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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

On-campus shop provides auto-mechanic service for 32 years

Tucked away at the edge of the UC Davis Arboretum, Redfield Machine, an auto-mechanic shop open since 1982, advertises its services with only one small sign.

For owner Bob Redfield and his regular customers, however, the name of the 17 Arboretum Terrace auto shop is recommendation enough.

“If anyone can, he can,” said Redfield Machine regular customer and UC Davis Associate Professor of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology Dirk Van Vuren. “He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve.”

Redfield himself was associated with the University as well — before opening his auto shop, he earned his Ph.D. in Spanish from UC Davis in 1980, giving a nuanced meaning to the phrase “car doctor.”

“You never know how it’s all going to end. I expected to be a professor, and it fell through,” Redfield said. “And what do you do? Fall apart? You can’t. You’ve got to keep moving, and the keep moving was open a shop, and that worked out fine.”

As it turns out, “fine” equates to a successful small business with a myriad of customers. Van Vuren said Redfield’s high-quality customer service has been coupled with both professionalism and integrity. Apart from treating customers well, Van Vuren added that Redfield’s unique ability to respond to his visitors’ car concerns sets him apart from other mechanics in town.

“He is a diagnostician. If you want to know why your car is malfunctioning and have it explained to you with the right course of action, he’s the person to go to,” Van Vuren said. “He does what’s in the customer’s best interest. He’ll present you with options.”

Sometimes providing options means telling customers that they can fix things themselves at a lower cost, that a problem is not worth the money to fix, that there are other problems with the car that need attention or that there is a variety of ways he can fix the car problem himself — like welding an old part rather than buying an expensive replacement.

For those interested in learning to fix car problems themselves, Redfield is willing to teach his ways as well.

“In many cases, people come in with problems that are more minor than they think,” Redfield said. “If we’re willing to show them a trick or two, we can perhaps prevent them from having to spend money. If a person really needs mechanical service, here we are.”

As demonstrated by a library of books on makes and models of cars in the back corner of his shop, Redfield never allowed his career to prevent him from continuing to study and learn. In fact, Redfield claims reading the car-related books is analogous to being a scholar, serving as a continuation of what started for him as a hobby.

“I’ve been a mechanic for years, and I still get a kick out of coming into the shop,” Redfield said. “[Cars are] a mystery, and you apply your knowledge to that mystery, and try to decipher it, and try to fix the car, and do it for a reasonable sum of money, in a reasonable amount of time and keep the person reasonably happy.”

Apart from learning and teaching about car mechanics, Redfield also has a passion for other disciplines. Until a couple of years ago, Redfield spent his evenings lecturing in Spanish at Sacramento City Outreach in Davis, and also has taught the language at other institutions, including UC Davis, in the past.

“Bob Redfield is a real language scholar, so it’s really neat to have that kind of multilingual, multicultural perspective,” Van Vuren said. “He lives his passion. He’s a great auto-mechanic, and a great linguist, and he does both of them during the day.”

Whether in Spanish or English, Redfield Machine’s policies transcend language.

“The only thing here is that we are honest. That’s why a lot of people like to come here,” said assistant manager of Redfield Machine Felipe Ortiz. “Sometimes we say, it’s going to be like two hours to do that kind of job, but when we find out it’s going to be something like a half hour, that’s what we charge.”

Since the shop is not located on a through street, the majority of Redfield’s customers are referred by word of mouth. But Redfield said he wouldn’t trade his location in the Arboretum. Being so close to the UC Davis campus, he said he enjoys seeing the students grow up.

“For a 71-year-old, that’s kind of pleasant to see the youth, what one had years ago,” Redfield said. “There is a future, something good is coming, even though some of us get old.”

Redfield considers what he does to be a broad kind of service, one that can help people with many different situations and backgrounds. Pulling from personal experience, Redfield said he relates to worried parents with children not living at home.

“There’s a feeling of helping out, that I understand the situation the person’s in,” Redfield said. “The parents are worried and they don’t know Davis shops, and the car has stalled out somewhere and they give us a phone call.

Van Vuren said that Davis is lucky to have Redfield, and according to Redfield, the feeling is mutual.

“I’m grateful that the city and the University have treated Redfield Machine so well,” Redfield said. “That’s really very nice.”

EMILY MASUDA can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

Photo by Ciera Pasturel. 

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