“We’re a small-town business that likes dealing with people and we treat them as our friends,” said Walt Vongher, who owns Hometown Auto on Foxon Road. The auto repair business, which Vongher has operated for five years, came out on top in the North Branford Readers’ Choice poll as the “best and most reliable auto mechanic in Branford and North Branford” last year.
“We like friends,” Vongher continued. “We’re fun.”
Vongher said he opened his own shop because he got tired of working for dealers who took advantage of their customers, noting, “They overcharged." A North Branford native, he said he also knows he will see his clients at Big Y or Stop & Shop.
“You’ve got to be fair to people,” he said.
Above all, Vongher sees his shop as a source of information. Safety, of course, takes priority among his concerns, with maintenance also high on his list.
He said that a car is most likely “to have issues” whenever there is an extreme temperature change, such as occurs in winter and summer. He advised that in winter, car owners pay attention to the coolant in the car — and that an owner also pay attention to his tires, especially the pressure. After that, he mentioned lights.
“Just simple things,” he said. “Just look at the car.”
He pointed out that a car is a heavy piece of metal travelling down a road at a speed of 60 miles an hour.
“You want to be safe and warm at the same time,” he said.
For all car owners, he advises maintenance. He said that, at present, he has a car in his shop, whose owner missed a few oil changes. The result, he said, is that the car now needs a $4,000 engine.
And he takes the view that cars do need an oil change every 3,000 miles, although he said synthetic oil can go up to 6,000 miles. Absent the synthetic oil, he said a car can start knocking when it surpasses 3,000 miles. “Just for peace of mind,” he said of a consumer’s keeping up with that basic service.
As for tires, he said the larger the tires, such as the ones on pick-up trucks, the less the wear.
And although he will access new tires for customers who want brand new tires on their cars, he recognizes that, for some, these are difficult economic times. As such, he or his staff will check out used tires a customer may bring to Hometown Auto. If the shop finds them safe and their specifications within legal limits, he said he will install them.
He concedes discrimination against women still takes place in some shops. Before he opened, he said, his wife took her fairly new Toyota to a mechanic — and she was charged nearly four times the sum for a service that his uncle, who drove an older vehicle, received 10 minutes later for the same effort.
Still, he advises everyone to build a relationship with a mechanic. Take a car by an auto repair shop, call up a mechanic and chat — these are ways, he said, a person can get to know the shop to which they may decide to entrust the care of their car.
But one responsibility every car owner can take, he said, is reading a car’s manual.
“It’s there as a valuable source of information for getting to know your vehicle,” Vongher said.