Dick Zaagman always has had a fascination with speed.
From the days he was on his knees pushing toy cars around, going “Vrooom,” to his first drives in junior high, he’s loved cars.
“Squealing the tires, that was always it,” Zaagman said. “The sense of acceleration has always intrigued me.”
During junior high, his grandfather would head south, to Arizona if Zaagman remembers correctly, but leave his car keys with Zaagman’s parents. He’d sneak out at night and take joyrides around the neighborhood. Eventually, he decided against continuing this activity after his friend was caught doing the same thing.
But his need for thrill is still present, and often finds himself with a lead foot.
“I have to work at not getting tickets.”
Zaagman had a career set in front of him. He would have been a fifth generation at Zaagman Memorial Chapel in Grand Rapids, but he didn’t feel that was right for him, nor were the four years of college. (Judging by the chapel’s website, likely at Wayne State’s School of Mortuary Science.)
He thought about pursuing a degree from Montcalm Community College in automotive repair but was sidetracked and ended up living in a Christian living community. To give back, he ended up helping repair cars.
“It was just getting kind of not good for the neighborhood to have these cars in the driveway,” he said. “So we decided we can start doing repair for the community.”
And so began Community Automotive Repair in 1976. He said he still has the original, and last, piece written by the Grand Rapids Press from the 70s hanging in the waiting room.
It started with the members of the living community, but as business increased, qualified mechanics had to be hired.
Although he was no longer giving 100 percent back to the community, Zaagman said he never lost his convictions.
“I still feel that I don’t want to consume all of my own income for my personal gratification,” he said. “Part of my goal is supporting other people who need it.”
Community Auto Repair helps several local nonprofits and donates labor hours for their auto repair. “Although our business needs to have a net profit, we do feel as though some of our work can be given to people who need it.”
The shop started in a corner gas station and has developed into an eight-bay garage, and pending city approval, they’ll add another four in the near future.
“As we continue to expand over the years, we know it’s a quality organization and know we are trying to make it a sustainable business as far as the environment goes.”
Zaagman’s car advice
Zaagman said cars need work as much as ever now, but increasing quality has consumers thinking otherwise. He said drivers could use a car for nearly five years with just oil changes and be fine, but with proper care, a car’s lifespan could be more than 20 years.
“Nowadays it’s very easy to forget about what cars need,” Zaagman said. “Because they’re made so well and some people don’t appreciate them.”
Twenty years ago, after a hard, cold night, Zaagman would come into work and there would be several cars that were flooded from the cold. That just doesn’t happen anymore, he said.
“We don’t have the weather issues,” he said. “Now cars have computer controls, fuel injected systems, stainless steel exhaust systems. We used to do those types of things daily, now we hardly do them. Now you can drive a car for years and do nothing more than oil changes. That’s not recommended but you can.”
Zaagman still recommends most of the fluids be changed regularly, such as brake fluids, transmission fluids, steering fluids and spark plugs, among other things. But if things run smoothly, why bring the car in?
If taken care of, even when there aren’t funny noises, cars can last a long time. Zaagman is fond of quality, modern European cars, not vintage American muscle cars. He spoke about the odd end the lines for the various car types. American and Asian cars tend to rust out. European cars tend to have mechanical failure before the build quality gives out.