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Auto repair shop is marked by longevity, excellence

For nearly 53 years, Connie & Dicks Auto Service Center has been Claremont’s one-stop car repair destination. That’s a long spell, but Cindy Brown, who has owned the business for 23 years along with her husband Scott, feels the business is just approaching its prime.

Last year, the Browns hired a diesel specialist, an acquisition they have been awaiting for a decade. With consumer interest in alternative fuels like biodiesel growing, the timing couldn’t be better. The shop also now boasts 2 technicians who are well versed in the increasingly popular hybrid cars.

What’s more, in recent years the Browns have beefed up their collection of state-of-the-art automotive equipment, including the installation of an alignment rack with a pit so they can work on the lowest-profile vehicles.

“Any tech who walks in and sees the shop wants to work here,” Ms. Brown said.

Connie & Dicks already has a scan tool allowing their technicians to communicate with the GM, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler companies as a dealership would, which means they can fix computer problems they might otherwise have to refer to a dealer. Now, they are purchasing a new high-end scan tool connecting them to the BMW, Mercedes and Mini Cooper lines, all of which are popular in Claremont.

While Connie & Dicks is benefiting from new additions, there is something about the longstanding mom-and-pop that hasn’t changed: Its owners’ commitment to going above and beyond for each customer who walks through their doors.

Whether a client is looking for a complete tune-up or a basic oil change, every car gets a bumper-to-bumper inspection by a master technician.

“Our oil changes are like no one else’s. We’re better than Triple-A,” Ms. Brown said.

Ms. Brown—who worked for 14 years in the X-ray department at Kaiser Hospital—jokingly credits her insistence on thoroughness to her medical background.

A technician road tests each vehicle before and after its service, she noted. “We make sure a car’s not pulling and check for lights on the dash, noise and vibration, all kinds of real safety features.”

Technicians check every car’s lights, bolts, hoses, alternators and suspension. The tires, which are removed so brakes and rotors can be checked, are inspected for wear and rotated. Fluids are not just looked at but tested before being topped off. For instance, brake fluid is inspected via a refractonomer that can detect potential moisture.

“If you’re going 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 miles between an oil change, you can be confident that your car has been completely looked at, and that we tested everything to the best of our ability,” Ms. Brown said.  

Connie & Dicks is very much a family business. The Browns’ youngest daughter, Sarah, is working in the office part-time while she studies X-ray technology at Chaffey College. Their older daughter, Maegan, now a cosmetologist, used to work there too.

Mr. Brown was a regular presence in the shop until 2008 when he retired to work full-time with a company he helped develop, International Automotive Technician Network (iATN), which allows automotive technicians to share questions and expertise with peers across the world.

The family ethos extends to customers.

“When a customer comes in, the first think we think of is that it could be our daughter, son, mother, brother, father, sister, grandma or grandpa,” Ms. Brown said. “And when they leave, just like a family member, we want to make sure they’re safe.”

There were challenging times

The fact that Connie & Dicks is still around in an industry where there are “so many roller coasters” is remarkable, Ms. Brown said.

It hasn’t always been easy. In recent years, the shop was hit by a double-whammy: the recession and a government program designed to help struggling Americans. In 2009, under the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS)—better known as “Cash for Clunkers”—consumers were encouraged to trade in their used cars and receive as much as $4,500 toward the purchase of a new, fuel-efficient car.

In order to receive federal reimbursement, dealers were required to destroy a traded-in car’s engine. A typical method was to drain a car’s oil, flood the engine with sodium silicate and then rev the engine until it seized.

Independent automotive specialists lost the business they once gained from repairing older but still operative cars, but that wasn’t the only downside. Ms. Brown feels the cars’ destruction constituted a shocking waste.

“I was upset,” she said. “I have customers all the time—college students, the parents of new drivers—ask me if I know anyone selling used cars. And people are always looking for used car parts.”

A better use for those unwanted cars would have been to donate them to needy families, or to recycle them for scrap, Ms. Brown said.

Staying visible and competitive

Shortly after the Cash for Clunkers program, Connie & Dicks was assailed by a disinformation campaign launched by an unidentified competitor, who sent their clients letters claiming the business was under new management.

“We had older customers coming in, saying, ‘Cindy, what are you doing here?” Ms. Brown recalled.

With the help of ads in the COURIER and a campaign to promote Connie & Dicks’ 50-year anniversary, Claremonters were reminded that the local automotive repair shop is still going strong.

Unlike when the shop first opened, Connie & Dicks, which is located in the old postal annex building in Claremont, is now surrounded by an apartment complex for senior citizens. With the business no longer visible from the street, Ms. Brown takes every chance she gets to broadcast the shop’s existence. She is a regular fixture at Village Venture, and takes time to attend events like Claremont’s inaugural Pie Festival held earlier this month. 

“We still get people who come up and say, ‘I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I didn’t know you were here,’” Ms. Brown said.

Mr. Brown has high praise for the marketing and managerial skills of his wife, who he characterizes as a true “people person.”

“Cindy understands that the business is very complex, because you’re helping to solve a wide array of challenges when it comes to servicing automobiles,” he said. “You have to understand how the various regulations impact the business and how to handle all of the little things most people don’t see about operating a business. She’s definitely got them under her wing.”

Keeping all of those balls in the air takes work. Ms. Brown is at the shop—which services from 135 to 150 cars per month—14 hours a day. She also serves as vice president of the Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) and is active in the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, among other commitments.

In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her family, which she emphasizes is her top priority. Ms. Brown is delighted by her daughters, and is always happy to relate the accomplishments of her husband.

She shares that Mr. Brown, whom she met at age 18 when both were working at the Grand Prix Raceway in Montclair, has tuned the cars of some pretty notable clients. These include Arnold Schwarz-enegger’s Hummers, NASCAR legend Dick Guldstrand’s Corvettes and vehicles belonging to a number of NHRA drivers at the Irwindale Speedway.

The couple lives in Fontana and though they would love to live in Claremont, Ms. Brown says, “everything has gone into the business.” And between Ms. Brown’s tireless efforts, Mr. Brown’s automotive acumen and their technicians’ skill at handling all aspects of auto repair, it’s a business of which they can be proud.

“Our motto is ‘We can fix it, but we’d rather maintain it,” Mr. Brown said.

Connie & Dicks Auto Service Center, an AAA approved full-service automotive repair facility, is located at 150 Olive St. in Claremont. For information, visit www.connieanddicks.com or call 626-5653.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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