Mechanics describe pro-active measures to provide service during the pandemic

At this time of year, Mike Ouellette is used to having the phone “ringing off the wall” at his auto shop in North Bay. 

Ouellette says he’s often booked three weeks in advance, as customers come in for tire changes and tune-ups, but this year, he’s getting far fewer calls. 

“Every once in a while I’ve gotta hit the button and see if the phone’s still working.”

While many businesses are closed during the pandemic, vehicle repair shops remain open, as essential services. For the customers that are still coming in, businesses have new protocols in place, in an effort to keep staff and customers safe. 

‘Every precautionary measure’

Ouellette has made a number of changes at his business, Speedy Auto Service, in recent weeks. He has fewer staff working, and allows only two customers in the shop at once in an effort to maintain physical distance. 

He spends a lot of his time wiping down surfaces within his shop, and also disinfects every car that comes in — wiping down door handles, steering wheels, arms rests and windows. 

“Anything that we’re going to touch, I do disinfect it, before it even comes in the shop,” Ouellette said. 

At Kal Tire locations, there are similar cleaning measures in place. 

“We’ve taken every precautionary measure in terms of seat cover, wheel covers, wiping down touch points, face masks, putting down the windows, letting the vehicle air out for a period of time if we can,” said Jason Desjardins, the company’s zone manager in northern Ontario. 

“Some locations are doing work outside of the buildings also, so they don’t need to go inside the vehicle to move it.” 

Both businesses have suspended their shuttle services, leaving it up to customers to arrange their own transportation. At Kal Tire locations, the buildings themselves are also closed to customers, apart from “some small exceptions” due to cold weather, Desjardins said. 

Desjardins said staff members are also servicing fewer cars, from four every half hour, to just two each hour. 

Longer wait times 

Desjardins said Kal Tire is usually able to book people for an appointment the same week, but with the new measures, he said there is now a two to three week wait. 

“Most customers are fairly understanding and they’re willing to wait those three, four, five weeks extra in order to put the summer tires on. So they’ve been pretty patient with us in order to just prolong the season, if you will,” Desjardins said.

Ouellette said many of his customers are also choosing to hold off on coming in. He said he’s had a number of cancellations from people who aren’t comfortable visiting any businesses yet. 

“A lot of people are budgeting a lot more also, because they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the following week. So they’re being very careful.”

Thinking of taking your car to a shop to get your tires changed or your car tuned up? What does that look like in the time of COVID-19, and how are businesses doing things differently? The CBC’s Sarah MacMillan spoke with a couple of people who run some shops to find out. 7:16

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