The shop is located smack in the middle of all the other car dealerships on East Sprague Avenue, and it really doesn’t look that much different. Used Buicks, Fords and Hondas are lined up next to second-hand Kias, Subarus and Jeeps – a little bit of everything – at prices starting around $500.
“At that price you get a car that runs and drives, it is not a perfect car but it will get you from A to B in town,” said Aaron Partlow, shop supervisor at Union Gospel Mission Motors. “It can make all the difference if you are riding the bus now.”
Union Gospel Mission Motors used to be known as God’s Garage. Until October, it was located in a small, out-of-the-way garage, which limited both the program’s visibility and also its ability to rehabilitate donated cars.
“We barely had room for three cars in the old shop,” said Partlow, while giving a tour of the new digs. “Here, we can hold 12 cars, and we still have room for a few more in the detail shop.”
UGM Motors picks up donated cars in any condition – wrecked, old, new, broken, whole – does a complete inspection on the vehicle, sends some straight to the junk yard and keeps others to fix and sell. Proceeds benefit the many programs of the Union Gospel Mission.
“We will take any car available, no matter if it runs or not,” said Partlow. “If it’s not running, sometimes we can fix it. Other times we can use parts from it to fix another car. If it goes to the junk yard we get a bit of money there.”
This Friday morning, a smaller Kia SUV is sitting in the shop. It’s 8 years old, has 100,000 miles on it and four brand new tires.
“It was wrecked when we got it, so we put a new fender on it and fixed some other things,” Partlow said. “That’s a nice looking car.”
Most of the cars in the lot run between $500 and $4,000. The cheapest car that day was a ’68 Ford Fairlane priced at $495.
“It’s not typical, it doesn’t have any brakes, but we’re hoping someone will pick it up and restore it,” Partlow said.
Because all the cars are evaluated in great detail, potential buyers get complete disclosure.
“We tell people exactly what the condition of the car is,” said Partlow. “They know exactly what they get, and even if it’s not perfect it can make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
Buyers have to find financing somewhere else.
“We deal in cash or credit cards,” said Partlow.
The staff at UGM Motors come from many different backgrounds.
“The guys are usually here because they want to learn mechanics,” Partlow said. Some are placed by Career Path Services, a nonprofit organization that helps people gain job skills that makes them employable. Others are at UGM Motors to gain practical skills so they can earn their certification.
“Some want to go to school, too,” said Partlow. “We are trying to establish relationships with some of the dealerships around here, so they may feel comfortable employing people that have trained here.”
The shop also offers retail work done by professional mechanics, like brake jobs, oil changes, suspension and transmission repairs.
“We don’t do major overhauls, and we only do limited electrical work,” Partlow said, “but most smaller repairs we can take care of just fine.”
Trainees also learn to change, mount and balance tires.
The new garage has doubled the number of cars that move through UGM Motors every month to about 40.
There were 75 cars in the lots at the beginning of January.
“It’s funny; they sort of come in groups – we just got a whole bunch of vans,” Partlow said. “Before that, we got a group of older Subaru station wagons. It makes it easy to swap parts.”
The used car sales benefit the many programs supported by the Union Gospel Mission as well as help some people make career transitions. Donors also get an extra benefit: The tax deduction a donor can claim is the same as what the car sells for after it’s been repaired by UGM Motors. That can make a big difference for a donated car with, say, a broken transmission.
“Lots of good comes out of this place,” Partlow said.