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Local mechanics get hosed by gas price uptick

Mechanic Chuck Shoberg poses inside his shop on the east side of Wadena. Shoberg is one of the area mechanics who said they’ve spotted a trend of slower business during times of high gas prices. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

When gas prices went up to unseasonable highs recently, it wasn’t just the people at the pump that felt the crunch.

 Auto-related businesses around Wadena, like auto repair and tire shops, can feel a connection between higher gas prices and lower amounts of customers coming through the door.

“I would say that it probably has been a little bit slower since gas prices have been higher,” said Chuck Schoberg, owner of Chuck’s Auto Repair in Wadena. “They’re going to probably not take care of the car like they should because they don’t have the money to do the service work … because the money is all going towards paying for the high gas prices.” 

However, the relationship between gas prices and demand for mechanics is complex. Schoberg said high gas prices can also get people more concerned about bringing their cars in for maintenance in order to get better mileage. In order for drivers to get more miles per gallon, Schoberg suggested maintaining correct air pressure in the tires to reduce drag, as well as getting engine tune-ups and internal computer checks.

Terry Wendt at Wadena Heartland Tire saw a different trend. Generally speaking, he said, maintenance work at the shop he manages doesn’t slow down when gas prices go up – rather, it’s tire sales that take a hit.

“When your car breaks down, it’s going to break down whether it’s got high gas prices or not,” Wendt said. “Tires, people try and get more out of them when they’re putting more money in the gas tank.”

Although he couldn’t pin it specifically on gas prices, Tim Rift at Aldrich Repair in Aldrich said his shop went through what he called a “dead time” during the period when prices were on the rise two weeks ago.

“I would say that people don’t want to work on their cars if there’s high gas because they can’t afford it,” Rift said.

Rift added that other than regular tune-ups, it’s more difficult these days for mechanics to tweak cars for better gas mileage. That’s because the internal workings of a car that would slip and cause a vehicle to use up more gas are mostly all computerized now.

“In the older days, you could set the timing different and adjust the carburetors because the carburetors would always go out of adjustment,” Rift said. “But nowadays, everything’s pre-set and computer-run.”  

 Rift had one more theory about why people didn’t visit the shop during the “dead time”, apart from the higher cost of gas.

“I think it’s tax time and nobody has any money,” he said with a laugh.