Photography courtesy of Manuel Tellez.
Manuel Tellez was working to make ends meet when he moved to Dallas in 2006. It was a tall task with an unreliable money pit of a vehicle. The brake pads needed replaced. Then every part in his cooling system broke. With no one to ask for help, he turned to a payday lender.
“I got stuck in that debt trap for a little while, but I eventually made my way out after paying several thousands of dollars in interest,” he says. “Every time I’d go back to the payday lender, I’d run in to people who were there to get loans or renew loans to pay bills. The most common bill I heard was for auto repairs. There was no organization to help folks with that. There was a need.”
In 2019, Tellez founded Autocare Haven, a nonprofit that provides free car repairs to North Texas motorists who don’t have the funds. Applicants must show a driver’s license, proof of residency, proof of income and carry at least the minimum auto insurance coverage. Then a mechanic diagnoses the problem and determines if it can be repaired.
The organization won’t restore a totaled car or fix a cosmetic bumper scratch, but it will replace parts that are essential for a car to run. Autocare Haven has provided a new battery, changed a tire and aligned tires. When a woman needed new brake pads, the nonprofit paid to have them replaced. The repair allowed her to get back on the road as a delivery driver for Grubhub and save enough money to rent her own apartment.
“We value everyone having their own vehicle in this country,” Tellez says. “It’s good to have that independence, but if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and don’t have savings or a credit card, you’re one blown tire away from disaster.”
The average car repair in Texas costs about $386, but 44 percent of Americans can’t cover an unexpected expense of $400, according to a study from the Federal Reserve.
Autocare Haven collects community donations through multiple platforms, such as PayPal, Zelle or Venmo, and pays qualified mechanics to make repairs at no cost to customers. It’s raised hundreds of dollars through GoFundMe and a Facebook donation campaign that coincided with North Texas Giving Day.
Board members would like to grow the program, but to do that, they need more funds. Fundraising efforts hit a speedbump last year, when struggling nonprofits clamored for a limited amount of giving dollars.
The organization received a boost through a partnership with Amazon. Every few months, the retailer donates auto fluids, such as motor oil and antifreeze, in boxes that have been damaged in shipping. So far, Amazon has donated more than 450 pounds of auto fluid.
“I work to get the donations organized,” board member Tyler Wear says. “Given my interest in cars, I thought this would be something I was well suited to help with. People need a vehicle here. We don’t have mass transit and public transportation like so many other big cities. There are so many areas of town that are only accessible by car. It is a necessity.”
The organization services Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Rockwall counties.
“A lot of affordable neighborhoods are going through gentrification, and people are moving farther out, where DART opportunities are more sparse,” board member Lauren Ortega says. “In some areas, it’s 5 miles or more to a grocery store, a bank or a library. That’s an hour on a bus. Who has that time? Parents need reliable transportation for their kids or so they can help with an older adult. Maybe they just want to get to work. Any one of us could have car trouble at any time.”
For more information, visit autocarehaven.org.
Ways to donate:
- PayPal: paypal.me/AutocareHaven
- Facebook: facebook.com/AutocareHaven
- Cash App: $AutocareHaven
- Venmo: @autocarehaven
- Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org