Grand Strand native Willie Pedersen, 29, remembers working with his dad out in the family garage when he was growing up. “My father was a flight engineer in the Air Force and later a self-employed marine mechanic,” he says. “He used to build small block Chevys in the garage.” One day when he was still in high school, Pedersen got a phone call from an Army recruiter while he had the intake manifold off his first car. “He was like, ‘you know – you can do that in the Army.’ It was just that easy for me.”
He joined the Army right out of high school for a three-year enlistment, with an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 63 Bravo – light wheel auto mechanic. He served in Korea, was stationed in Texas and then deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He met his wife, Melissa Pedersen, in the Army while they were both deployed.
When Pedersen got out of the Army, he used his GI Bill and completed an automotive program offered by Trident Technical College in Charleston. He worked for Beach Volvo for a time and later at Merchant’s Tire, where he met Ryan Wagner, then a service manager there. The two became friends, and started to discuss the possibility of going into business together. “We hit it off, and we both had the same ideas about how automotive repair should run for the customer and how [the] business should run.”
The business became a reality about a month ago when Pedersen and Wagner opened their shop, Honest Auto Service LLC, on Moss Creek Road in Socastee. The business plan is simple and elegant. “It’s complete automotive service and repair at reasonable prices.”
So far, this two-man operation has done its share of fuel pumps, tune-ups and AC/heater service, but Pedersen was surprised that they have had to address four transmission issues to date. “We do transmission R&R [removal and replacement], but we don’t do any rebuilds.” They have serviced transmission components like shift solenoids and valve bodies, but typically, transmissions are in a specialty of their own, which explains freestanding transmission shops.
Providing the customer with options is important, especially in this still-struggling economy.
“You could always use factory parts or you can use aftermarket parts,” says Pedersen. “Or in the case of a transmission, it’s not just, ‘look this is the price.’ We could pull the transmission and send it off to be rebuilt and it will be this cost – we can put in a junkyard unit and it would be this cost – but there are pros and cons to each approach.” He says it’s all about agreeing with the consumer on fair pricing and options.
We asked Pedersen if he has encountered any particularly frustrating diagnostic challenges through the years, and he says he has had many – and they almost always boil down to an electrical issue. “Almost every time it’s a situation where I test the fuel system and the compression. I’ll go through everything, trying to figure out a drivability issue – and it comes down to being a small wire that’s pinched against the frame somewhere or underneath the firewall. Those are the ones that will have you beating your head against the wall.”
Both Pedersen and Wagner are at their shop from 8a.m.-5:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays. “We’d love to get busy enough to hire on a young kid who is good with oil changes, tire rotations and can do a good inspection on a car.”
Honest Auto Service is also a drop-off location for the Toys for Tots Foundation, and the business is donating two percent of total sales to Help 4 Kids, a local community-based organization that assists children and their families who are below the poverty level in eastern South Carolina.
The Pedersens are parents to a toddler, Christian. When they are able to get a babysitter, the pair can be spotted enjoying a meal at places like P.F. Chang’s at The Market Common or La Hacienda in Socastee. “We usually just go out for dinner and a movie,” he says. “We probably made it to the beach two or three times with Christian.”
Wife Melissa was featured in Working 4 A Living in May 2011. At that time, she was owner of The Flower Market Nursery & Garden Center, which she recently sold.
And they plan to stay put. While Pederson is a native, he says his wife likes it here, too. “When she goes back to Michigan, she is worse than me with the cold. She is totally acclimatized.”