Car Talk talks with Dick Kreuscher, winner of our Golden Wrench Award, and owner of Dick's Auto Care in Storrs, Connecticut.
Car Talk: We'd like to honor you with a Car Talk Golden Wrench Award.
Dick: Thanks. I've heard of your show. Some of my customers have mentioned it. Is it worth listening to?
Car Talk: People tell us it's so bad, it actually reduces the pain during dental surgery. Plus, it's been noted as a cure for insomnia, too. So, yes.
Dick: Okay then. I'll have to check it out sometime.
Car Talk: So, tell us, how'd you get interested in repairing cars?
Dick: I started out in 1965, working as a radar mechanic on airplanes. But, I switched within a few years to cars.
Working on cars is different. It's because of the people. You never get bored. You are constantly learning. It's just something I've always enjoyed. It's a challenge. One day to the next, you never know what's going to come into your shop. It's a great way to make a living.
Car Talk: What makes for a good mechanic?
Dick: Perseverance, knowledge, and people manners. You have to be dedicated to what you're doing. You have to follow through on problems. Sometimes that means you have to have things blow up in your face. Literally! I've had that happen.
I've always told the people working for me, "You have to treat people the way you would want to be treated." You need to respect people and treat them fairly. I'm 73 and that's why I'm still here in the business.
Car Talk: What are the best cars to work on?
Dick: Hondas and Toyotas. They are put together American style -- they hold up. People get a real good value out of those cars. The engines are straightforward. Unlike those European cars. They've got everything backwards.
Car Talk: What cars make you run and hide in your yacht?
Dick: Mercedes, BMW, Audi. I'm more comfortable with the cars I work on every day. When you start getting cars you are unfamiliar with, you're ignorant. You scratch your head and say, "How does this go together?"
Car Talk: Don't worry. We've seen Tom and Ray do that all the time. So what automotive beauty do you drive?
Dick: I've got a 2003 GMC 1500. My wife drives a Ford Explorer. And we've also got a '97 Saab Convertible.
Car Talk: You were nominated for the Golden Wrench by your customer, Peri Grenell. She's got a '97 Neon with 190K miles on it. She was impressed with your honesty and great advice you've given her over the years.
Dick: That was so nice of her. Peri, like a lot of my customers, doesn't have a heck of a lot of money. The Neon left her high and dry a few years ago when the engine blew. We suggested she put a new engine in it. Since then, the car has been phenomenal. It's been dynamite. We try very hard to give people the best advice that we can.
Cars can be so expensive. You know, our school systems are letting our kids down. Two of the biggest expenses are our home and cars, but kids leave school without learning about either.
Car Talk: Sounds like you're running for office!
Dick: Thanks but I'll stick to fixing cars.
Car Talk: What makes a great customer?
Dick: I look for a trusting relationship. I've got to trust the customer and they've got to trust me. If I can't get the trust of the customer, I'd just as soon he brought his car to another mechanic. If you have trust and respect, then as you are repairing a car and something comes up, the customer knows you have their best interest in mind. No one's worried that they're being taken advantage of.
If you don't have that trust, it makes it really difficult to work on a car. You must as well push the car out of the shop when unexpected things come up. I don't want to have to defend everything I do on a car..
Car Talk: How about the customers from the dark side?
Dick: A number of years ago I got upset with a customer. He was being ridiculous over a repair. I told him to leave my shop and never come back. I didn't want his money. I didn't want him.
The next morning when I came to work, he was sitting at my front door. That really touched me. So we made up and I fixed his car. I generally don't blow my cool with people until I've hit the nth degree. And then it's "Hey... hit the road."
Car Talk: Well, congrats again on your prestigious award. Where will you hang the plaque?
Dick: I'll find someplace creative!