Luis Lopez Automotive

At JT Mechanic & Body Shop in Lincoln Heights, customers need to wear masks when dropping off their car. In Atwater Village, customers at Luis Lopez Automotive park their car, roll down the window and leave the keys inside before a mechanic takes a look. And that's just for an oil change.

"I’ll be frank with you," said owner Luis Lopez said. "It’s pretty tedious."

Though still open as an essential business, auto repair shops are facing the same tough times as other businesses - though with factors unique to service stations, such as the business cycle, and the personal nature of cars. 

Lily Tang, manager at JT Mechanic, said her business is now down to about 15 percent of normal, and the shop has been gradually cutting down on its hours. Parts suppliers are also reducing hours, according to Lopez. 

As for money, April is usually a good month for the car repair business, according to Yoel Iribe, at manager at Highland Auto Repair in Highland Park.

"We were expecting to be booming around tax time," Iribe said. "People have a little more money to spend on their cars."

In fact, things were looking great for Lopez as recently as February, when his garage returned to use after being rented for five or six months for filming the Netflix series "Hollywood."

"The first week we were back, it was wonderful," Lopez said. "Business was hopping."

Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

 Lopez said he is applying for a Payroll Protection Program loan. Beyond that, all he and the other businesses can do it try to survive through the end of the quarantine.

"When people can leave the house, I expect they’ll want to drive instead of taking buses," Lopez said - adding, "if they still have a job."

Another issue is the handling of cars themselves - these small quarters in which we breathe and sneeze and cough and eat our snacks and toss our clothes and our trash and sit with the windows rolled up, sometimes for hours. We smell like our cars, and our cars smell like us.

So everything has to be wiped down at the shop, Tang said: The ignition, the door handles, the steering wheel. The keys also have to be wiped before being given back to the customer. Plus, the customers have to wear masks when coming in.

"Otherwise we’re not servicing the cars," Tang said.

At Luis Lopez Automotive, the contact-less customer interactions finds mechanics wearing masks even during test drives.

So, in the midst of a pandemic, what are vehicle owners having fixed?

Lopez is seeing customers wait until their vehicle is not driveable, or it's making a noise it shouldn't be making.  It's “something that actually broke, that forced the hand of the consumer,” Lopez said. 

Those are the kind of repairs that make sense to Tang, which is why it surprises her that her shop is still getting non-critical jobs, such as oil changes.

"We don’t understand why," Tang said. "They can’t go anywhere anyway."

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