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Winter weather brings business to local auto shops

BY MEGAN DEPPE | DECEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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Thanks to the early flurry of snow, auto shops in Iowa City have found business is steadily rising in the past few weeks — a contrast to last year’s slower season during a relatively green winter.

Some auto shops have seen a sharp jump in their customer numbers. Chuck Smith, the owner of Chuck Smith Body Shop, 126 S. Gilbert Court, said they’ve been plenty busy and it “looks like there’s more on the way.”

“With our normal schedule, we may be booked out a week,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re booked out to Jan. 13.”

Bill Wagenknecht, the president of Vic’s Auto Body, 1514 Willow Creek Drive, also said he’s seen a large increase in business over the last few weeks.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” Wagenknecht said. “It’s all based on the first snow and how people react to it.”

Winter is considered among most auto shops to be one of the busier times of year. Jason Schmidt-Rundell, the manager of Harv’s Auto Body Inc., 423 Highland Ave., said they are seeing more towing and small fender-bender accidents, which is typical for the season.

“It usually gets busy right around the first snow,” Rundell said. “Just in time for people to remember their winter driving skills.”

The snow is not the only thing bringing in customers, Wagenknecht said — this year, the normal “deer season” has carried over into the snow season, causing accidents from two different sources.

“It’s a little unusual to have them both about the same time,” Wagenknecht said. Most deer-related incidents occur in early November, he said, and snow incidents don’t generally begin until later in December.

Some shops say the increase in business is normal. Justin Johnson, the service manager of Firestone Complete Auto Care, 231 E. Burlington St., as well as Rick Mascari, the manager of Arena Body Shop, 1933 Keokuk St., said while the past few weeks have been their busiest of this year, “it’s been about average” for the winter season.

Paul Trombino, the director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the severity of accidents usually has to do with what type of winter is happening — with an icy winter causing more chaos than normal.

“It’s very hard, depending on the temperature, to even deal with [ice],” he said. “Our focus, ultimately, is getting the system restored as quickly as possible.”

Smith said he has seen a number of college students in Chuck’s after accidents during the winter, though the number usually declines over the summer.

Wagenknecht, however, disagreed and said his business has seen a decline in students over the past year. He attributed students biking and taking the bus, as well as not wanting to drive in cold weather.

Instead, Wagenknecht said, he sees more student accidents during the summer, when there is flooding, muddy roads, and students out driving for fun all at once.

While some shops are using the past few days of relatively sunny and warm weather to catch up on their backload, some find themselves with work for the next several weeks.

Johnson said Firestone is only backed up a half a day to a day’s worth of work, while Smith reported backups up to January.

“We can only do so much work in a 40-hour work week,” Smith said.

All shops are ready to work but ask customers to remember to drive safely over the holiday.

“We just want people to plan ahead, take their time, and know their route,” said Trombino. “The more we communicate, the safer everyone will be.”


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