Essential Business: Local garages keep motorists on road

Owner of State Street Motors Chris Burkert takes a tire off of a car at his Dover business. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Motor vehicles always have their ways of breaking down.

That is what’s helping to keep Chris Burkert’s State Street Motors auto repair business — and other small businesses like his — running on all cylinders, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Burkert, a U.S. Air Force veteran of 20 years, said he has noticed a lot less cars on the road which, in turn, means a lot less work for him and his mechanics at their location at 3100 South State St. in Camden, just down the street from F. Niel Postlethwait Middle School.

However, Mr. Burkert said he is keeping things positive inside the garage that he opened just more than a decade ago.

He has even hired a couple of people he knows who work in the service industry that he is paying to help clean and straighten up his business following the closure of many restaurants in the Dover area. That way he can help them out a bit financially and he can get that long-put off cleansing of his garage taken care of.

“I see a lot of people that are struggling,” Mr. Burkert said. “We’ve had a good enough last couple of years that we’re doing all right, though business has definitely dropped off. There’s not as many people on the road, so their cars aren’t breaking down quite as bad, but they are still breaking down.”

When asked if he or his mechanics have made any adjustments to their routines due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Mr. Burkert said “No” while Stacey Borchers, his fellow mechanic, said “Yes.” Mr. Borchers recommended wiping down the steering wheels with disinfectant — just to be safe.

“We’re not doing any extra service as far as jumping in the cars and cleaning them (with disinfectant),” Mr. Burkert said. “We as mechanics wash our hands a lot throughout the day — a lot more than most people. Plus, when our hands are dirty, we have a layer of grease on them that you can’t penetrate (laughing).

“Everything is pretty much the same for us. Our situation hasn’t changed. Everybody’s got their own bay (to work at) and we’re at least six feet apart.”

It’s actually Courtney Burkert, Chris’ daughter, who works at the front desk and deals directly with most of the customers at State Street Motors.

She said there is a definite difference in communicating with people over the past couple of weeks.

“I’ve had some people come in with a mask,” she said. “People will scream through the door, they’ll crack the door, or they’ll try talking through the door. People are acting weirder. There are less people trying to wait in the office as normal.

“I’m not too concerned with it. I’m behind the desk, so I’m pretty far away anyway.”

While some other businesses, such as automobile dealerships, have been shut down by the government during the coronavirus crisis, local shops such as State Street Motors keep on plugging away.

They work on all makes and models of vehicles, from engines or brakes to whatever kind of work a customer might need.

It is the flexibility to work during times like this that first attracted Mr. Burkert to the auto repair industry after working for 20 years as a jet engine mechanic.

“Flexibility is the best part to me,” he said. “You have flexibility in making your own schedule. I like to say that nowadays, I don’t own the business, the business owns me.”

Plus, he’s still working on engines, albeit on a much smaller scale than the ones attached to the wings of C-5 cargo aircraft.

The coronavirus is just another hurdle in life — and business — for Mr. Burkert, who says he always tries to keep it simple, even in difficult times.

“Everybody tells you to just use your common sense,” said Mr. Burkert. “You’ve got to work hard, work every day, treat people fair, be honest and treat people the way you want to be treated, and you’ll never have a problem.”

Oh, and he almost forgot, “remember to wash those hands — frequently.”

Keeping those vehicles clean (According to Kelly Blue Book)

Disinfectant wipes work best in your car or SUV’s cabin. It is the cleaner most used by manufacturers of most automotive interiors today. All it takes is a quick wipe to clean most germs and fingerprints. Soap and water will work, too.

We suggest spending extra time on the steering wheel. According to carrentals.com, a steering wheel can have four times the amount of germs found on an average toilet seat. For this reason, we would suggest using disinfecting wipes to clean all the surfaces on the steering wheel. These include the redundant controls for radio, voice control, cruise control, navigation, and paddle shift levers. And don’t forget about the gear selector lever or the turn indicator stalks.

Also clean the door and center console armrests, display screens, cupholders, cubbyholes, air conditioner vents. Don’t forget the door “grab handles.” You touch them more than you realize and are hot spots for germs including the coronavirus. You will very likely be surprised by the amount of dirt your wipes will pick up.

What not to use

We would advise against using any type of bleach or hydrogen peroxide on the vehicle’s interior. Both chemicals can put a welcome end to the coronavirus, but they will also cause damage to the vinyl and plastics used in most modern vehicles today. Under no circumstances should you use any ammonia-based cleaning products. These can be found in “Blue Glass Cleaners.” The ammonia breaks down the vinyl on the dashboard, making it sticky when subjected to heat and light. Additionally, to avoid damage to anti-glare coatings, the glass cleaner should not be used on touch display screens.

Finally, if you find yourself without any disinfectant wipes or other cleaners, a good scrubbing with soap and water can actually rid surfaces of coronavirus and other germs. It just may take a little bit longer to effectively clean it properly. Don’t scrub too hard, though, as you might find you are removing some of the surface coatings or dyes.

Wash your hands, often

Finally, we cannot say this enough: Clean your hands regularly. Even after cleaning your vehicle properly, if your hands are dirty, you are putting germs right back onto an already clean surface.

These tips and bits of car cleaning advice will help keep your vehicle more germ-free than if you left it to fend for itself. No amount of cleaning can guarantee you’ll avoid catching a bug, but these suggestions help to minimize the risk. The added bonus is that your car will enjoy its new status as a clean machine.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.