service Center in Moorhead, Minn. “We just put in long hours. You make hay while the sun shines.” He noted that old batteries and unchanged oil have caused a lot of cars not to start. As a result, the shop has replaced a lot of batteries and done a lot of oil changes.

Lau’s Tire and Auto in Milwaukee, Wis., a seven-bay shop, has been getting a lot of calls from customers who had postponed recommended battery and anti-freeze work, noted Jim Phillips, service manager and technician. “It (the weather) certainly does break cars,” he said. When the exceptionally cold weather hit last week, the shop had to reschedule many of its regular work in order to accommodate the vehicles being towed in.

“The thought of dropping off a car in zero-degree weather is not appealing,” noted Rich Ryckman, owner of Rytek Automotive Inc., a four-bay shop in Fairport, N.Y., near Rochester. On the other hand, many motorists have experienced breakdowns that need immediate attention. Recent jobs have included replacing clutches, brakes and the bearings in a rear differential.

Dykstra Auto Service in Hudsonville, Mich. sold a thousand batteries in a one-month period, noted Mark Smith service manager. “I’m going a million miles per hour,” he said. He said battery replacement has dominated emergency repairs.

Electrical work such as battery and starter replacement have been the most common repairs for Zimmerman’s Automotive in Mechanicsburg, Pa., although suspensions, shock absorbers and struts have also needed fixing, noted Judy Zimmerman Walter, company owner. The company has also been busier than usual with the towing work it does for a local township.

In addition to electrical work, transmission failures and flat tires have been common repairs for Dynamic Automotive in Libertyville, Md., noted Todd Zimmerman, shop foreman and assistant service manager. He noted that cold weather causes air to condense and rubber to harden, resulting in air leaks in tires.

The cold weather has had a downside for Wal-Tec Automotive, a one-man shop in Mogadore, Ohio, near Akron. Jeff Walberg, owner noted that many of his customers have canceled their appointments because of the freezing temperatures.

The low temperatures have affected automotive work as far south as Florida, where one TV station, WEAR-TV in Pensacola, ran a story about the surge in automotive work due to the cold.