Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Passport's Consumer Report: Newport's Garages

East Main's Trademark Sign is Snowed in
By Manfried Rieder Starhemberg

Wherever you go in northern New England there is that last remnant of a gentler, more civilized side of America: The Local Garage. Sometimes there is even a car dealership without towering signs and chrome and pinstripe filled showrooms the size of the swimming pool on a Carnival cruise liner. One such place is Hayes Ford in Newport, pretty much the same for the past four decades, no shiny Lincolns or Ford trucks inside, just friendly people who do more for local charity functions than most churches manage.
Let us start there. We bought two vehicles from Hayes in the past year, one a 2000 Volvo wagon, the other, aptly (and hopefully in jest) reading in white shoe polish on the front windshield "Heavy Metal", a 1984 Chrysler 5th Avenue.
Both needed some TLC, namely the Volvo which had a strut sticking right up to the edge of the hood. Ever the optimists, we purchased the car "as-is" and dragged it across the street to the East Main garage, assuming that with one of us working a second part time job, we may get the old car going in some style. It was ready the next day. Instead of a strut replacement, quoted as costing $ 650.- by a Burlington Volvo dealer, owner Mark and his elves put a $ 35.- upper strut mount in it, charged us one half hour of labor and 5,000 miles later the old girl is still going strong. Actually, we visit there again later.
The Chrysler needed to get state inspected and since East Main no longer does inspections, they suggested I see Mr. McAlister and his merry men at K&N Auto, another long established local business on the road to Derby. The dreaded phone call came that afternoon: "You need three new tires". After a brief discussion of our fiscal standing we were told that maybe they could find us some good used tires and they did the next day. When we brought the car it has white wall tires as befitting a 30 year old survivor but when we picked it up all tires looked the same. "We turned the good one around so that the whitewall is on the inside" chuckled the friendly lady behind the counter who is also in charge of a collection of funny hand knitted hats made by her family and sold next to the battery display. Another great garage experience for us.

Hand knitted hats and new batteries at K&N

Two weeks ago our Volvo decided to start making expensive sounding noises right on Main street and since frugality and fear of life and limb precluded us to have it towed to either of the two garages we had  such great experiences with, we limped down to Ray's Auto Service on Coventry street, two blocks away from our home. The whole gang was at lunch in the office but we were assured of a diagnosis that afternoon and so it happened. The center drive shaft mount had shed its mortal coil, victim no doubt of the excessive accumulation of salt encrusted rust. While we mentally calculated the available credit card balance on the new Discover card, we were assured that they could probably find a used part by the morrow. They did not because their supplier in Coventry only had a similarly rusted piece on hand but the garage went all out and obtained a brand new mount from Volvo, had it shipped in, installed it and charged us less than $ 230.- for all that work and hassle. Once again, just for our personal entertainment, we called a large Volvo dealership and the price quoted there was $ 500.- for the same job.

And now to end this consumer report on three local garages: Just this morning, Wednesday, Feb. 19, the Volvo decided to illuminate the "Check Engine" display on the dashboard. We whisked it over to East Main which was on our way anyways and after visiting with Princess and Sprocket, the two resident dogs in the reception area/meeting room for locals/gossip center and waiting area for car-less clients, owner Mark dispatches helper Josh and his hand held computer to plug the Volvo into the magic analyzer.Fife minutes later the light was gone, the mechanic having been able to reset it on the spot. The charge? Nothing. A friendly handshake and free advise"If it comes back on you may need a new oxygen sensor but don't worry about it".
We now can happily summarize that if you live within driving or towing range of Newport and have problems with your car, truck or possibly your antique tractor - do not despair. Courtesy, excellent mechanics, friendly service and generous hospitality abounds in this city.
The Volvo behind East Main

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