Auto skills center offers DIY help

Freedom New Mexico: Eric Butler Major Chris Wyatt changes a fuel pump on his vehicle at the Auto Skills Center on base. Wyatt, who transfered to Cannon from Hurlburt AFB in Florida, said he always looks for auto centers such as this one whenever he moves to a new facility.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

When Leonard Marchman took a job at Cannon Air Force Base several years ago, it was to be an auto mechanic. In a way, though, Marchman’s position at the Auto Skills Center on base has kind of evolved to be a teacher as well.

Marchman is still a mechanic as he and three others are employed to work on vehicles at the facility. As the head of the shop, he’s also the chief instructor for servicemen and women who want to perform minor auto repairs themselves.

The Auto Skills Center offers inexpensive rates for a variety of services, or self-services as the case may be.

“It’s a do-it-yourself type of shop. We do provide oil changes, alignments, diagnostics, brake work, suspension work,” said Marchman, who has been running the shop since 2001. “What we don’t do is major teardowns. It’s not that we don’t want to or don’t know how, we just don’t have time to get to it.”

Called a “hobby shop” by Marchman, this kind of hobby can often cost the practitioner plenty of money. But oil changes are $13 for the center’s customers and a basic diagnostic check is free while more advanced ones range between $20 and $45.

Part of the reason for the services costing below market rate is that the customers are doing the work themselves — with some help.

Marchman, who’s from Clovis, said he enjoys helping out the lesser experienced would-be mechanics in his midst.

“To a certain degree, yeah. It depends upon the person, really. A lot of them can be really eager, they want to know how to do it,” said Marchman, who estimates that around 100 cars come in and out of the Auto Skills Center in a week. “Others, maybe a tenth of one percent, come up and ask you a question. You answer the question for them and everything and they go do exactly the opposite. Those are the ones that get under your skin.”

Tripp Johnson, a first lieutenant, said he appreciates the hands-on instruction provided by the staff — as well as the cheap rates. Johnson added he didn’t necessarily have a background in auto repair on any level when he started using the facility.

“Not really. I just showed up once and started working on my car and these guys have been really helpful, teaching me everything that I had to do,” Johnson, 25, said. “I’ve changed an oil filter, a cabin air filter, an air filter, done a 60,000-mile maintenance check. I enjoy it and it’s cheap — it’s a couple of bucks and about half-hour to get in and use the bay.

“It’s much better than crawling into it in your driveway, I think,” he added. “I used to take it to Wal-Mart because I have a lifetime rotation and balance there, but it’s just not worth my time.”

Some aren’t in need of much instruction.

Major Chris Wyatt, 42, said he looks for similar centers every time he’s transferred to a new base and that they come in handy at times.

“The shop I had recommended to me, they were booked up for a week,” said Wyatt, who instead stayed on base to replace a fuel pump himself.