Craig’s Blog

Legacy, Dave DeCourcey and ASA Massachusetts Dec. 2016

safe_imageI have lived in this state since 1963 when I moved from Utah. It has become a home to my wife, sons and many friends. To the east of Worcester is Boston about 40 miles away filled with people, cars and buildings. To the North are mill towns, forests and hills. Not too many people and a beautiful drive. To the South is one expressway that heads to Connecticut with mostly flat land and a haven for commuters that work in Worcester, but head west and you will find a part of Massachusetts that few ever really explore. In 1991 Deb and I had been married for a couple years and no kids. We decided that a chapter of shops from all over our state would help improve the automotive industry. Van Batenburg’s Garage was a member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) based in Texas.  There were a few members scattered over the Bay State, so we decided to hit the road. After a couple years of enrolling shops with the idea “we were better together”, a chapter was officially formed.  That was in 1993. It changed everything. It was all volunteers, so naturally I was the president for the first 3 years and Deb was the VP. We had meetings from Boston to the Western towns, brought in nationally known and local trainers. Had events and a yearly weekend conference. This was all before twitter and Facebook, pre computer and internet. This was face to face and fun. It did not last. Once Deb and I became parents, leadership changed hands, ASA national had some issues, and eventually the chapter ended but the friendships remained. Many shop owners moved into the training business and many techs took over the shops. This a normal progression but this ASA chapter was special. Some “carpet baggers” from out-of-state came calling, but shops saw them for who they were and the shops in Massachusetts have been better off ever since.

main-logoA few days ago a man passed away that came out of that era. His “nick name” was Scooby. Dave DeCourcey was only 56. He was just a kid when I met him at a meeting in the mid 90’s. Skinny and smart. A tech at that time if I remember correctly. Later on his desire to help others was evident. He did mobile repairs and moved onto diagnostics. It was at a CAS meeting that he met Rick O’Brian that would become a close friend. Dave heard about Jim Linder when Doug Garriot came to Massachusetts and set up a booth. Vision in Kanas City was called Vision 2000 back then and as another ASA chapter event, it again was this great ASA group of shop owners and technicians that got together and headed out there. Dave became a well known and loved automotive technical trainer, but Dave was also a great part of an old chapter in the history books. Dave will be missed my many in this industry. And long before ASA was here, almost 25 years ago, Dave had his support in his family and friends.  Today Deb and I will go to see his wife and kids. It is his wake in Spencer, Massachusetts. It will be a sad 20 minute drive.

So what does all this teach us? Life can be short, follow your dreams, join your local trade association and pass on what you know.

November 2016 .. Thanksgiving is about Family. What if you don’t have one?

FAATCATS5_000If you have run a shop for any amount of time, finding and keeping good help is always near the top of the list. At every class I teach a few minutes are spent discussing the plight of American foster children. First the chilling numbers. Over ½ million American kids have been removed from their homes for their own safety. 130,000 have gone through, or are in the process, of legally being freed to adopt. In other words they need a new forever family. 25,000 of these kids will never get adopted and will age out of the foster care system at eighteen without being attached to a family of their own. 25,000 American kids (per year) will not have a family to spend vacations, holidays or their birthdays with. Those are the facts, as sad as they are. Each year it gets worse. You can help.


When Deb and I found out in 1992 that we could not conceive our own children, we were sad, mad, frustrated and lost. After some real soul searching and an education in all types of adoption, it was clear to us there were kids in our area that really needed parents, a home, love, family, discipline, and a future. We didn’t need to go outside the USA to help a child find a home, there were plenty right here. I respect all those that adopt from anywhere in the world as every child deserves a family.


At the same time Deb and I were building the Massachusetts ASA chapter, we were also preparing a home for what would be two foster-adoptions. Mike was first at age 5. We took him in as our own, adopted Mike and started our family. Will was next at age 15. Now the boys are 31 and 25. Mike is doing well after some very rough times. Will is not. It was more than worth it. We didn’t need baby pictures; we just wanted to be parents. Deb and I knew we could do a good job.


At Van Batenburg’s Garage, Mike and Will helped with trash, clean up, worked on company vehicles, and did some computer work. Recently Mike and I worked on his 2008 Civic Si that he bought (with the banks help) a few years back. Will takes the bus. Working with my sons added more than just a cleaner shop. It helped them learn, helped them develop skills they will need to succeed in the real world, a not so nice place at times. Both of my sons know how tough the world can be and learned at much too young of an age. What they need now is to learn survival and success skills. Fixing cars can do that.


If you have been employing young people, you have been dealing with some bad behaviors. You already know what to do keep young people in line. I have an idea. Why not learn more about the foster teenagers that live in your home town, visit with them and offer them a job, a future and maybe even a home. There is more to life than work. Why not make your career a place for foster kids too?

Happy Thanksgiving,

Craig Van Batenburg

October 2016 … American Trade Associations ..their future

logoIn 1991 Van Batenburg’s Garage (my former shop) joined the Automotive Service Association so we could get a discount on Indentifix (formerly called Autoline Telediagnosis) and started to receive their magazine. There was no chapter in New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut) so I did not go to meetings or interact much with the local shops in Worcester, my home town.  I did notice a management seminar taught by Mitch Schneider and knew him by reputation only.  Deb and I boarded a plane for Florida and I sat in a great class but it was more than that. Fifty plus shop owners and techs were there and they all got along well and we all had a great time. I learned something I knew little about, trade associations. I was hooked. Deb and I will the help of many shops formed a chapter in Massachusetts, I was elected President and Deb was VP. We look back at the early 90’s with a sense of belonging and contribution. It lead me to a multi-year writing gig with MotorAge and Auto, Inc. I still contribute to the magazine that brought me so much.

The last weekend in September (just days after my 3 weeks in Europe) I attended and taught in Cary, North Carolina for a trade association that brought me back 25 years ago. The IGO association did a wonderful job at taking care of their members, offering great training and acknowledging each other for what they do. Awards were handed out, a few too many beers were consumed and I can’t mention the “Moonshine” so don’t tell anyone!  I attended a class taught by Bill Haas and came back with so much more than I gave.

With all this I heard “the younger generation do not join things like this”, but I met many talented 20 something attendees, mostly family member of shops owners. Intelligent and thoughtful. They don’t want to be a baby boomer. Material things are not that important. Long working hours are a turn off. Social constraints seem so old fashioned. They were respectful and kept their cell phones at off while we visited, but they have their own way of seeing things.

Trade associations will not fail if you are willing to give up the old ways. Change is fast paced today. There will be fewer shops and techs as future cars need less work. It has already happened as the newer cars are just better. Don’t fight it as all will be well. Go with the flow as it is the direction we are going.

September 2016 .. What the Berlin Wall means to me

insideSeptember means Europe for ACDC.  For about ten years Deb and I have flown to Europe, sometimes a couple times per year. We have been invited to teach in amazing places. As co-owners of ACDC we have spent some time together when not working but enjoying what the area we are in has to offer. That has included the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, Iceland, England, Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and other fun places. I spot all the interesting cars and charging stations…Deb knows where to eat and what museum to visit.

Today I find myself in Berlin and this is day 4. It has sunk in now that East Berlin, where our hotel is, was not available to me 30 years ago.  A wall did not keep me out, it kept East Berliners in. Open mindedness is an ACDC value. It applies to our industry, electric cars, climate change and those that ACDC serves. But in order to keep the wall down our customers must also be open minded. That my friends, takes some doing. If you just want a class about hybrid or electric cars, watch out as ACDC will challenge what you know. We will ask you to keep an open mind and be a Berliner. Want to change your viewpoint about our educational system, what we drive, how we teach our young automotive students, tools and pay plans? If growing an industry that values its people, its contributions and the air, ACDC is your kind of place.  No walls, nothing to protect. Let it all in when you work with us. We have a world view and so you don’t need to live in a bunker.


ACDC’s 6 Step Plan to Fix the American Repair Shop Problems August 2016

First let me make my case as to what is not working. Generally Speaking, Auto techs feel they do not make enough money and shops are having a harder time than before attracting and keeping automotive technicians. Cars are more complex than ever and even dealerships have a hard time fixing their own brand. The best shops are not as stressed, but they are affected by unhappy customers they have not even met yet that went to a shop that did not keep them coming back. There are 3 big players that need to change. They are government, OEMs and independent shops and schools.

Here is what the Local and National elected officials need to change:     

  1. Require Licensed Techs and Shops
  2. Make Flat Rate illegal
  3. Make Auto Shop Community Colleges Free for four years and required for a Master Tech License

What Shops need to do:

  1. Supply all the tools and tool boxes
  2. Have an Apprenticeship Program

What schools need to do:

  1. Have a universal education plan from 8th Grade to a Bachelor’s Degree

How will the first three fix things?

If Government acts it will take a decade or more to see the effects but by then the licensing will shut down the illegal and incompetent shops and bad techs will be doing something else, hopefully well. The techs paychecks will be consistent and quality work will trump fast. Pay checks will award great work and not dishonest or one-sided pay schemes. The work will be much better because the techs will have a lot of great training before “learning on the job as the consumers’ expense”. The partnership between shops and schools is a key part.


Shops must have licensed techs and can’t pay flat rate so quality work is now front and center where it should have always been.  By suppling all the tools the remaining techs will take home more by not giving the tool man part of their paycheck every week. As this is not the “law” not every shop will do it but those that do will keep their techs as without tools they are less likely to leave you. Why would they leave anyway as clearly you are their side. Those techs that love their job can mentor and bring in the new techs that you will be able to hire because you supply the tools. This has another benefit as you can hire a poor kid with a rich brain.

The local high school and community college benefit in a huge way as their funding must go up. If Shops partner with the high school and really get involved they can bring in an intern and when the best match is made, hire her or him and help them along the way. After years of knowing this young star they will be “job ready” after they get their “Master License”.

All three “Government, Shops and Schools” must do their part and over time the automotive repair industry will mature into a high skilled job that anyone in America can aspire to and achieve no matter what their situation.

Other benefits: Car owners will have a better repair experience, techs will be safer in the workplace as high voltage systems are more common. Repair Shops and Dealerships will have the workforce they need in the future. Parents will not be burdened with debt for private automotive schools that rarely get the student more than a certificate and a bill for $30,000 plus. The five year retention rate for graduates in an automotive two year program in under 10%. Foster boys and girls in that age out of the system could have a good job but cannot afford the tools and even the free education offered is not enough.  Prisoners released without a skill most likely will re-offend and cost the state more money and we also have failed them. Note: Salem State Penitentiary (Oregon) has a great program.  I was lucky enough to get inside and teach some classes.

Big ideas?  Sure but they are doable.


Craig Van Batenburg

June 2016 EVS 29 Montreal

What an extraordinary time to stand at the kick off of EVS29 in the breezy sunshine with YVES RACETTE who is our French Speaking teacher (and well known ambassador of Hybrid/EV technology in the Montreal Area), FELIZA RACETTE who manages the ACDC Website, and Nicolas Piguet, a teacher at the College with YVES who is enrolled in UYV! 45 October 2016 and will be assisting YVES as they create more extensive Automotive Program focused on Hybrid/EV technology and repair.  It is always very clear to me when I am in Quebec, that the Province is moving forward very rapidly in adopting and funding a wide sweeping range of energy efficient initiatives.  ACDC has done a lot of training in Montreal and Quebec City…2010, 2011, and NACAT 2014.  Each time we are impressed with agreement of the citizens and the support they and the government provide to move ahead in living and driving green.

I have been to other EVS conferences along with Craig and also EDTA, Electric Drive Transportation Association,  events where we learn the newest and most innovative products and programs in the Green Drive Industry.  It also where you learn how all the different parts of the US and CANADA are doing in accepting and adapting to cars that perform and sometimes feel different.  I divided my time this year (Craig was teaching an eight day class) between workshops focused on battery technology, battery storage, and strategies about activating consumers, strategies of two car household owning an EV, and Global E-mobility.  So, some hard data stuff and then more soft marketing focused information.  I am of course more comfortable in the soft focus workshops where I feel my experiences are worth sharing. (ACDC is well known at this conference).  I attended quite a few tech workshops, but always find myself (Deb) thanking God that he did not make me an engineer!

A very interesting workshop dealt with Battery Tech and one presenter had done elaborate research on the fire and explosion risks of lithium ion batteries.  Grant money was used to put these and NiMH  batteries in a variety of flame inducing situations culminating with putting the cells in a kiln.  Have no fears.  The conclusions were that the batteries do NOT explode, or ignite in any dangerous fashion. Heck we could have told ‘em that after UYV 40!  (Safe and Supervised Examinations were conducted)

evs29What seems to stand true at this year’s conference and previous years as well, is that the Industry of Green driving and all it‘s adjunct businesses do not understand why the US is so slow to adapt to technology that makes great sense.  It is the same issue we discuss at every hybrid class we teach and every public service presentation we do.  It is clear that Green driving is smart in so many ways and yet so much of the general populations remains uninterested and unenrolled.  Clearly Europe has a different demographic with the countries being much smaller and the government being highly and visibly supportive.  But thousands attend conferences like these and acknowledge how far we have come and how far we need to go.

One of my favorite presentations compared a very extensive list of technology developments from the portable hairdryer to the microwave oven, cell phones and DVR. The study researched and recorded how long it took the US population to first express interest, then try out something new, then purchase the new item, become enrolled in using it and then go from early adapter to main stream users.  It was a wonderful way to look at the market process.  So this Hybrid/EV bandwagon is fast rolling and the future looks great for big increases of purchase, use and belief in these automobiles in the very near future.

Report by Deb Van Batenburg



What is wrong with Craig?

When my dream of opening Van Batenburg’s Garage (VBG) back in 1977 was realized, I was a 26 years old. So much has changed and so have I, but my desire to make my way in the business world hasn’t. For those of you that have trained with me, you may have heard this story.

My minister, Rev. Aaron Payson, gave a great sermon a few years ago. He explained to the congregation that sometimes you will meet someone that you just can’t understand and maybe don’t like.  It is not uncommon to say under your breathe “What is wrong with that person?” Aaron suggested that that is the wrong question. “What happened to you?” is much more informative.  With that in mind let me explain what happened to me.

CVB ChopperIn the fall of 1972 I was “voluntold” that I was going to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Honda school for a week as the Civic was coming to America. I was a Honda motorcycle mechanic and I was not too thrilled with the idea of hoods and fenders in the way but I went. Something about payments on my Toyota Hi-Lux and an apartment.

What happened to me changed my awareness in a way that set me on this road for life. Honda had invented a unique cylinder head design called the CVCC. See my previous blogs for more on this. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created that year and the automotive industry was either fighting the new regulations (guess who) or designing engines to comply. Honda was doing the latter.

At Honda school, the first four hours on the first day, had nothing to do with the Civic. We all went back to science class and learned about HC, CO and NOx. We saw pictures of smog in Los Angeles and smoking tail pipes. We learned about lung disease and asthma. We were told about the EPA and what was coming. It wasn’t pretty. The job was in front of us was clear; clean up the air. I drank the cool-aid and never looked back.

Honda was “the leader” back then in compliance and innovation when the CVCC engine made its debut. It made an impact on me. Technology doesn’t have to be bad for the planet. Two years later VBG opened up and we specialized in Honda for 26 years.

When the Honda Insight hybrid went on sale that 21 year old kid (now 50 years old) bought the first one sold in Massachusetts (still have it). Cars got a lot cleaner and safer (unfortunately the drivers did not) and my passion for a cleaner planet never died. Today, it is about reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Honda is responsible for me (and a lot of others) in seeing a brighter, better and cleaner world where cars (and motorcycles) are not burning fossil fuels but charging up on sunlight. Honda had a dream and shared it with me over 40 years ago. We still have a lot of work to do.

So that is what happened to me. Now you know “What is wrong with you Craig?”


When a Customer Sues a Repair Shop

Sometimes you do something in business that can’t be repeated or duplicated but the story lives on just because it was so unique. At Van Batenburg’s Garage such a story happened. A woman brought in her car and it had, as we say, “hit everything but the lottery”. We xshopput it up on the lift and assessed the car. It had problems. I asked the woman for a $500 authorization knowing the work would be at least that much. She signed on the dotted line and left. Once the car was apart and diagnosed, the estimate was a lot of money. The woman was hysterical and verbally abusive on the phone when given the estimate. So I said bring me $500 cash, we’ll put your car back together, call a tow truck, and get it off my property. She brought the $500 in cash, caused a scene, the car left on the hook.

The registered letter arrived and she was suing me for the $1,000. No surprise there. I offered her $500 to get her to go away. She wanted $1,000. Off to court. I put on my suit and we meet in small claims mediation. It’s unpleasant, as many of you know. I had decided that I was going to give her the $500 back because she was expensive trouble. The thought of it made me nauseous as our shop had done our job. The mediator asked if I was prepared to refund the $500. In that moment I had a brilliant idea. I said “I will do better than that, I’ll make it $1000 but the check must be written to the customer’s favorite charity.”

And so it was.  Months later one of our A+ customers was in dropping his car off. He was a lawyer.  He said WOW what you did was great.  I was perplexed and returned a blank stare.  He said, “you know about the charity check deal with that woman”.  Oh! I said, Thanks!  He said, “sometimes a good story just has a life of it’s own.”

She never got a penny of my shop’s money but some poor kids had clothes and a meal. I had a tax deduction. She has meet her match.

Craig Van Batenburg

April 2016 .. What dangers do lithium-ion batteries pose?

Here is an Interview with a Battery Engineer 


Chevy Volt Li-ion Pack opened up

What dangers do lithium-ion batteries pose?

You can get six times the energy density in a lithium battery that you can in a lead-acid battery and two or three times as much as in a nickel-metal hydride battery. Any time you pack more energy into a smaller space, your safety concerns go up. All the lithium-ion systems being tested right now use an electrolyte that is flammable, so one of the safety issues that we are very concerned about is how these electrolytes can burn when the cells have been ruptured. They can also be heated to the point where the electrolytes break down into gases that the cells vent.

What kinds of abuse tests do you perform on the batteries to simulate real-world scenarios?
One of the mechanical-failure scenarios we test is a crush. We’ll take a fully charged cell or a full pack and put it into a hydraulic fixture where we slowly crush the entire pack at a very controlled rate. We have temperature sensors all around the pack and real-time gas analysis to monitor the gases coming out of the cell. We test for flammability by using spark sources around the room to ignite the gases. Sandia also has a radiant-heat test facility where we can take a full battery pack, put it inside a system surrounded by quartz lamps and heat the pack to 932 F in about 60 seconds to simulate the entire pack being suddenly engulfed in flames.

Does your research suggest lithium-ion batteries are safe for cars?
Well, that’s a difficult question, because no one has defined what safe means. The energies that can be released are certainly less of a concern than driving with 20 or 30 gallons of gasoline. Are there scenarios in which the battery may get into an accident or an environment that causes it to burn? Yes, it can burn, but you’re not driving around in a bomb. There are some significant advances going on right now that are making these much safer to use.

Craig’s Note. The above article was sent to us. If you know the author we will post it.


March 2016 … Hybrids, Utah and Baby Boomers

Hybrids, Utah and Baby Boomers

Shirley C. Van Batenburg

Shirley C. Van Batenburg

I was born 5 years after WWII along with lots of other people. I grew up in Ogden, Utah and yes I went to a Mormon Church. My Father, Raymond, was a Navy man for 10 plus years and loved cars, mostly Fords. I grew up with a 57 T-bird, a 40s Continental, tan 63’ Galaxie 500 and many other cool cars. Van Batenburg‘s Auto Sales was on Washington Boulevard and I spent my time there as a kid. My Mother, Shirley Caroline Finacom was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and was an East Coast girl. The two of them had six kids, I was sandwiched in the middle. They have both passed away but left me with some valuable lessons. Here are a few things this “Baby Boomer” learned from Ray and Shirley.

1. Push your chair in after you get up from the table.
2. It takes just as long to do it right as it does to do it wrong.
3. It is OK to buy some else’s used clothes.
4. Drive a 4 cylinder car. That is all you need.
5. Go to Church
6. Vote
7. Vets have defended our “freedom of speech”, so speak up.
8. Take care of your grandparents.
9. Take a young person into your home if they are homeless.
10. Keep your car clean.
11. Homework before TV
12. Play Music, Sing and Dance.
13. Bring your friends home to meet your parents.
14. Get out into the woods and enjoy nature.
15. Wear a seatbelt.
I have has many young interns in the last year and I have come to realize that they want more than to learn how to fix a hybrid. They want to learn the lesson above and many more. I hope they enjoy learning as much as I enjoy their discoveries. Running your own business is so much more than making a profit. It is always the people that give it meaning.