Burned auto shop’s violations frustrate customer

Firefighters battle a large fire at an auto shop in Grand Rapids. (Oct. 12, 2015)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The auto repair shop that nearly burned to the ground Monday has a history of violations for allegedly using unlicensed mechanics.

Late Monday morning, Guevera Auto on Blaine Avenue in southeast Grand Rapids caught fire after a worker drilled a hole in a vehicle’s gas tank, sparking the blaze that quickly spread out of control.

A huge plume of smoke rises from an auto repair shop in Grand Rapids. (Courtesy Frank Werner via ReportIt)
(A huge plume of smoke rises from the auto shop fire.)

>>Photos: Fire guts Grand Rapids business

For the past three years, Guevara Auto’s owner, Florentino Guevara, has been cited by the state for allegedly operating with at least one unlicensed mechanic working on cars. Still, each year, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office renewed the shop’s business license.

It’s a frustrating fact for Desmond Howard, who said that had he known about the shop’s issues, he wouldn’t have left his car there. It was burned beyond recognition in Monday’s blaze, which he only discovered when he arrived to pick the vehicle up on Wednesday.

Now he’s struggling to figure out what to do and says the shop is refusing to return his $400 deposit for the planned repair.

“I would never have brought my car here if I knew,” Howard said. “[The shop is] on the Internet and everything so you would assume … that they are legit.”

Guevara and his business partner, Nacho Cabrera, do have mechanic’s licenses. Neither of them were the one using the drill that caused the fire.

“He got his helper and I don’t know if he’s got license or not,” Cabrera said.

“Check with the Secretary of State if we don’t have licenses, but I have my mechanic’s license,” Guevara told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday, speaking in Spanish.

Guevara did not say whether the person using the drill the day of the fire had a license. He eventually grew frustrated and began yelling and cursing in Spanish at a 24 Hour News 8 reporter before slamming the gate near his auto shop.

Mechanics, including Cabrera, struggle to understand why the worker would have been using an electric drill to puncture a vehicle’s gas tank.

“I would be hard pressed to come up with a legitimate reason to be drilling a hole in a gas tank,” said Tom Toft, the co-owner at Heritage Service Centre, a Grand Rapids auto repair shop that has been in business since the late ’80s.

“I really don’t know why” the worker would have drilled into the gas tank, Cabrera said. “Just — maybe some kind of dumb stupid, you know.”

The Secretary of State’s Office responded to an inquiry from 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday, saying it is deciding what to do in response to the most recent violation discovered about two weeks before the fire. During an inspection on Sept. 22, investigators once again discovered an unlicensed mechanic working in the facility.

“The department takes action depending on the seriousness of a violation with the goal of bringing the facility into compliance. We may provide additional training, for example, as we continue to monitor and perform additional inspections. If a facility fails to comply with regulations, the department may take more serious action,” Gisgie Gendreau said in a written statement. “That’s where this particular business was in the process and that’s why our investigator visited the facility on Sept. 22. We are currently reviewing the report from that visit to determine appropriate action.”

The state says it’s “not uncommon” for its investigators to find unlicensed mechanics at auto shops.

The issue raises an important warning for buyers. Even if customers ensure their auto shop is licensed, that doesn’t also ensure that all the people working there are, too.

Toft from Heritage Service Centre says shop owners should be able to show customers their mechanics’ licenses if they ask. The shop’s license should be posted where you can see it.

The Secretary of State’s Office also has resources to help consumers determine if their repair shop is licensed by the state and file complaints with the department.

Toft recommends customers ask questions to protect themselves.

“The only question that’s the dumb one is the one that you don’t ask,” he said.

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Online Secretary of State resources:

Auto repair rights and tips

Verify an auto dealer or repairer’s license

File a complaint about a dealer or repair facility

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