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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dan’s Total Automotive showed out-of-towners total kindness

Dan Anderson, owner of Dan’s Total Automotive, works on an SUV in his shop on the West Plains, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. A couple from Western Washington and their two dogs were coming through Spokane on their way home from vacation and broke down near Airway Heights recently. Anderson treated them like relatives, offering water to their dogs and a place to stay overnight while he fixed their car. He even called to make sure they made it home OK. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Dan Anderson, owner of Dan’s Total Automotive, works on an SUV in his shop on the West Plains, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. A couple from Western Washington and their two dogs were coming through Spokane on their way home from vacation and broke down near Airway Heights recently. Anderson treated them like relatives, offering water to their dogs and a place to stay overnight while he fixed their car. He even called to make sure they made it home OK. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Dave Nicholson called to vent about the way he was treated at an Airway Heights auto shop.

We get a lot of that. Mad-as-hell consumers often dial the newspaper wanting to nail this business or that business for everything from rude treatment to overcharging to outright fraud.

Not Nicholson. The Renton resident’s feel-good tale about what happened after his Dodge Durango suffered a meltdown is a refreshing departure worth sharing.

“Dan’s Total Automotive,” the affable Nicholson said during a phone call. “These are very special people.”

Nicholson, 70, is a retired sales manager for a big electronics firm.

Experience, he said, has taught him a thing or three about customer service and “you just don’t see what happened to us very often.”

The Nicholsons had come to the Spokane area for a mini-vacation at Pend Oreille River property owned by their good friends, north Spokane residents Carl and Dana Wilson.

“We saw a bear and a moose,” Nicholson said. “It was the most incredible thing.”

Refreshed and relaxed, the Nicholson crew headed back to Renton on Aug. 15.

Nancy, Nicholson’s wife of 41 years, took the wheel. Kalli and Gracie, the family Labradors, were along for the ride in their 2004 Durango that is “crimson and gray,” according to the Wazzu loyalist. “Got my Cougar plates on it, too,” he added.

The big SUV motored through Spokane on I-90. “I just had it serviced,” Nicholson said, “and it was running like a top.”

At least it was until that telltale red light that nobody likes to see winked on.

The Durango was getting hotter than second-half emotions during an Apple Cup.

Nancy took the U.S. Highway 2 exit. The search for a repair shop was on until she spotted the Dan’s Total Automotive sign on a gray and blue building at 1519 S. Hayford Road.

“It’s 100 degrees. We’ve got these two dogs panting,” said Nicholson, who is still recovering from a successful cancer surgery that removed a third of his right lung.

“If this had happened past Ritzville or by the Gorge, we would’ve been screwed.”

As luck would have it, Dave and Nancy (and the dogs) found themselves in the capable hands of two Dans: Dan Anderson, who owns the auto shop, and mechanic Dan Truax, who has worked 36 years for Anderson.

“I don’t advertise. I don’t Google. I don’t do any of that stuff,” said Anderson, a folksy 68-year-old former stock car racer. “Treat everybody fair. You don’t need to advertise.”

Nicholson said Anderson treated them more like visiting cousins.

The Nicholsons were ushered to the home next to the shop where Anderson lives. Donna, Anderson’s wife, set up lawn chairs, chatted with them and brought cold water for the dogs.

When it became obvious the Durango would take more time, Donna invited Nancy and Dave to stay the night in their home.

“The kids are gone. We’ve got room,” drawled Anderson.

Blown away, the Nicholsons would have accepted were it not for the Wilsons, who came to the rescue.

The two Dans wound up fitting the Durango with a new radiator, water pump and thermostat.

“I was ready with a $2,000 check,” Nicholson said. “Big Dan could’ve charged me an arm and a leg. He could’ve charged me what he wanted; I was at his mercy.”

Instead, Anderson presented Nicholson with fair and reasonable bill for $850.

Counting their blessings, the Nicholsons picked up the Durango the next afternoon and continued on their journey west.

“I would’ve felt good going with them,” Anderson said as a testament to his repairs.

Sure enough, the Durango, the Nicholsons and Kalli and Gracie made it to Renton without incident.

Then, what Nicholson dubbed the “icing on the cake,” came in the morning.

Donna called Nancy to see if everything was OK. Dan, without knowing this, called Dave to see if everybody was safe and sound.

“Well, you get stranded outta town you feel kinda lost,” explained Anderson, who told me he gave up racing stock cars when he discovered a fishing pole.

Nicholson’s right. This guy’s got customer service down to a science.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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