Harmony Motorsin Bellingham may do good work on wasserboxes but they REFUSE to work on air-cooled VWs. Maybe they have their reasons, but when they wouldn't even look at my noisy brakes because the van is air-cooled I wonder about them.
In defence of Harmony Mtr Wks:
Harmony, like many shops won't work on new customers cars that are quite old. I have spoken to many shops about this and the reason being is that in many cases the cost of repairs often exceeds the value of the cars. In the case of Harmony, they have enough work with existing customers that it is hard to take on what is increasingly marginal work. The other problem is that there are fewer technicians that have experiance on the air cooled cars. I know that in Harmony's case, Mark Bender (Owner) is the only one in the shop that does any aircooled work anymore (for current customers). I know that this can and does create hardships for thems that can't get their cars worked on, I would much rather have someone be honest and work only on what they have competence in than the reverse.
I know that Harmony is committed to keeping to running a top notch shop, and their vanagon work is largley a labor of love. I will say that they have been scupuliously honest in every dealing I know of.
PS I have no affiliation with Harmony except for being a long time customer.
PPS. There is a shop on McKenzie Ave.,down by the Alaska Ferry teriminal that will still work on aircooled. I know nothing about thier rep.
If a factory dealer, I would vigorously demand that NO VW dealer should be allowed to refuse to work on an older vehicle. Independents do have the right to define their market as long as they are consistent and clearly advertise as such.
I think Harmony's refusal to work on a non-engine matter for an older model may not be good business sense, but well within their stated policy. It is not reasonable to expect them to do jobs for which they must stock parts, tools or other support needs, but . . .. [I would hope they have the make & models they do work on posted, to avoid customer embarrassment.]
Air-cooled brakes require NO special tools or skills not already in place for the water-cooled Vanagons; OE & OEM parts are readily available from their established suppliers (many are interchangeable); and -- and this is why I say it makes no business sense -- where do they think their next Vanagon customers are going to come from?
"I'll take a look for $X diagnosis fee. If it is something we can do with existing techs & tools, and I can get parts promptly, we'll do the repairs for the additional standard rates. If not, since this is outside our market, I'll recommend a couple of shops." Which approach will get that customer's business when he upgrades to a Vanagon or Eurovan?
On the other hand, how did the customer go in, attitude-wise? "I've got this clunker that looks like it & I want a cheap brake job because the dealer is too expensive?" Or "I'm trying to restore & bring this Type II up to standards and could you look at a brake problem and give me some advice & recommendations?" One will get you "I'm busy"; the other, usually a sympathetic ear.
icarus: I hope you'll pass this on the ther management. Often, it's not the policy, but how it's handled, explained and what exceptions they make. Just "We don't work on air-cooled!" would have me as miffed as microbusdeluxe
As with most things, things are not always the way they seem. I had a converstaion with Mark today on this very subject. I am not going to speculate what was or should have been said.
The bottom line is that Harmony is a very well equipped shop with 5 very experianced "techs" (I guess we don't call them mechanics anymore!) They work or all german cars, plus most japanese, plus volvo and saab. As time goes on there are fewer and fewer viable Westys on the road. In order to cover the overhead of the shop, including specialty tools, wages, benefits, etc these guys have to stay busy.
As I said before, they will work on any existing customers car forever. One problem is there are a fair number of old busses and bugs around this town, but a considerable number of them are owned and maintained by the John Muir school of ownership. A great many of these people either are unwilling or unable to pay the freight. I do understand the dilema both for the business and the customer. I used to run into this in my construction business. Potential clients would ask for a new bath and kitchen, and perhaps if I could throw in a deck for $10 grand. Occasionaly I found people who genuinly had no clue what things should cost, but often the response was, my neighbor down the street will do it for $10 an hour. No overhead, no insurance, no standing behind the work. "Hire him" I would say "if you realy want the work done."
I also know that Mark and his guys are more than willing to share advice, even tools on occasion.
I don't in anyway want to cast aspersions on microbusdelux, in fact I empathize with him. The two great values in this site are the access to information to do things ourselfs, and the references to those that can help us. In the case of a shop that can't or won't work on a specific car, at least we can try to find one that will. Because one won't work on a particular vintage type 2 does not suspect them for any other work. In fact it is, in my mind a good thing. I have had endless trouble trying to find people to work on my Detroit iron, because most independent shops work on "all vehicles"
Good luck and post any info on any other shops you find.
Port Angeles, WA. After living in the area for a while, I have learned that a place trusted by locals for VW service is Bruce's Specialty Auto on Ennis. Further support of this, a tow truck driver told me this shop is requested by the majority of Syncro and VW owners who have needed a tow.
So far, out of the millions of shops I have had to get aquainted with owning a Westy, Peterson's Motors has been the best by leaps and bounds.
Lisa, my wife and I, lived in Alaska and drove our crippled VW hundreds of miles thru Alaskan backcountry and Yukon territory down to Mike's shop in Washington. Have yet to find a good mechanic in Alaska, at least where I lived.
They repaired our VW and got it running without another incident for over a year. My only comment would be that there parts prices seemed a little high. I liked their thoroughness and the fact that they really stood behind their work.
Since my rag on Harmony Motors in Bellingham seems to have ignited some discussion I'd like to offer a belated clarification on my encounter with them. Before I begin let me say I appreciate both Icarus' & Capt. Mike's discussion of the matter and agree with what they are both saying.
Bellingham does have a number of hippie vans. However, I in my case I drive a primo, clean 1981 Westy. New paint, interior, shiny gel coat top, Go Westy wheels & tires, it is one sweet rig that always gets compliments & inquiries about buying it. (Not as many inquiries as my old 65 deluxe, but that's another story). Attitude wise I am not aggressive and my inquiry to Harmony was in full expectation of paying a fair price for fixing the problem. They truly shut me off with a prompt curt "We don't work on air-cooled". I said "Yeah those old engines can be tricky, but I thought the brakes were similiar on all vanagons." They repeated, "I'm sorry but we just don't work on any of the old air-cooled buses or vanagons, you might try the dealer". So I don't recommend them, nor do I take my Subaru Outback to them. If they have enough customers, I guess this makes it one of those win-win situations everyone's always talking about.
Last edited by Capt. Mike; 05-17-2008 at 02:41 PM.