Organic Mechanics: How to Approach Car Repair with a Conscience

“By identifying an opportunity to be more sustainable, and implementing a reasonable plan of action to accomplish it, companies achieve an authenticity that paid advertising can’t buy.” – Crystal Barnes, Senior Vice President of Global Responsibility & Sustainability at Nielsen

‘Going green’ and ‘auto repair’ aren’t typically found in the same sentence. But with global warming raising alarm and informing customer behaviors, it is crucial that all industries and consumers do their part to reduce further environmental degradation. 

Businesses, take notes because nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Millennials are twice as likely (75% vs. 34%) than Baby Boomers, which indicates that eco-friendly policies are the future. 

As a consumer, you may think that making small changes to your everyday actions is the most powerful way to do your part. Skipping the straw, eating a plant-based diet and reducing, reusing, recycling are legitimate individual efforts. The real power is in your purchasing power. Encourage businesses to take action by raising concern and awareness. The next time you need an oil change, state inspection, brake service, wheel alignment, etc. ask your mechanic what their auto shop is doing to go green. 

If you’re an automotive technician, mobile mechanic, independent repair shop owner or dealership service department manager, you might not know where to start in implementing environmentally friendly policies. It’s worth finding out because, ultimately, eco-friendly policies will contribute to the company’s bottom line, and eco-conscious consumers will feel better about supporting your business. 

How do you spot an ‘organic mechanic’? What can a business do to perform car repair with a conscience? As a thought leader in the automotive industry, Openbay is here to pave the way for change. First, let’s look at some ideas from Redditors in the r/mechanics community. Then, we’ll highlight two shops in the Openbay network that are a step ahead of the eco-conscious auto repair trend. 

Floors to Ceilings

Going green starts with a bottom-up approach. Auto repair can get messy, there’s no doubt about that. Dripping fluids will inevitably end up on the shop’s floor, and those fluids can be dangerous if they end up underground. Consider sealing your shop’s floor with an impervious material, like an industrial acrylic floor system, to prevent any spills from soaking into concrete and ending up in the ground. 

Even if your bay floors are sealed and impenetrable, you still need to use drip pans and trays and funnel drum covers when transferring fluids. If a spill happens, clean with reusable cloth rags, wring out the fluids into a labeled container for reuse or recycling. Never hose down your work area. Instead, keep the bay floors clean and dry by sweeping every day, using only a damp mop for general cleanups.  

Once you’ve got the floors covered (no pun intended), look up at your lighting. The US Department of Energy estimates that widespread use of LED lights could save US consumers and businesses $30 billion in electricity bills AND the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants by 2027. Need another reason to ditch fluorescent and switch to LED lighting? Fluorescent lights contain hazardous, toxic materials (mercury and phosphor). Broken bulbs release a small amount of toxic mercury gas, plus there’s a waste disposal issue. 

From Hazmat to Ecomat 

Dangerous chemicals and solvents are used every day in auto repair. The first (and easiest) eco-friendly change is to buy all products in bulk to reduce packaging and plastic use. Take it to the next level by stocking up on ‘Environmentally Preferred’ motor oil choices, such as re-refined/recycled (reusable, moderate degree of toxicity) and bio-based (renewable, insignificant degree of toxicity). Promote these green solutions to oil change customers who might think that conventional and full synthetic motor oil are the only options available. 

Behind the scenes, think about eliminating as many harmful chemicals as possible (engine degreasers, carb cleaners and parts washers). Consider switching to less hazardous, citrus-based cleaners. Make your solvents last longer by using parts washers with a filtration system, or take a look at an aqueous based parts cleaner. Say no to aerosols and opt for spray formulas instead. 

Practice Ethical Disposal  

Chemicals come with the territory in auto repair: brake cleaner, carburetor cleaner, gasket remover, parts cleaner, motor oil, transmission fluid, gear oil, grease, gasoline, starting fluid, acetylene and propane to name a few. 

We already mentioned eco-preferred motor oil and cleaners, but sometimes your only option is one that can cause damage to the environment. That’s when responsible care, storage and proper disposal are critical. Especially since unethical disposal can directly and indirectly impact drinking water sources (water supply wells, streams, lakes, reservoirs). 

Have you considered a waste oil heater? Eliminate the need for third-party disposal companies by heating your shop with the oil you drain from customer’s vehicles. A waste oil heater is more expensive than a traditional heater, but it helps your shop become more self-sufficient and sets you apart from less eco-minded competitors. 

How about AC refrigerant recycling and reclamation? Sell your recovered refrigerant gases to an EPA-certified refrigerant reclaimer or consider an in-house recovery and recycling system. You will need to obtain EPA Section 608 Technician Certification to add or remove refrigerant from HVAC/R equipment that meets EPA certification requirements. 

Many larger shops have coolant/antifreeze recycling machines that distill the glycol out of the old coolant, add an additive package and reuse the coolant as if it were new. Otherwise, you can contact a third-party for proper disposal. Stock up on kitty litter too (in bulk, of course), since the best way to dispose of new or unused brake fluid is to pour it into a container of cat litter. Within a few days, the brake fluid will evaporate. Keep this away from pets, children and any source of ignition.

Contact your local branch or recycling center to find a list of accepted materials (paper/cardboard, metal, plastic, rubber) for your recycling center. Educate your employees about these recycling guidelines for filters, wiper blades, etc. 

Go Digital 

Digital onboarding, digital vehicle inspections, digital service estimates, digital AI-powered communication with customers; these options are all within your reach. Receipts, invoices, estimates, inspections can all be delivered via email and text. Say goodbye to overflowing stacks of paperwork and hello to easier record-keeping, and saving some trees along the way. 

Preach What You Practice

Now that your shop is going green, encourage your customers to do the same. Offering tips and tricks earns their loyalty and trust. Go the extra mile share these eco-friendly driving and maintenance practices: 

1 – Break your lead foot habit. Heavy acceleration and braking consumes more gas.

2 – Turn off your AC and roll down the windows. AC uses a generous amount of gas.

3 – If you are going to stop for a long period of time, put your car in park mode. Although you aren’t moving, your car is still consuming gas.

4 – Limit cargo weight. Drag leads to greater gas consumption. For road trips, try putting luggage and other travel items in the middle and front sections, where space and safety allow.

5 – Bring your car in for routine vehicle maintenance to lower your gas consumption. Simple fixes for brakes and spark plugs as well as fluid checks “can help improve your mileage by as much as 40%,” according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Don’t forget to brag a little too. Incorporate your new go-green philosophy into your company’s mission statement, make it the front and center of your website and shout it from the rooftops on social media. 

Check Out these Go-Green, Future-Proofed Auto Repair Shops 

Openbay is proud of our expansive network of automotive service businesses. We make it our mission to connect vehicle owners with the highest caliber mechanics. Here are two shops in the Openbay network that are an inspiration to other shops looking to go green: 

Diamond Discount Automotive Service & Tire in Waltham, MA

If you are looking for eco-friendly auto repair in the Northeast, the team at Diamond Discount Automotive Service & Tire has your back. They use low-VOC chemicals and make sure to clean up with biodegradable cleaners. 

The staff at Diamond makes sure everything is responsibly stored and disposed of. This includes any oil, antifreeze, A/C refrigerant and chemical solvents that are used. To recycle the waste oils, fluids and coolants, they contract an outside company for help.

Furthermore, the office itself participates in energy-saving measures with LED lighting and monitoring water usage. With a complete reduction in paperwork, the team can serve customers without the need for trees.

Finally, you will find the team teaching customers how to improve efficiency. They aren’t just looking to make a quick dollar, but would rather the driver understand how to be a better citizen on and off the road.

Shadetree Automotive in Layton, UT

The team at Shadetree Automotive is working hard to be eco-friendly. Every day, they make more strides to being an organic mechanic.

They make sure all the cardboard received gets recycled. If you’ve ever been to an auto shop, you know there is a lot of cardboard. They also recycle all the paper products plus perform digital inspections so there is no client paperwork. Their recycling measures extend to oil, fluids, coolant, tires and metal as well.

As far as their chemical usage is concerned, the team stores them carefully. They also utilize a self-contained parts washer spray cabinet so there’s no need for harsh chemicals and aerosol products. Any fluids they purchase come in bulk and are stored in 300-gallon tanks that are reusable. 

If you visit their shop, you will see the difference as well. They use low energy LED lighting, which reduces power consumption. There’s also minimal landscaping to reduce the water needed to operate. Time spent with customers is used to educate on fuel consumption. When a customer comes in for emissions inspection, the vehicle is confirmed to fall within the compliance levels. 

Find a Mechanic or Join the Openbay Network

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