Texas nonprofit helps low-income vehicle owners afford auto repairs

Texas nonprofit helps low-income vehicle owners afford auto repairs

This article originally appeared on Shop Press

by  | Jan 24, 2023

At any given time, about 1 in 5 vehicle owners are delaying some sort of auto repair, with the most common reason being that they can’t afford it, according to the Auto Care Association Factbook. All this deferred work adds up to an estimated $31 billion that drivers would like to spend on fixing cars and trucks, but often can’t.

For repair providers, that’s a big opportunity, but for vehicle owners it can often mean crisis. Drivers strapped for cash can face a choice between ignoring a needed repair and making it worse, or adding to their financial woes by using expensive credit to pay for it.

A nonprofit in northern Texas named Autocare Haven has been working for a few years now to address this problem in its local community. Focusing on veterans, senior citizens, single parents, and low-income households, the group takes donations to pay for applicants’ repairs through its network of approved mechanics.

Manuel Tellez founded the organization after he had a nightmarish experience with a series of repairs needed on his 2002 Dodge Ram 1500. The aging pickup needed a series of repairs, culminating in the replacement of its heater core, and he didn’t have the money on hand. With limited options, he took out a payday loan for $1,000. With the extreme fees and interest associated with those types of loans, it cost him $7,000 by the time he was done repaying it.

While he was going through that ordeal, he wound up talking to a number of other people who took out similar loans, and auto repair was a common reason. In that area, like many suburban or rural areas, not having an automobile doesn’t leave you with many good transportation alternatives, whether you’re going to work, the doctor’s office, or just to buy food.

“Here, you basically have three options,” he said. “You can walk, which is not a good option because the sidewalks here are terrible. Mass transit is horrible, too. I’ve seen some lists that have us at the very bottom in terms of what’s available, maybe second to last. And the third option is Uber or Lyft, but those get expensive very quickly.”

Tellez started looking around to see if there were any nearby programs that offer support for work like this, and all he found were a few random churches that offered some basic services like oil changes for their congregations. So, in 2018, he did something about it, founding Autocare Haven as an official 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

“Folks want to be able to provide for themselves and their family, they’re not lazy,” Tellez said. “But they’re also living paycheck to paycheck, and when they see a leak from their water pump, the question is how they’re going to be able to afford it. A lot of times, something small like that can develop into something like a cracked engine block if it isn’t taken care of. We get in there before it can escalate.”

It took a couple years to get it geared up, and of course COVID threw a wrench in things, so last year was the first that they were able to start ramping up services. They fixed about 16 vehicles in 2022 and held six events at the local community center and affordable housing complexes. The techs they work with handle everything from brakes and tires to CV axles and strut assemblies, only turning away more complex and expensive engine and transmission jobs.

In one recent case, they helped a single mother of three who was living in transitional housing and needed her 20-year-old Ford Escape to take her kids to school. The vehicle was shaking so badly it was unsafe to drive, and they provided a laundry list of repairs for free. When it was complete, the woman’s youngest child walked outside to thank the mobile technician who did the work.

“The way she said it really touched him,” he said. “It’s one thing when you’re providing services to a paying customer, but it’s another when you’re able to help someone like this just trying to survive.”

This year, he said they plan to more than double their impact, reapring between 30 to 70 vehicles and holding a monthly “Top-Off Event,” where people can drive up to get their vehicle fluids topped off for free and get a technician to take a look under the hood.

“If the mechanic notices something, like a cracked thermostat housing, they’ll let the owner know to prevent it from becoming something worse,” Tellez said.

They currently work with half a dozen local mobile mechanics to provide the services, although they’ve received a dozen more applications since the local public radio station did a story on the organization that got picked up by National Public Radio. Shops and mobile techs can apply on the Autocare Haven website, which is also where vehicle owners can apply, and where donors can make a tax-deductible donation, whether money or even their own vehicle.

In the course of the last few years Tellez has heard of a few other similar organizations and services elsewhere. In the Greater Houston area there’s a group called God’s Garage that provides auto repairs to single mothers, widows and wives of deployed soldiers, and in Lubbock, Texas, there’s another called Wrench It Forward that aims to move people out of poverty and homelessness with low-cost car repairs. He recently heard of another in Florida.

Right now, Tellez said he’s only planning on growing their services in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, which alone comprises 11 counties and more than 7 million people.

“Just focusing on this area will keep us busy for a long while,” he said.

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  1. I have a daughter who is a single parent of 5. She is really struggling and has a 10-12 year old Volvo in desperate need of repair. I live 5 hours away and can’t do much. Would you be able to “look under the hood” to see what repairs are needed?

  2. I am a single dad of 2 who is financially struggling & has a 2012 Dodge Durango Crew that I expect any day is gonna give out. I drive everyday to work an hr & I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do if my car dies on me. PLEASE HELP

  3. I’m a single mom of 3 I work part time at elementary school what I make ain’t enough to fix my car all my money goes towards rent to have a roof over my kids heads I know a few things wrong with the car but don’t have no help from no one I probably won’t even get a reply I tried signing up for rent relief twice to see if I can get help so I can fix my car with my check and nope I was cutt off cause so many people like myself struggling in this world

  4. My girlfriend is in the hospital her car broke down today July 4th we need help really bad I cannot afford to get this car fixed it’s a timing chain issue please give me a call 325-710-8937 or call Joanna Sosa 432-517-2135

  5. I have a 2010 Ford f150 I’m 60 years old it needs some work for me to get back and forth to work and home.

  6. My sister in law is a single mother of two. Truly single mom, 1 dad died and the other is in prison for life. She works as much as she can but still is struggling.
    My wife and I have helped as much as we can financially but we just found out she had a Lainey last of issues with her truck. She needs help and we can’t find above who will help. Yesterday her truck broke down 4hrs from home and we paid 1700 to tow her and the truck home. Now we’re told it’s her, ball joints, tie rod ends, shocks and several leaks in the front end.. sounds like she needs a front end replacement. Can someone help?

  7. Hi. I am disabled and my car stopped running it will turn over but won’t start. This is my only means of transportation. I have 2 girls that 1 i need to do school shopping for and appointments coming up and I’m on social security and I don’t have the money to fix this car. Can you please help.

  8. I have a car that is in need of repair. We are senior citizens, and I am struggling with non small cell lung cancer, I just need a check engine light (EGR). and a few other small things to pass inspection, the car is 95 Crown Victoria LX. I am unable to do the work myself.

  9. Iam a disabled veteran took my truck to shop cost all my food money for some work on transmission Saturday Mon started worse took back now told transmission will have to be replaced I have no one no family horrible credit please help

  10. I’m a 43 year old single mother in Waco texas my car has been down for four months the transmission fluid is leaking in with the coolant I lost my main job due to the fact I can’t get there on time due to my ride being messed up . I has copd and breast cancer I rely on my car for work and treatment please help me

  11. Hi my name is Jason. I need help. My vehicle is disabled. This vehicle is transportation for myself and my roommate. He have been battling aids for a while. My roommate also has a major stroke. I can get a ride for our medical through Medicaid. But not for food or Living. Like getting household essentials like toilet paper or food.

  12. my truck broke down I live in Jefferson Texas Marion county miles away from town . I have no family that lives anywhere close by to be able to help. I’m stranded here unless my neighbors go to town and are willing to let me ride with . do you have a place that can help pay for my car being fixed so I can get a job. and get back on my feet please how does anyone survive like this

  13. I just need a complete car. Sorry but my story is too long and complicated. Please help, will explain upon meeting

  14. My car broke down and I lost my job and I just had a child and I have a two year old and a six year old that I could not get to where they need to go

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