To Tim Bonner, it makes little difference whether you drive a compact car or an MTA bus—he's willing to fix it.
Although Bonner gave up turning wrenches about a decade ago, when he moved Tim's Towing & Automotive from Gardenville to Carney, he still diagnoses problems and test drives every vehicle before it rolls out of his garage and makes sure that his staff carries out repairs "the Tim's way".
To him that means that repairs are carried out with "honesty and integrity" and, to use an old cliche, that "the customer is always right."
"We're fair and honest, that's the main thing—not many people like that anymore," Bonner said. "The staff we have, they're second to none—really just top notch ... in the office, our drivers and technicians. They've all been with me a long time."
Bonner, 47, said that getting into auto repair was a natural progression for him—as a child he was always working on bicycles and lawnmowers, and when he turned 16 he fell in love with his first car, a 1971 Chevrolet Impala.
"I've been involved with it my whole life, cars were my niche… I just liked playing with cars then I rolled it into an empire," Bonner said.
That "empire", which includes Tim's Towing, Tim's Automotive, and Tim's Electric & Auto Battery, started in a two bay garage in the 5500 block of Belair Road in 1987 when he was just 22 years old.
As the business grew, Bonner decided he needed a larger location and decided to move to Carney where he designed the shop on Joppa Road.
"I didn't want to move my existing business too far away from where I was ... I had a circle, where I wanted to go. This was the best place to be—a good, hard-working-class, family-oriented neighborhood," Bonner said.
Still, moving the established business and investing in building was nerve-wracking.
"When you're uprooting your business from one place to another and getting into a million dollar debt it's ... different," he said. "[You wonder] is everybody still going to come? Well, if you build it, they will come; we built it and they came, just like Field of Dreams."
Since moving to Carney, Bonner said his company has become involved in the community—offering free car care clinics at Parkville Senior Center and the shop, and volunteering at area schools.
"We do the free car care clinic at the shop every November," Bonner said. "We show people how to visually check tires and check their oil, that kind of thing. It gets our name out in the community and makes us more than just a garage. I love mingling with people, meeting people. Quite honestly, I like to share my knowledge that I've collected through the years. Hopefully someone will take that and do what I did."
Bonner explained that growing the business from a two-bay garage to a shop that services 25 cars each day wasn't always easy, but he's always had help.
His father was an investor in the original shop, a brother worked alongside him for a decade, and these days his sister, Pat McElroy runs Tim's Electric & Auto Battery on Old Harford Road.
Beyond that, credit goes to the his 36 staff members: "I have a great staff, they’re hard-working and their integrity is above the board. We work together as a team and we’re always out there looking for business to get through the rough times," Bonner said.
In the future, he hopes to grow the Tim's brand even futher and open a shop that works on heavy duty trucks—especially tractor trailers.
"The community is definitely supportive—absolutely. We're here to stay for a long time, hopefully," he said.
In his years as a mechanic, Bonner said that he's seen cars last to 300,000 miles on the odometer and freely offers the following advice to those who'd like to see their vehicle last as long:
- Change the engine oil on a regular scheduled maintenance. "Do not mess up with with changing the oil, that's the blood of the body, fresh oil will take your car a long way."
- Follow manufacturers scheduled maintenance.
- Be preventive, not reactive. "If a warning light comes on bring it in and get it looked away. It could save you a lot of money.; don't ignore it just because you think it's no big deal.
"If you do those the car will last forever," he said.