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Veteran's DIY facility in Virginia Beach offers tinkerers an auto garage away from home

By SANDRA J. PENNECKE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 22, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Self-proclaimed gearhead Steve Cauffiel spent many a day tinkering on vehicles in the hobby shops on local military bases.

That’s what sparked the former Navy SEAL’s idea to open American Do-It-Yourself Garage in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in August 2016.

“It started percolating in my brain that the reason they have hobby shops on base is because of the barracks,” Cauffiel said. “They don’t want people working on their cars in the parking lots so they have these places.”

He began to think about the civilian population in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and how the same thing applies to apartment, condominium and townhouse dwellers.

“Even homeowner’s associations will give you grief if you’re doing anything mildly long-term in your own driveway,” he said.

After seven years of contemplating the business model he wanted to create, Cauffiel decided to move forward. He and his girlfriend, Debbie Rogers, spent the next three years developing a business plan and securing funds. They now own and manage the business together.

“We wanted to basically offer a garage, and I think we pretty much knocked that out of the park,” he said.

Cauffiel is exploring franchising the model.

The DIY facility retains a nostalgic look and attracts customers from across Hampton Roads and up and down the East Coast. The customers’ project needs vary just as much as the vehicles they drive.

“We’ve had people come in to a flat bay just to use the vacuum cleaner to someone with a big diesel truck up on a lift who pulled off the entire cab so they could rebuild the top end of their engine,” Cauffiel said. “If it’s mechanical, there’s not a whole lot we have not done and seen.”

Jim Kortze drives from his condo in Chesapeake to work on one of his family’s three cars whenever the need arises.

“I would be stuck working on the ground,” said Kortze, who doesn’t currently have a garage. “So, Steve’s shop is my only availability to work on my cars.”

Open seven days a week, the business offers nine clean, safe, well-lit and fully equipped garage bays for rent. Four of the bays have vehicle lifts and one has a dedicated motorcycle/ATV lift.

The rental fee for a flat bay is $25 per hour and a lift bay costs $40 per hour. An additional $5 shop fee covers recycling of waste oil, coolant and metals along with other small necessities such as zip ties and washers.

“That includes all tools and equipment in the building except for our AC service machine,” he said.

Each bay includes a workbench, rolling tool chest, compressed air, jacks and jack stands, and hand and air tools. A shared area contains larger equipment such as hydraulic press, drill press, media blaster, cherry picker and engine stand.

Customers can ask employees to check out more specialized tools — including torque wrenches, a reciprocating saw and spark plug removal pliers — from a tool crib.

Laptops are available to research procedures or use the garage’s subscription to Identifix, an online guide with step-by-step instructions and information for automotive repair professionals.

Employees, who are all mechanics, can offer advice at no extra charge.

“We won’t do it (the work) for people, but if you’re not sure what you’re doing, we’ll help out with that, too,” Cauffiel said. “People doing their brakes for the first time — we’re not going to leave you hanging. We want your project to be a success.”

Local automotive parts stores deliver parts directly to the garage when customers are in the bay.

Rogers, who has learned a lot about cars herself over the past three and a half years, orchestrated a class to help women get over their fears of working on cars.

“I’m trying to get more women into it and let them know it’s not all that difficult,” said Rogers, who also works as a title examiner. “I do my own brakes and my own maintenance on my vehicle. Now that I’m into it, I absolutely love it.”

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