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He knows his cars

By Staff | Apr 10, 2016

Bruce Stensland smiles broadly as he works on the front end of a customer’s pickup truck. He says it is important that people do maintenance on their vehicles, or take it in to be serviced regularly.

There’s not much Bruce Stensland does not know about vehicles. After all, he has been working on them for almost all of his life.

“I’ve been in this business for 40 years now,” Stensland, who turns 60 soon, says. “That is a pretty long time to be doing this. But, you know what? I still like it. And, I plan to keep on doing it.”

Stensland owns and operates Bruce’s Auto Repair located at 602 E. Seventh St., in Blue Earth.

After graduating from Elmore High School in 1975, Stensland trained as a mechanic. In November of 1976, he started work at Klatt Motors in Blue Earth.

“We (the mechanics) were independent; we all had our own customers and got paid a commission on our work and the parts we used,” Stensland remembers. “I still have some of those people as my customers to this day.”

Bruce Stensland works on a repair project in his shop on Seventh Street in Blue Earth.

When Klatt Motors was bought out by L&M Motors in 1988, Stensland continued to work for the new owners.

However, in 1994, he decided to strike out on his own.

“I bought this building (where he is still located) from my Uncle George in 1994,” Stensland relates. “And opened up my own shop and I’ve been here ever since.”

Stensland recalls that his uncle, George Stensland, had bought the building, which was then a Phillips 66 gas station, in 1966.

“It was originally built in 1925 (as a gas station), and became a Phillips 66 station in 1935,” Stensland says. “So, there is a lot of automobile history in this building.”

There has been some changes in the car repair business over the years, and the major one is technology.

“It used to be cars were all operated mechanically,” Stensland says. “Now they run with computer technology.”

He remembers that the first car with a computer component in it came out in 1981.

“Now there are seven or eight different computers in new cars,” he says. “Computers run the anti-lock brakes, control the ride, everything, even staying in contact with satellites.”

Stensland says he has to do a lot of work to stay up with schooling on the new technology, and using the diagnostics tools involved.

“It’s nice that we can use a scan tool, or a laptop, to tell us what is wrong with the vehicle,” he says. “But you know what? It is still the same engine and you still have to do the repairs. The computer might say it is a bad cylinder, and even what cylinder it is, but I still have to go in and replace it.”

And, the computer can not tell you everything, he adds. Sometimes the mechanic just has to find the issue and fix it, repair it, or replace it.

Stensland does add that using his smart phone is great for looking something up fast and easy to help solve a problem with a car.

“Best thing ever made,” he jokes. “I can figure something out pretty fast with it; what’s wrong with a vehicle, what parts I need I even take pictures of my work on the phone’s camera.”

Another thing that has changed over the years are costs.

“I used to charge $25.10 for a routine oil change when I first started out,” he says. “I wanted to be less (expensive) than everyone else, and I was.”

He picked the price $25.10 because it is the last four digits of his phone number 526-2510.

“Now I?charge $42 and I am still charging less, I think, than the other places,” he says.

He also points out that when he started working as a mechanic he charged customers $24 per hour for labor. Now he charges $70 per hour, and says he is the “cheap one.”

“Some places charge $80 or $90 per hour,” he says. “But I don’t want to go to that Blue Earth is not a high wage town and most folks can’t afford it.”

One thing that has not changed much over the years is the need to keep up with car maintenance.

“You still need to do the same things to maintain your vehicle,” Stensland advises. “You just don’t have to do them as often.”

For instance, the mechanic says, spark plugs used to be replaced every 30,000 miles, but now they last for 100,000 miles or more.

Stensland adds that people should still check their oil, batteries and tires.

“Nobody seems to check their tire pressure anymore,” he says. “I?see a lot of tires that are under inflated. And that is hard on tires.”

He also advises regularly rotating them. And, he has another tire tip.

“Cars are so light these days, that sometimes tires get cupped from bouncing,” he explains. “I tell folks to put some salt bags in the trunk to keep that from happening.”

Another tip has to do with parking a vehicle for a long period of time, such as over the winter months.

“Unplug the battery,” he says, “and add stabilizer to the fuel tank. Gas today only has about a 45-day ‘shelf life’ and can go bad. Fuel is just not as good as it used to be.”

One more tip.

“If you have a problem (with your car) address it right away, no matter how small,” Stensland says. “It probably isn’t going to go away and it could become a big problem down the road.”

As far as the future goes, Stensland has no plans on hanging up his wrenches for the last time.

“It is great working with the public and working on cars,” he says. “I really like helping folks.”

He tells the story of staying up all night fixing a motor home that had broken down on I-90.

“They really needed it fixed and get back on the road,” he says. “And they were so appreciative when it was done by the next day.”

He says he has fun working with all kinds of people.

“Most of them just want to be treated with respect and for you to be honest with them,” he says. “And a lot of them have been my customers for a long, long time.”