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Seattle auto repair shop excels with thorough approach to training

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 06:00
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Seattle, 1984: three young men, two of them students at the University of Washington, were tasked with repairing a professor’s Honda in a campus parking lot. It proved to be their entrance exam into professional automotive repair.

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“The joke at the time was that we had earned the ‘Doctor of Honda’ degree,” explains Fred Wilson. The only one of the trio who would actually earn a degree, Wilson, with his twin brother Tom and their friend Randy, took this as a sign — literally — naming their new shop Dr. Honda later that year.

At a Glance:
High Road Automotive
Seattle, Washington
Fred and Kathy Wilson
No. of shops
Years in business
No. of employees
Square footage of shop
No. of bays
No. of vehicles per week
$1.6 million
Annual gross revenue

“What we did for marketing was run around on bicycles and put little half sheet flyers on Honda windshields,” Wilson recalls. “There were thousands of them in the neighborhood, because this was back in the day when they all came from Japan, and they came off the boat about a mile and half from the shop. The market was just flooded with them.”

With Seattle being a port of entry for Asian imports, domestic makes had pretty much disappeared from the area by the 1980s. By the 90s the shop would expand into other lines, thus changing the shop’s name to its current High Road Automotive, but still all-Asian.

“We just started taking in Toyotas and Subarus and learned about them the hard way — whether that was smart or not,” Wilson laughs. “They’re not that much different so it wasn’t that hard, but occasionally we’d find we needed a special tool for this or that.”

What they learned from these experiences was written down in what would become the shop’s policy manual. Wilson’s partners would eventually move on to other endeavors, but he carried on compiling knowledge. The shop now runs on carefully curated checklists and procedures. For example, most day-to-day tasks are now in their custom computer program.

“You cannot sign off that you’re done with something until you’ve signed off the checklist,” he explains. “It’s basically a training device that’s written into our software. Say you’re doing a wheel bearing; the checklist is going to ask did you torque wheel lugs, are the ABS sensors properly installed — it’s that level of detail, and each job has its own particulars. It’s on software that we wrote and I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.

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