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Father-son duo tackle transmission repairs with ease

Thursday, June 7, 2018 - 07:00
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Let’s face it, while the transmission is a crucial component in "transmitting" an engine’s power to the wheels, fixing one is completely unlike anything else on a vehicle. For one, outside of transferring torque, transmissions are pretty much self-contained systems. Secondly, ever since the advent of GM’s Hydra-Matic in the 1940s, automatic gearboxes have grown so complex that repairing them has become a specialty. And with automatic-equipped cars now accounting for around 95 percent of sales in the U.S., these specialists have their work cut out for them.

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At a Glance:
Total Care Transmissions & Classic Restoration
National City, Calif.
Location
Julio Zambrano
Owner
1
No. of shops
4
Years in business
3
No. of employees
2,200
Square footage of shop
10
No. of vehicles per week
$1500
Avg. weekly restoration ticket
$230,000
Annual gross revenue

And yet, some of them diversify. Take Total Care Transmissions of National City, Calif., a suburb of San Diego. As the name denotes, they also do general maintenance and repair, even some engine rebuilding. “Being so close to the [U.S.-Mexican] border, you’ve got to find a way to keep up with how things are changing,” says Julio Zambrano, Total Care's owner.

“I think transmission work would be a good 65 percent to 70 percent of what we do, general auto repairs about 25 percent, and the rest being restoration,” he reports. “We do have to invest in some diagnostics; (about) once a year we upgrade our scanners to be able to diagnose newer vehicles.”

Meanwhile transmission technology hasn’t stood still, either. “It’s been harder as the years go by,” notes Zambrano. “We started with the CVT, the continuously variable transmission. They’re not difficult to rebuild; we had a problem with finding parts, making them almost the same price as buying one from the dealer. It’s getting difficult in terms of keeping up, but that’s why we go to seminars every year, like ATSG and ATRA.” 

Transmission fluid must be in the family’s blood: Julio’s uncle once owned three shops, which his father worked at as a technician, while Zambrano himself spent nearly a decade at another shop as well as a transmission parts supplier before also going to work for his uncle. “I was still going to (college),” he notes, “but I liked working in the shop, especially helping the customers.” 

From left to right: Irving Zambrano, Julio Zambrano, and Efrain Zambrano

So when his uncle decided to divest himself of two of the shops in 2014, he sold one to Zambrano and his father. “My uncle basically just sold us the equipment,” he explains. “We created an entirely new (company), with a new name, new phone number. As owners it’s 50/50 between me and my dad, but I handle the office and he and my brother handle the whole auto repair part of it.” 

Admittedly starting from scratch was difficult at first. “A lot of friends and family started sending people our way. That was the easy part,” Zambrano explains. “The hard part was getting more people to know about us. In the first couple of months my dad and I would sometimes hand out flyers on the weekends. I would advertise on Craig’s List, social media like Facebook, Instagram— sources I didn’t have to spend an arm and a leg on in order to get the word out.” 

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