A recent survey suggests that about 77% of cars are in need of maintenance or repairs, which means that more than three-fourths of drivers may suddenly find themselves with a large repair bill — or without wheels altogether. For those who rely on such a car to get themselves to work, this kind of surprise can impact their entire livelihood.
This is one reason that Bob Anderson of AJ’s Auto Repair in Salem, OR, runs the Wheels and Wishes donation program out of his shop.
“People really need a car now when they fall on hard times,” Anderson told the Statesman Journal Dec. 26. So when Anderson and his mechanics come across someone who desperately needs or deserves a working vehicle, they fix it for free, or sometimes even offer the owner a replacement car.
Over the holiday season, house cleaner Carmen Garcia was struggling to keep her 1987 Toyota Camry running so she could get to her clients, who are spread out between Keizer and Silverton.
One customer, named Sandy DeLuna, emailed AJ’s. “Carmen is a very good and reliable person who gets to her jobs whether her car works or not,” she wrote. “If you could help Carmen, it would be such a relief to her, and I know she would be so appreciative.”
The shop reached out to Garcia and had her car towed into the shop. When the technicians discovered that it might need engine or transmission repair — not worth the expense in such an old vehicle — they offered her a pick of three cars they had in the shop waiting for new owners.
Laura Fosmire of the Statesman Journal reported that Garcia “seemed a little embarrassed by the attention” as she gratefully picked out a 2002 navy blue Chevy Cavalier the morning of Dec. 26. And, Fosmire wrote, “after shaking each of the mechanic’s hands and waving goodbye,” Garcia “headed straight for work.”
Anderson said the program has been running informally for eight or nine years, though it’s been filed as a nonprofit with the state only since April of 2013.
“There will be three, four, five cars a year that we do,” Anderson said. “We even have a few cars here, we’re just waiting to hear about people who need them.”
Anderson also said it’s a fun way to help out the community that his entire shop can be proud of. “The guys really enjoy doing it,” he shared. “They get more fun out of it than the people who get the cars.”