Golden Wrench Award
Car Talk talks with Scotty West, winner of Car Talk's Golden Wrench Award, and owner of Peak Auto Service in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Car Talk: We'd like to honor you with a Car Talk Golden Wrench Award.
Scotty: I have no idea what that means, but I love Car Talk. I used to underwrite the show until it nearly ruined my business. It caused riots!
Car Talk: Positive. And sorry we almost killed your business. So, tell us, have you always loved cars?
Scotty: Yeah. As a kid I built go-karts. I'm surprised I'm still alive with some of the things I rigged up.
Car Talk: And how did you get interested in repairing them?
Car Talk: Tom's figured that one out already... sleep on park benches!
Scotty: I hadn't thought of that. How's that working out for him?
Car Talk: Not so good. But the pigeons have had a bonanza. So to get away from the desk, you started your shop?
Scotty: Well first I started selling auto parts for NAPA. I was calling on a lot of repair shops around town to buy parts. I realized I'd only let three of them work on my car. Most of them were just incompetent. So, I decided to open up my own shop in 1995!
Car Talk: That was Tom and Ray's plan, too. Unfortunately...
Scotty: They're incompetent, too?
Car Talk: Exactly. So what, in your mind, makes for a good mechanic?
Scotty: A good mechanic is someone who is conservative and doesn't necessarily replace a part because he thinks it's bad. You have to test everything, first. A good way to find a decent mechanic is to ask the guy at your local auto parts store where he takes his car.
Car Talk: What are the best cars to work on?
Scotty: Subarus. I just love them! They are interesting and easy to work on. A fun car.
Car Talk: What car do you dread when you see it pull into the shop?
Scotty: The worst are Land Rovers. They should be abolished! They have a Lucas wiring system. It's awful. You just hook them up and look for smoke. The MGs have the same problem.
Car Talk: Tom's got an MGTD. Now that I think of it, there's usually smoke pouring out of the hood.
Scotty: Told you so.
Car Talk: So, what do you drive?
Scotty: I've got a 2005 Dodge Caravan, a '94 F-10, an '89 Jeep, and a Mercedes E350. I think the best car is one you can slide a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood into.
Car Talk: Why is it that mechanics have fleets of cars? Aren't you handy enough to have just one car that runs?
Scotty: You accumulate them. It just happens. A customer brings his car in with a blown engine that he doesn't want to fix, or doesn't have the money to fix. The next thing you know, it's yours. I have a couple on my lot like that, right now, come to think of it!
Car Talk: What's the most interesting repair you've done?
Scotty: We had a guy bring in a '98 Bronco. Someone had loaded it up with rocks to put on their driveway. The thing got so loaded down that the left rear spring broke and poked right up through the bed of the trunk. When they dumped all the rocks, they found the broken spring and said, "Where'd that come from?" Can you believe it? The guy loaded his car with tons of boulders, and he's wondering why he broke a spring!
Car Talk: That wouldn't have been Mike Hamel, the guy who nominated you for your Golden Wrench Award?
Scotty: No. Mike's a great guy. And smarter than that!
Car Talk: Did he get rid of his wife?
Scotty:No, unlike Tom and Ray, I steer clear of giving my customers relationship advice. I think his wife stopped feeding the birds.
Car Talk: You've been in the auto business for 35 years, now. What's kept you in the business that long?
Scotty: The people. Every time I go to the store, I see people I know. I don't have a problem with giving someone car advice in the produce section. People also ask me how they can fix their car themselves. The best use for knowledge, after all, is to pass it on.
Car Talk: Hmmm. Maybe that's our problem... we've been too busy passing on misinformation?
Scotty: Well, like I said, I opened my shop because of incompetence!
Car Talk: Who are some of your best customers?
Scotty: There're a couple of customers who've been with me since I opened. They are artists. I put a clutch in their Nissan Pathfinder. They were going through a rough patch and didn't have the money to pay for the repair. I fixed the car and told them not to worry about it. They paid me a few weeks later. I like it that we can trust each other. I've got a lot of customers who've been with me for 13 years.
Car Talk: Why do you think folks like coming to your shop?
Scotty: Customers like the fact that we're small and can provide personal service.
Car Talk: How about the customers from the dark side?
Scotty: Oh I've definitely had customers that I've fired. People have tried to cheat me. Once, I had a kid come in. I diagnosed his problem. It was $300 to fix it and I did the work. When he came to pick up the car, he said he never wanted me to fix it and he wasn't going to pay.
Car Talk: Sounds like you have to be part-mechanic, part-lawyer, part-therapist.
Scotty: No kidding. It's not an easy balance. Hey, does this mean I can start billing in tenths of an hour?
Car Talk: Don't get any ideas. What's the most expensive repair you've done?
Scotty: That was an engine on an Izuzu Rodeo. The engine cost $8,000!
Car Talk: Isn't that more than the car's worth?
Scotty: Talk about scary. You screw that job up and you're out a chunk of money. You ruin a carburetor, no big deal. But you don't want to go messing up on an engine like that.
Car Talk: How is the business different now than when you started?
Scotty: Back in the '70s, when a car wouldn't start you'd pull a spark plug, check the compression. You could rebuild a carburetor for $100. Good grief. Now, cars are so sophisticated. It's takes 1 1/2 hours to diagnose what's wrong. Customers have a hard time choking that down. But these are complicated machines.
Car Talk: Where's your boat?
Scotty: What kind of discriminatory remark is that?!
Car Talk: You going to 'fess up, or are we going to have to call in Bruno?
Scotty: Okay, okay. I've got a Bass boat. 17 feet. It does the trick.
Car Talk: Are you a member of the Fraternal Order of Mechanics with Boats?
Scotty: I thought FOMB was supposed to be a secret.
Car Talk: We'll delete that part of the interview. Promise. What do you do in your free time?
Scotty: In my spare time I used to restore cars. But, I just got so sick of being around cars all the time, so I took up woodworking. And I still have all my fingers!
Car Talk: Glad to hear you're not nicknamed, "Seven Finger Scotty!" You plan to stay in the repair business forever?
Scotty: I still can't stand to be inside, so what else am I going to do?
Car Talk: As we mentioned, Tom's perfecting sleeping on park benches.
Scotty:Is there room on his bench?
Car Talk: If you're willing to relocate the wildlife. So, are you overwhelmed with this prestigious award?
Scotty: Seriously, it is quite an honor. I've listened to the show for I don't know how many years. I like trying to figure out the answer before Tom and Ray do.
Car Talk: No offense Scotty, but any 6-year-old could do that.
Scotty: You got a point, there.
Car Talk: Where are you going to hang the Golden Wrench plaque?
Scotty: Maybe I'll hang it right up front in the shop.
Car Talk: I'd think twice about that. Being associated with our lousy show has already damaged your business once.
Scotty: You're right. I'd put it in the bathroom, but that's full of all the government posters.
Car Talk: Do you have an unstable desk anywhere?
Scotty: Bingo! I need a good shim. Thanks, Car Talk!
Car Talk: Glad we could help.