Reminiscent of the transformation of Scrooge, a sedan headed for the junkyard gets a second life helping a family in need.
When the ghost of Jacob Marley visited Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve in the classic holiday story, A Christmas Carol, the spirit bemoaned the tight-fisted way he had helped operate their counting house: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business.”
Jim Stepp and Rod Knesper, co-owners of Advanced Automotive NAPA AutoCare Center in Palatine, Illinois, won’t have any such regrets. For most of the past few years at Christmas, they have made it their business to do something, as they posted on Facebook, “for the good of mankind.” Their generous gifts have included installing a new transmission in a family car, and replacing the cracked intake manifold for a family in the area on holiday, all at no charge. Several years ago, they also donated all the labor to fix a vehicle that was being given away through another NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
In 2020, though, they surpassed all their previous efforts, donating an entirely reconditioned 2008 Ford Focus SE to a local mother and her son.
“The wife of one of our customers passed away, and her car had been sitting in their driveway for a year,” recalled Knesper. “He asked us how to dispose of it, and I offered to pick it up for the scrap value, but once we saw it in person, Jim and I decided it was a lot better than junk. We called the customer back, and he agreed with our suggestion that we could fix it up and give it away. It was a terrible situation, and it felt good to help make something good come out of it. ”
Honoring Christmas in Their Hearts – and in Their Garage
A full inspection indicated the car needed new brakes, bushings, tires, and rear shocks, as well as regular service such as an oil change. Knesper and Stepp reached out to NAPA AUTO PARTS of Palatine, Illinois, their NAPA store and partner since they opened the shop in 1993. Store owner Jeff Riedel and his team agreed to donate all the parts so the Advanced Auto technicians could donate their time and labor to get the car ready for its new home.
“It was great to be involved in being able to help donate a vehicle to a needy family, especially in these difficult times,” said Riedel, who owns and operates five NAPA AUTO PARTS stores. “We love having the opportunity to partner up with our AutoCare Centers.”
In addition, the car underwent a full detailing, and included a one-year bumper-to-bumper warranty that also covers 12 months of maintenance.
“We made sure it was as good as if we were going to give it to one of our own mothers,” Knesper said. “We wanted the recipient to go out the door with something worth driving.”
To find that lucky recipient, Stepp and Knesper took to their Facebook page, soliciting their social media followers for the names and stories of people in need of transportation. Of the eight nominations, one stood out from the beginning.
“There were several really deserving people, but this lady deserved the car more than anyone,” Stepp recalled. “We received so many emails and phone calls and Facebook posts and letters from her friends and family telling us all about her, and what she did, and how the car would make life better for her and her family.”
To keep things fair and get the whole shop involved, they took a blind vote of the staff, and the verdict was that Sasha Leonard and her son, Deonta, should drive off with the Focus. On Christmas Eve, Knesper and Stepp sprung the news, picked up the family, and handed over the car keys – plus a full tank of gas and the license, title, and registration, also complimentary.
“You can’t give people 50 cents if they need a dollar,” Knesper said of the additional donation. “People are hurting. They’re struggling. It was just the right thing to do. We feel really good about getting them kickstarted and off to the races, knowing it will make a huge difference in their lives.”
‘God Bless us, Every One!’
A grateful Leonard posted her appreciation on Facebook and YouTube as well.
“Advanced Auto, you rockkk!” she wrote. “This shop here is so full of love. They blessed my son and I with a car just before it got too cold for us to handle!… I hope that God blesses all of you and your families so much as you did ours!… I am beyond grateful and I could never thank you enough for just being who you all have always been. Now my son and I can have a great Christmas with one less worry.”
For the team at Advanced Automotive, it’s just business as usual.
“Our shop is way beyond what we ever anticipated,” Knesper said. “We worked hard to get it to this level, and we’ve been able to grow and keep getting bigger because of the way we’ve treated people. I’m a firm believer in karma, that good fortune comes when you do good for others.”
Generosity is Its Own Reward
Rod Knesper and Jim Stepp have worked hard to earn the respect of their customers and the community. After nearly 30 years, Advanced Automotive has surpassed their original dreams of business success. “When you open one of these places, you just hope you can make a living, or at least pay your bills,” Knesper said. “We work on a tight budget to make it happen, and we’re so grateful that we pulled it off.”
Their many fans are grateful as well. The shop’s crowded wall of awards includes the Best of Auto Repair Palatine 2017 award and the 2020 Top-Rated Auto Repair award. The latter honor commemorates recognition such as “Exceptional mechanics with great personalities,” “Everyone here is so friendly and eager to help,” and “This should be your go-to place for any car work!”
More than 90 years ago, the National Automotive Parts Association ("NAPA") was created to meet America’s growing need for an effective auto parts distribution system. Today, 91% of do-it-yourself customers recognize the NAPA brand name. We have over 6,000 NAPA AUTO PARTS Stores nationwide serving all 50 states with a unique inventory control system that helps you find the exact part that you need.