Body Shop Owner Goes From a Big City to a Small Town

Body Shop Owner Goes From a Big City to a Small Town

Dave Zamora decided to step away from the Bay Area and its fast-paced environment by opening Zamora Auto Body in Valley Springs, CA, almost two decades ago.

Zamora fixes 20-30 vehicles every month, with his team of seven people, in a small town of roughly 5,000 people.

Zamora, 61, has been in and around collision shops since he was in the third grade when he started detailing cars, masking them for paint, and in some cases, driving them into the booth. When he was a junior in high school, he began doing fleet work and learned how to become a combo tech.

Zamora appreciates a quiet and simple lifestyle—one without traffic jams and crazy home prices. However, you will find that a small town has its own set of obstacles once you move there. "When I moved here in 1999, there was nothing except a small grocery store here and a post office," he said. "Eight years ago we got a Taco Bell and when we finally got a Starbucks a few years back, we thought we had it made."

There are only two other small body shops in town, so Zamora is familiar who those who live in this community of Valley Springs. "I know that I better do a good job for all of my customers," he said. "If I see one of my customers at a restaurant, I want them to pick up the tab instead of picking up a ketchup bottle and throwing it at me. If I ever did a poor repair, everyone in this town would know a few days later. As one of the few shops in town, I have a responsibility to do excellent work and that's one reason why I don't have any DRPs. I don't have to compromise my quality and that's the only way I can operate."

Zamora has faced many difficulties while running his small shop in a tiny town. "My main issue is that I'm having problems recycling plastic bumpers properly. The only recycling company in this area is more than an hour away. So, it doesn’t make sense financially to get one of my employees to load up the bumpers and drive them there and back. I lose an employee for at least two hours and if I want to hire someone else to do the job, it's costly. I have always done everything I could to run a green business, but now it's a lot harder because of my location."

Despite no longer having DRPs anymore, Zamora faces an ongoing battle with insurance adjustors over recycling costs. "I told them that no one will come all this way to pick up bumpers," he said. "When I tried to charge them for disposal, they said no way. One claims rep supervisor told me to cut the bumpers into small pieces and put them in the regular trash, but I won't do that. It's illegal and irresponsible—I could get cited and fined. The insurance companies don't seem to care about the environment—they just want to save money and get the lowest price they can."

With 50 bumpers or more stacking up and no one willing to pick them up, Zamora is stuck and not happy. "LKQ used to pick them up and haul them away, but not anymore. We do have a recycler here in town, but they won't take them anymore either. If I want to cut them up, it takes around 10-15 minutes for each one, which means I lose an employee, which is something I can't afford, especially if we're busy."

Furthermore, with Sacramento more than 60 miles away, Zamora has trouble getting his parts on time and at reasonable rates. "Some part suppliers told me they cannot come here anymore," he said. "The suppliers, who do come, despite the distance, charge me fuel charges. When I asked the insurance companies to cover those costs, they said no way–they refuse to pay."

On top of it all, Zamora said he is paying more to fix cars in southern California in comparison to the price to fix cars in northern California. "These insurance companies base our rates on their surveys, but that really needs to change, because the cost of the repair is the same, whether we're here or in the Bay Area. They tell me that house prices are lower here, and that's why they pay me less, but I tell them I'm fixing cars, not houses. We purchase our products from the same vendors as all of the other auto body shops in this state. We get paid the same, but our prices are not the same, due to surcharges and additional delivery taxes. One example is the glass industry—Safelite and Lynx collect a disposal fee from us, yet the insurance companies won’t give it to us."

Working in collision repair for around 40 years has been a great career for Zamora. He now owns several homes and the property where his shop currently stands. He wanted to build a new facility a few years ago, but local zoning laws got in the way. "I bought five acres and started making plans to build my dream shop," he said. "But then the county decided to change the area to a residential zone and I was left hanging. I may build another house there, but I'm not sure."

Zamora thought that moving to the country would be peaceful, but now he’s thinking about retiring earlier than he had anticipated. "It's a different world out here and a great place to retire, but running a body shop in this town is not easy. I have more than 40 classic old cars I want to restore, and the best part is that the insurance companies, recyclers or parts companies won't be able to mess with me anymore!"

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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