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Recession revs up some auto-repair shops, puts brakes on others

Some auto-repair store owners say financially strapped motorists are more likely to pay for expensive repairs than buy a new car. But the owners of other stores say they've seen business drop during the recession.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Some auto-repair shops have seen their businesses rev up, while the recession has taken other repair shops onto a bumpier, less profitable road.

Tao Auto specializes in car trouble, and owner Thomas Owen said he's had no trouble getting business lately.

"My biggest growth has been every time an economic downturn happens," Owen said.

The repair-shop owner said that car owners under financial strain are more likely to pay for expensive repairs than take on the burden of paying for a new car.

"There's a lot of people who are in a financial bind and can't buy a new car and have to invest in keeping the car they have running," Owen said.

For example, the owner of an older-model Honda Accord opted to do $1,400 worth of repairs to brakes and timing belts, rather than think about buying a new car.

For most of 2008, repair orders at Tao averaged $310, but in the past four months, that average jumped 25 percent to $390, Owen said. Meanwhile, the shop's rates and the number of cars serviced stayed the same.

The owner of Kennan's Auto Repair, though, said his business is experiencing the opposite effect: The tough economy has steered customers away from expensive repairs.

"Instead of it being a $300 repair, you're down to a $30 repair per vehicle," owner Kenneth Dickerson said.

Overall, business at Kennan's Auto Repair is down 30 percent from 2008, Dickerson said.

Both shop owners said they are increasingly seeing vehicles with well over 200,000 miles on the odometer. The mechanics said vehicle owners shouldn't skip on regular maintenance, because neglect can cause larger, more expensive problems.

Owen said he hopes the good fortunes of Tao Auto will last through the recession.

"We feel pretty lucky, really," he said.



Renee Chou, Reporter
Pete James, Photographer
Anne Johnson, Web Editor

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