Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned


Ever since I was a kid, I gravitated toward cars, basically anything with a motor. I was always fascinated by the mechanics of cars and how they operated. So it wasn’t uncommon for me to carry a wrench or two and go to town repairing anything I could get my hands on.

I started this journey back in high school taking auto shop classes (yes folks, auto shop did exist, but that’s another story) at Washington High in Fremont, where I graduated. While in high school, I landed a job pumping gas (yes, another job that has fallen by the wayside) and did minor repairs at a local Chevron station. In fact, I managed to save enough money to purchase my very first car, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino–a duplicate of the one used in the movie “Gran Torino.” Imagine that!


Looking back, I found myself getting more experience under my belt with an assortment of cars. I worked in a small auto repair shop, and later as a truck and heavy equipment mechanic. I even took on a job as an electrician for a number of years. But I couldn’t walk away from cars, and luckily, I stumbled on to a “help wanted” ad at Concord Mitsubishi. They were looking for a mechanic, so I jumped on it and within a few years, I worked my way from mechanic to factory trained master-level technician. It was a great accomplishment for me.


Today’s mechanics require a different set of skills, more specialized training.


Being in this business all these years, I marvel at the complexity of today’s cars, and at the speed technology sprung up. I know I’m saying the obvious, but back in the day, cars were slapped together with basic components: points, condenser, and a carburetor. Those items are obsolete in today’s model, and we now see computers and modules. Today’s mechanics require a different set of skills, more specialized training. And add to that, new and expensive machinery just to thoroughly inspect, test, and repair vehicles. All this adds to the cost of getting your car repaired, which folks don’t realize until the factory warranty expires, and they have to take their car in for service. It’s simply the nature of the beast.


In 2006, I was presented with the opportunity to purchase an existing auto repair shop in Brentwood called Monkey Wrenches. It was a gamble because the business had fallen on hard times and getting it back on its feet would be a challenge. But I saw a diamond in the rough. I scraped together some money, partnered with an investor, and we got the ball rolling. We started with the purchase equipment, then we renegotiated the lease of the shop, and finally, we hired staff. I remember I was so broke after the upfront costs that I didn’t have the money to change the name of the shop. But it sounded right, so we kept the name and officially opened Monkey Wrenches Inc. in 2006.

My father once said, “Always do right, and good things will follow.” Those words have always been with me. So, we went to work. For starters, we did many “no charge or goodwill” repairs for existing customers which earned us a solid reputation around the community. In fact, I’m proud to say that in just a year, Monkey Wrenches netted the Best of Brentwood for Auto Repairs honors.

Running a small business is not for everyone. Work doesn’t end at five p.m. like the rest of the working world. It’s a 24/7, on-call passion. Monkey Wrenches is top of mind the minute I wake up to the minute my head hits the pillow at the end of the day. I think about it, worry about it, and nurture it just like a child. I have a huge sense of pride for this child to do well, succeed in life, and always do the right thing.

“Folks know that Monkey Wrenches is a place they can bring their vehicle for honest and reliable automobile service.”

But I could not have done it alone;

I’m only as good as the folks I surround myself with. I am blessed and proud of the team at Monkey Wrenches. We emphasize and promote a family atmosphere philosophy. Each staff member brings their own unique quality and strength to the business. Folks know that Monkey Wrenches is a place they can bring their vehicle for honest and reliable automobile service.

Since I’m on the subject of thanking people, I would like to thank some folks that really made this all happen for me. Bill Haas is my business consultant and mentor with ESI Educational Seminars Institute. Kathy Vigil is my bookkeeper and owns Computerized Bookkeeping Services in Brentwood, and Richard Callister, owner of Richard D. Callister, CPA Accounting Services in Oakley.


We pride ourselves as the last stop shop. We provide a two-year/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty and in some cases, a warranty that can be extended to nationwide coverage. We provide modern testing and diagnostic repair as well as mileage recommend services on foreign, domestic, and import vehicles.


I have always approached life as a series of small or large challenges, whether it was the challenge of becoming a good husband and father, having been blessed with 5 children and 11 grandchildren, or the challenge of pushing my body to earn my black belt in Taekwondo. I’m proud of the fact that I competed this year in the national Bumper to Bumper Automotive Technician of the Year in San Antonio, Texas. I placed in the top 25 which was fantastic considering the high level of competition and professionalism from all over the country. Monkey Wrenches is my pride and joy, and I often find myself working up to 60 hours a week. It’s not work when it’s my passion. But when I step out of the shop, my focus is my family, my wife, Jane, my grandkids, and my three dogs. I do love to ride motorcycles and have a collection of bikes. I spend time with some racing buddies taking in and participating in both automotive and motorcycle race events around the country.

Photos by Melissa Van Ruiten


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