By Lauren Ferrone
Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Updated: May 16, 2019 at 9:36 am
Good auto repairers might have oil on their hands, but the best have yellow illuminated signs outside their workshops. This year marks four decades since the RAA Approved Repairer service was implemented. We chat to Tim Byrne from Belair Road Auto – an RAA Approved Repairer which has been there from the beginning.
Belair Road Auto owner Tim Byrne has come a long way as an auto electrician since he nearly blew up his mum’s 1972 canary yellow Ford Escort at the age of 16.
“I’d just got my licence and thought I’d be smart with mum’s car,” he laughs.
“I don’t remember exactly what I did, but there was a lot of smoke coming out. I was just waving the fumes away, trying to pretend nothing happened.”
Unbeknownst to Tim at the time, it was the beginning of his automotive career.
“I started to really take an interest in tinkering around the car to see how I could fix a problem,” he says.
It wasn’t long after that Tim saw an ad for an auto-electrician apprenticeship at a car garage on South Rd.
He applied and has been in the industry ever since, even owning his own garage just two years after getting his trade.
“I thankfully never had any major mishaps under the bonnet like I did with mum’s car,” he says.
So, what’s been Tim’s driving force behind staying in the industry for three decades. “It’s the satisfaction of fixing the problem.”
But that’s just part of the reason for sticking at it. Family is another big motivator. In 1994, Tim went into business with his dad Rod who, at the time, was a bank manager. The father and son duo purchased Belair Road Auto, which was known as Frank Gready’s Auto Electrical Services when it opened in 1947.
They “didn’t always see eye-to-eye”, but spending more than a decade in business together was an impressive feat.
“The partnership probably lasted so long partly due to the fact I worked out the back and the old man was out the front,” Tim jokes.
Rod retired in 2006, but the Byrne family name is stronger than ever. Tim’s wife Lynette and his son Jordon – the workshop’s newest apprentice – both work at the garage.
Just 10 months ago, another family member was welcomed into the workshop – miniature schnauzer Chillie-Anne.
The cheeky pup’s name might suit her fiery personality, but Chillie’s bark is bigger than her bite.
“She likes to greet customers by jumping up on the counter. She’s fiery but friendly, and is like family to us.
“Customers often ask where Chillie is before they even say hello to me,” he laughs.
Although Belair Road Auto has always had a workshop dog, it’s more than family and furry friends that add credibility to the garage.
Long before Tim and his dad took over the business, Belair Road Auto was an RAA Approved Repairer. In fact, the garage was one of the first to be endorsed by RAA when the service started in 1979. It remains part of the RAA Approved Repairer family today.
“There’s always been someone watching over us, and the customer has that reassurance they’re looking for,” Tim says.
“It reminds us of the standard we should be holding. It’s a no-brainer concept and a grand idea that’s come a long way.”
Indeed, it has. Today, the purpose of the RAA Approved Repairer network remains much the same – to put the member first. Along the way, however, camaraderie has been forged among South Australia’s motoring industry.
“We’ve built a relationship with RAA over the years and got some great contacts,” says Tim, who adds that back in the day, one of his apprentices lasted three months before he left to become an RAA Patrol.
“If we have a situation with a customer and can’t see eye-to-eye, it makes life a bit easier knowing we have someone to call for an unbiased opinion.”
It’s not just Belair Road Auto that’s been around for the whole journey – here’s what other RAA Approved Repairers, who also joined the network in 1979, had to say 40 years on:
Tom Archontidis, Dave Potter Honda
samotor: Dave Potter has a long-standing reputable presence in South Australia. Can you tell us a bit how the business came to be?
Tom Archontidis: Despite hailing from Brunswick in Melbourne, Dave Potter is known as a household name in South Australia to this day. He left Victoria for SA to join the Air Force and, soon after, became a panel beater. That’s when he bought the workshop in 1948 which was in Keswick at the time. When Dave retired in 1987 at the age of 60, his son Chris – whom had been working as an apprentice mechanic since the age of 15 – took over the business.
samotor: How did you get involved at Dave Potter Honda?
TA: I’ve been with Dave Potter Honda for more than 20 years. My first car was a 1983 Honda Civic, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the brand. When I was younger, my friends would laugh at me because the previous owner who was a little old lady had kept the plastic inserts on the door trimmings. It looked like glad wrap, but I never took it off.
samotor: Dave Potter Honda was the first RAA Approved Repairer to join the network in 1979. Can you tell us a bit about that decision?
TA: No doubt the reason Dave was the first South Australian repairer to jump on board was because his work ethic was always to put his customers first. Being an RAA Approved Repairer gave the workshop – and still gives the workshop – credibility and our customers feel safe, like they’re not being taken for a ride. It helps that Dave Potter and RAA have similar values, and I think that’s what made the decision easier.
samotor: Can you describe how being an RAA Approved Repairer has benefited the business over the years?
TA: As a family business, people really like dealing with people they can trust. No doubt RAA ranks extremely high in a brand you can trust. It’s the perfect match when you’ve got a two highly respected businesses with good reputations working alongside each other.
The number of RAA Approved Repairers in SA.
Jeff Neale, Paradise Motors
samotor: Tell us a bit about the background of Paradise Motors.
Jeff Neale: My dad Reg was working as an apprentice to a gentleman who owned the business before dad purchased the repair shop in 1956. Back then it was a Volkswagen franchise until about a decade later when it became a Mazda franchise. Dad had to sell his car at the time just to buy some tools to work on the VWs.
samotor: How did you get involved?
JN: I joined the business straight out of school and began my apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, and dad and I have been working together ever since – it’s been more than 40 years now.
samotor: What’s been the key to success to working with family for so many years?
JN: I’ve got a lot of respect for dad and how he treated and, to this today, still treats his staff and customers. The business has always been very family orientated and I’ve tried to replicate those values in my own work.
samotor: What benefit did Paradise Motors see in becoming one of the first RAA Approved Repairers in 1979?
JN: For dad, I think the decision came as an easy one and relates back to his values. The RAA Approved Repairer network is like a family, just like we are. Even back then, dad instilled it in me to become an RAA member when I first got my driver’s licence. I remember one conversation when someone asked dad why he was an RAA member when he’s got his own workshop. His response was, “if I’m out on the road with a flat battery and need help, what good is my workshop?”
samotor: Have you seen any change in how the industry has changed since the RAA Approved Repairer network began?
JN: The automotive industry on a whole has experienced change – changes to car technology and how motor mechanics conduct business. We’ve now got a confident and independent organisation to refer to if we ever need.