AKRON — Free repairs for those who recently lost their jobs; extra services offered to allow customers to stay at home; and collecting donations for charity. These are just some of the activities tire dealerships are doing to navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted businesses and everyday living.
RepairSmith Inc., a mobile vehicle service operation based in Los Angeles, is donating up to $100,000 in free "No-Contact Car Repair" in the California and Las Vegas markets where it operates to help those severely impacted by COVID-19.
Qualifying applicants include those who experienced loss of employment since March 1 directly attributed to COVID-19 business disruptions; and those acting as a frontline worker delivering services to their community, including government workers, service workers, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, volunteers, and employees of grocery stores and pharmacies
The company launched the program March 20, and less than a week later, had received more than 500 applications seeking the free services.
"We are scheduling them as fast as possible to help people. We are doing multiple free repairs daily in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, Las Vegas and the SF Bay Area," a spokeswoman said.
The most common applicants have included delivery drivers (i.e. food delivery services), Lyft drivers, nurses, restaurant workers, people working at grocery stores and the recently unemployed, the company said.
Vehicle service jobs have been varied and include brake pad replacement, new starters, diagnostics for vehicle issues. fluid slushes, spark plugs replacement and other maintenance.
Tom's Automotive Service Center of Long Beach, Calif., is working with Food Finders and Food4Kids by serving as a collection point for non-perishable food items. The dealership said it will offer customers $25 off any service for two donated items through the end of April.
Meanwhile Fat Boys Tire & Auto in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Virginia Tire & Auto in Fairfax, Va., have expanded their services by offering free pick up and delivery of customers' vehicles for service so people don't have to leave their homes during self-quarantine and stay-at-home mandates.
Fat Boys, which operates five locations in Cheyenne, Laramie and Wheatland, Wyo., and Scottsbluff, Neb., is offering the vehicle pick-up service within a 10-mile radius of each store.
The dealership also has enlisted its commercial fleet service trucks to provide on-site repair/maintenance for small jobs, such as a flat repair.
Fat Boys said it has waived all service call fees.
"We're trying to put at ease the minds of our customers," Fat Boys Owner Kirk Lenhardt said, noting that he follows two guidelines — taking care of the customers and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Surfaces inside customers' vehicles will be cleaned and disinfected prior to and upon deliver at no extra charge.
Mr. Lenhardt said March 24 the pandemic hadn't spread much into Wyoming, but there are people who are concerned and practicing social distancing. He also was concerned about the elderly who may need vehicle service but shouldn't be leaving their homes, per CDC recommendations.
"We're offering this (vehicle pickup/delivery) for customers just to make sure they know they have a safe haven to come to," he said. "Perception is reality for a lot of folks."
He said his shops are taking every precaution and offering the free services as long as the CDC deems it necessary for people to keep social distancing.
Mr. Lenhardt said he has assured his 48 employees that there will be no job layoffs during this period, even though the shops have shortened business hours per government recommendation.
"We're a family business," he said of the 16-year-old dealership, adding "We'll do everything in our power to take care of our employees.
"This is not our first crisis. This, too, will pass."
Virginia Tire & Auto is calling its complimentary pick-up and drop-off service VTA2You so that the dealership and customers can practice social distancing while the vehicles are being serviced at its 17 locations in Virginia.
Store staff pick up the vehicle at the customer's home or place of business and take it to the store for service.
Once the service is complete, staff return the vehicle to the customer. The service is available for customers within five miles of a Virginia Tire locations; drives of longer than five miles will be at the store manager's discretion.
"During these uncertain times, we hope that VTA2You helps take the stress out of car care in the communities we serve," Virginia Tire Co-CEO Julie Holmes said.
"As people avoid public transportation and airline travel, the family car is more important than ever. We want to make sure people/customers get the car care they need while protecting themselves and their families."
Like many other tire dealerships around the country, Virginia Tire said it has made adjustments to its operation in recent weeks to adapt to the spread of COVID-19, including:
- Shortened hours of operation;
- Frequent cleaning of commonly touched surfaces. such as doorknobs, counters and store furniture;
- Requiring employees to wash their hands often;
- Providing hand sanitizer for employees and customers (when available);
- Requiring employees to wear a new pair of gloves every time they enter a vehicle; and
- Offering a generous sick-leave policy for employees so they stay home if they are ill.
If your dealership has adjusted your normal business operations, such as by offering extra or free services during the pandemic, donating/collecting for charity, etc., we'd like to share your story to inspire others in the industry. Please contact Kathy McCarron at [email protected]