This charity in North Texas fixes cars for free. “It was a find”

About ten years ago, Manuel Telles’ pickup truck was in bad shape. Dodge Ram 1500 2002 constantly overheated.

“It was just one after the other and I didn’t have the money to fix it. And I went to a payday lender to get a loan,” Tellez said.

Tellez knew the loan wasn’t profitable, but he needed a working truck to keep going. While the truck was repaired, the financial damage was gross: after he paid off the loan, as well as all fees and interest, Tellez said it cost him more than $7,000 to borrow just over $1,000.

As he stood in line to pay, he realized that he wasn’t the only one paying dearly to keep the car running.

“Many people come to take out a payday loan to pay for car repairs. And it got me thinking: is there any organization in North Texas that can help people who need that kind of help?” Tellez said. “And the answer was no, really wasn’t.”

The idea has been in his head for years. He began talking to friends, figuring out what it would take to launch such a charity. He formed a council, applied for non-profit status, and in 2018 Tellez launched a new non-profit organization.

It’s called Autocare Haven, and the mission is simple: fix cars for low-income drivers in the Dallas-Fort Worth region who can’t afford repairs.

“If your car breaks down, especially…if you live paycheck to paycheck, you are usually just desperate. You don’t have the ability to get to work to earn money to pay rent, or even go to the grocery store to eat, or take your kids to school, or see a doctor, or just work,” Tellez said.

“Inspire Hope”

More than half of Dallas residents lived paycheck to paycheck in 2019, according to research by financial firm Charles Schwab. This was before inflation outstripped wage growth during the pandemic — food prices were rising faster than wages were rising — leading to what the Dallas Federal Reserve called an “unprecedented period of wage cuts.”

There are also non-profit or government programs that help pay for auto repairs for certain groups, such as veterans or working youth, but their offerings are limited. Some nonprofits and banks offer low-cost small loans—mostly alternatives to payday loans—that can be used to fund emergency repairs. But they still require the borrower to repay them, adding another bill to already stretched budgets.

Tellez said too many people can’t afford the repairs needed to keep their car running, and they can’t afford not to have a working car.

“Even though we offer free vehicle repairs, we don’t actually provide that,” Tellez said. “In fact, we give hope.”

However, Autocare Haven is a small company — Tellez still manages it in addition to his core marketing work — and the group had to turn the app portal on and off from time to time because the needs could exceed the capacity of the tiny charity.

At the moment, about 30 cars have been repaired. The group also provided automotive fluids for an additional 155 vehicles at top-up events in Dallas. In 2023, Tellez hopes to accelerate the pace of repairs and repair up to 72 vehicles.

At a recent gala at the Jubilee Park Community Center, mechanics Darren Brown and Tyson Forward chatted merrily to a steady stream of mostly elderly drivers driving mostly old cars. The team does not do repairs at major events. But while they were checking oil levels and topping up donated fluids, mechanics — and cousins ​​— were looking at repairs and offering advice.

Stephen Yeager was grateful for the help. The self-proclaimed “young senior citizen” said he lived on a fixed income, that he had just paid off his latest model sedan and had just paid for a radiator repair, but he still had problems. According to him, he replaced the leaking coolant with water so that it would not overheat.

He needs an oil change, Brown said—“I can already smell burning,” the mechanic joked—and he will need to inspect a leaking radiator. This is what charity can help with.

“As soon as they approve [an application] they will send an email to all the mechanics on duty and say, “Hey, I have a boyfriend… This is the background of the car. Can you fix this?’ Autocare pays for the parts, pays for the mechanic,” Brown said.

The nonprofit gets parts and fluids at a lower cost or for free through deals with AutoZone and Amazon. Autocare Haven pays mobile mechanics to do the work, which Tellez says is preferable because they don’t have the overhead of adding the cost of a conventional garage. The charity has six full-time mechanics hired to do the repairs.

The charity will solve just about any problem you need to keep your car running. Tellez said the band would not be doing cosmetics. And he doesn’t ask mechanics to rebuild engines or transmissions because it’s too expensive and time consuming. The goal is to get as many people back on the road as quickly as possible.


For Timothy Hale, Autocare Haven was a “blessing” when his wife’s 2013 Toyota Sienna needed a new water pump.

Earlier this year, according to Hale, his wife Tamara noticed something was wrong with the nine-year-old minivan. He took it apart and realized he needed a new front lower arm.

But while he was working on fixing the suspension, he discovered another problem: water was leaking from the engine. The water pump will also need to be replaced.

According to him, it will cost another $1,000, “and we just didn’t have them.”

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, is this never going to end?’ he remembered.

Hale says the family didn’t have much budgetary wiggle room to begin with, and inflation has been brutal. He’s disabled and works a couple of shifts a week as a security guard. His wife Tamara works in a pharmacy. Their adult children live with them, and they also work.

“We can’t get food stamps because we make too much money, but we don’t make enough money to live. We should go to the food bank,” he said.

Tamara also rides Uber to make extra money, so not having a minivan also meant less income.

Tamara heard about Autocare Haven from a friend who heard about it at a food bank. They applied, although Timothy hesitated a bit. Two hours later, he said, their application was approved. The mechanic came to the house and soon after fixed the water pump.

“It was lucky that they came and fixed it. They were very polite. They did the job, they did it quickly, and I still can’t believe we were able to do it,” Hale said. “I mean, it’s still like, wow.”

Any advice? Christopher Connelly is a reporter for KERA One Crisis Away exploring life on the brink of a financial crisis. Email Christopher at [email protected] You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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