By Janelle Walker
SOUTH ELGIN, Ill.
Wicked Wrench Co. was Frank Hjelm Sr.’s dying wish for his children, daughters Jaime and Naomi Hjelm say.
Hjelm, who founded South Elgin, Ill.-based A#1 Cab Co. with wife Karen in 1985, died May 3.
His daughters had already taken over the taxi business, but their car mechanic brother was not part of the family enterprise.
“Dad sat us down in January and said, ‘Bring your brother back and let’s do outside work. We have a huge facility” for working on cars, Jaime Hjelm said.
Once the village of South Elgin approved a special use permit allowing the cab company’s shop, well-stocked with equipment for servicing its fleet of taxis and private transport vehicles, they made plans to open a car repair business. The doors to Wicked Wrench opened recently.
There will be no changes to A#1 Cab, Jaime Hjelm said. They still plan on serving 70 area municipalities with their taxis, and its dispatch system will continue to operate out of their Production Drive location. Business is good, both said, even in the age of Uber and Lyft drivers.
But the expansion into offering auto repair and maintenance services will help their employees as well since it will give their mechanics more to do.
Once their fleet of taxis was almost entirely American-made vehicles, but a few years ago they began switching to Toyotas, including hybrids. “There is a lot less maintenance to do” on those cars, Hjelm said.
Frank Jr. is part of the business, just as their father requested.
The name Wicked Wrench Co. was picked for a few reasons, although Jaime Hjelm admitted, “We wanted something that would look cool on a T-shirt.”
It’s entertaining for their drivers as well. “(They) make fun of us, they can call us wicked wenches now too,” Jaime Hjelm said, laughing.
They also have very specific goal in mind when it comes to their customers, the sisters said.
“We hate seeing people get screwed” by unscrupulous mechanics who overcharge customers who are not well-versed in car repair and maintenance, Naomi Hjelm said.
“We have both had girlfriends show us their estimates … for brakes, rotors, this and that, for an ungodly amount,” Jaime Hjelm said. She will often tell those friends what work they do or don’t actually need.
“Our mindset versus other shops is we are doing fleet maintenance on a budget,” she said. “We do preventative care and fix what is wrong because we don’t want a car down. We will fix it the first time so they don’t come back.”
She’s been working on cars herself since she was 17, but knows that not everyone grew up around that or had a parent who could teach them, Hjelm said.
To better educate their female customers or those who don’t know much about cars, they plan to host classes in the fall about how to care for their vehicles. It isn’t just women who need help, Hjelm said. A few years ago she polled their drivers and asked how many of them could check their own oil or tire pressure or change a tire.
She was shocked on how many of them, almost half, said they had no idea, she said.
“It’s not just women, it’s grown men, too,” Hjelm said. “We will take them into the shop, show them how to check their oil or change a tire, what some of these other things do. I know there is a need out there to show kids basic car maintenance.”
“We are just trying to help people,” Naomi Hjelm said.