Garage closure leaves motorists in a jam
September 25, 2007
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — When it comes to services and American amenities, few bases in Europe can compare to this area, the U.S. military’s largest community outside the United States.
There are three movie theaters, spacious commissaries that could compare to grocery stores in the States and exchange stores that offer more variety than most overseas installations. But the one thing the community does not have, and most other bases do have, is an Army and Air Force Exchange Services-run automotive garage. The area’s lone AAFES Car Care Center stopped fixing cars about three months ago.
While the center brought in more than $230,000 in sales through the garage and parts sales in fiscal 2007, the store and garage lost about $7,000 due to costs, AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Konop said.
Rick Talbot, AAFES general manager for the Kaiserslautern military community, said the cost of labor and equipment is among the main reasons they and military commanders decided to shutter the garage this past summer and only sell parts. Local self-help garages run by Morale, Welfare and Recreation also cut into business, Talbot added.
“We weren’t keeping the mechanics busy enough,” Talbot said.
That might be a surprising explanation to many customers who went to the garage to get work done on their car. Last winter, customers had to wait more than a month to get winter tires installed on their vehicles because of the demand.
The garage has had a reputation of long waits for work to be done, from tire installation to routine tuneups.
Karen Jezisek, whose husband is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, said her family didn’t take its vehicle to the AAFES garage because of the long wait and poor service.
“They didn’t have good service,” she said. “If you don’t have good service, I’m going to go elsewhere.”
While many people went out in town or to the auto skills centers, many people did frequent the garage because it was close and the workers spoke English. But Konop said there are no plans for AAFES to build another garage for the Kaiserslautern area. He said although base car centers might not always be profitable at other bases in Europe, there are no plans at this time to close any more.
That means Americans stationed in the Kaiserslautern area will have to either do the work themselves or get the work done on the economy. With the dollar at record low levels against the euro, that means the work will not be cheap.
Plus, customers who bought their tires at the AAFES car center under warranty will have to go to bases as far as Baumholder or Wiesbaden to get the work done under those service plans.
The closure has affected the local auto skills center, too. At the Pulaski Auto Skills Center, people line up for the Speedy Lube oil change service an hour before the 10 a.m. opening time on some days, Manager Don Breton said.
Some people have waited two hours or longer to get an oil change for $31.50, which is much cheaper than what German garages offer. Aaron Cooper, an employee at Speedy Lube, estimates that the number of customers has doubled since the closure of the AAFES garage.
The auto skills centers are expanding to accommodate the influx of customers, but Breton acknowledged there is only so much they can do because of space. He plans to add another bay to perform more oil changes and tire installations, but it might not be enough to satisfy everyone.
“We are trying our best to meet the demand of the community,” he said. “But there is only so much I can do here.”