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Affordable Auto Care taking the bite out of auto repairs

Fixing your car shouldn’t empty your wallet
Lisa and Tim McCarl, owners of Affordable Auto Care in North Liberty. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Auto repairs often happen at the worst time and almost always result in financial pain and suffering. Tim McCarl understands that and opened Affordable Auto Care in North Liberty to help people get back on the road as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The shop opened Feb. 1 and fulfills a longtime wish of Tim’s after working on the Mississippi River for 31 years.
“I’ve been out there pretty much since high school, but I’ve always enjoyed working on vehicles,” he shared. “We drag race too, so we’ve got a drag car at home and I’ve pretty much built it with help from some friends.”
Tim has several friends with shops of their own and, with nearly a month off at a time from the water, would often go lend a hand while learning the ins and outs of ever-changing automotive technology.
“I was doing diagnostics and AC, stuff like that, general repair.”
With his days piloting towboats not quite over yet, Tim– along with his wife Lisa– hopes to hire a mechanic to keep the wrenches turning while he’s out on the Mighty Mississippi.
“And then, when I’m home 28 days, I’ll come here and work in the shop.”
Tim is working toward Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification while getting the shop up and running and taking care of customers before returning to the river.
“It’s all in transformation, it’s all going to be a slow process, but I’ve always wanted to open a shop, but just never had the gumption to do it.”
The gumption, as Tim called it, built up when he stumbled across a listing online offering space in a brand new building located just off of Highway 965 in North Liberty.
“I told her (Lisa), ‘Let’s go, let’s go look at it.’ Next thing you know, we’re opening up a shop!
“It’s been chaos ever since, but it’s fun,” he added.
Affordable Auto is set up to tackle just about anything a car or light truck needs, from routine oil changes and light repairs to diagnostics, engine replacement and transmission rebuilds.
With the help of some automotive friends.
“We can pretty much do it all,” Tim said of his partnership with JC Performance and his neighbor, Emmons Automotive Services.
“Affordable” is more than just a name, it’s the philosophy that drives the business, Tim explained.
“We are able to keep our prices down, our labor rates are down, we don’t have much overhead, what little bit of inventory we have in-stock we’re able to keep it low enough to make it affordable for everybody. I am not out to do the price-gouging.”
He’s also more than willing to have people bring in parts for him to install, for only the cost of his labor. However, he said he wouldn’t count himself liable if the part should prove defective.
“If the part went out, then that’s between you and the auto parts store,” he said.
The McCarls can also provide in-house options to help keep the repair costs down. Tim cited brake pads as an example.
“They have what they call a ‘cheap pad,’ a ‘medium’ and a ‘high grade.’”
He explained that while the cheapest pad will get you back on the road, due to it’s composition, it will generate more brake dust and even squeaking.
“I always try to go for the medium grade,” he said. “It all depends on what you need replaced. With an electronic part, you want the best you can get.”
In general, Tim advises customers to get the best-quality parts they can afford, so they don’t have to come back later to do it all over again when a cheaper part gives out sooner.
The McCarls are always looking for anything that will keep prices down for their customers.
“Here in town we also have free pick up,” Lisa added, meaning they’ll come to you, at home or at work in North Liberty, pick up your vehicle, and bring it back when the work is done.
“We’re all insured so even while traveling with a customer’s vehicle, we’re all covered. Nobody has to worry about their insurance rates going up if we get in an accident,” Tim noted.
Lisa said the shop has used the pick-up and delivery service a few times already, and it’s working out pretty well.
“A lot of people just don’t have the time to go out and get the maintenance done on their vehicle,” Tim added. “For us, that’s our job, so we will come to you to pick up your vehicle, service it and bring it back to you.”
When a vehicle comes in for routine service, it gets an inspection looking for any problems.
“We check the tire pressure, top off the fluids, look for any obvious leaks, we do (tire) rotation…pretty much everything,” Tim said. “We just make sure the vehicle is good to go and if there’s any obvious problems, we’ll contact the customer and tell them what we found, and we can either let them know it needs to be fixed right away or its something they can wait on.”
Catering to the customers’ needs also means Saturday hours, from 8 a.m. to noon, a rarity in automotive repair shops.
“If you want to bring your vehicle by, we’re here until noon. Usually we can knock a vehicle out in about a half-hour,” Tim said. “We have a lot of filters on-hand, oil on-hand, so we don’t have to wait around for that.”
He opened up a cabinet packed full of a wide variety of oil filters covering most makes and models. “Pretty much anything we work on, we have a filter for it,” he said.
As for what won’t he work on, Tim said he leaves Audis, BMWs and other imports to Chris Emmons a few doors down at Emmons Automotive Services.
“And campers,” Lisa added.
“We can service them, but I won’t do any major work on them,” Tim said.
Tim reflected on his automotive roots.
“I’ve been around vehicles my whole life,” he said. “When I was 13 years old, I was swinging engines out of cars out back of the house in trees with my dad sitting there helping me and my mom sitting there screaming at us. We got it done. Dad needed a motor put in his car and we got it done!”
When he turned 18, he hired-on with a riverboat company moving barges and has been there ever since. However, the job has him gone for nearly a month a time, away from Lisa and the rest of his family, including a grandbaby the couple is caring for.
“It’s been good but half my time is spent away from my family, so that’s the whole idea of this, hopefully it gets taking off soon and I can retire off the river and come in here and do something I love.”
He pointed out he loves the river, but added, “I love this too. I love working on things, I like something that’s complicated and makes me think. I like to figure things out.”
The McCarls are from Ladora but came to North Liberty after viewing the Craigslist post offering what now is their commercial space. A small customer waiting area is already set up, allowing the McCarls to interact with their clients, while also allowing the customer to see the work being done. Tim will even show the customer what he’s found and explain what he’s doing.
Affordable Auto accepts debit and credit cards and has a mobile reader for their drop-off service, as well.
“We’re trying to make it convenient for the customer, and affordable at the same time,” Tim elaborated. “We want to live up to our name and make it affordable, so anything we can do to help you out, to take care of the vehicle and the problem, we’re going to do all we can and look at all ways to save you money. If we can get by with something used, that’ll still work as good as new, that’s what we’ll do. We’ll throw something used in there just to make the cost a little lower.”
He added he’s not afraid or reluctant to refer customers to others suited better to a job, and is also willing to diagnose the problem for somebody who wants to fix it themselves.
While Tim is currently the only mechanic on staff, Lisa keeps the books, handles the paperwork and, “…keeps him in line,” she said with a laugh.
“He’s the brawn, I’m the brains! I’ll go over and help him hold something or hand him something, but no, I’m not doing nothing major … No, nope, not my department,” she said, still laughing.
A grand opening is in the works for the near future. The McCarls are offering specials to introduce themselves to the community, like a $29.99 synthetic blend oil change and a full-synthetic for $39.99.
Affordable Auto is also running a spring air conditioning special to get your vehicle’s AC system up to snuff ahead of another long and hot Iowa summer.
“Get the cars in, get the AC checked, get them ready to get people cooled off when it gets hot,” Tim said.