By Stefanie Sears
Alex Roman never envisioned an automotive career for himself, but he claims that he was “always a nerd” and good at math and science. He studied Mechanical Engineering and Economics at Rutgers University and worked at a local repair shop in Elizabeth to help pay for school.
“I soon discovered that I really liked fixing cars and didn’t want to spend my life behind a desk,” he says.
Since July 2002, Roman has owned DTA Automotive in Budd Lake, a location chosen due to its close proximity to his Flanders home. Prior to this, he worked at another shop and afterwards diagnosed problem cars for other shops, one of them being the now DTA Automotive.
“When the previous owner showed interest in selling, I jumped at the chance,” says Roman.
Before technology advanced in his field to diagnose automotive issues, Roman had to make extra efforts to determine them. For example, he explains that the first step is simply talking to the customer about when the problem occurred in order to assess it. Then he would do road testing, which he says is “key” to solving these problems.
“First off, it allows you to duplicate the problem at hand and it also helps you narrow down the possibilities,” he says. “Road testing also reveals other issues that a driver may have not noticed or can’t articulate. As an example, today a customer dropped off a car for an oil change. I road tested it first and noticed that the steering wheel was intermittently tight. I called the customer to tell him what I observed. To which he replied that he had started feeling that a few weeks ago and thought that was just the car getting older. That problem would have just gotten worse.”
Of course, different seasons and weather circumstances are often the causes.
“In the winter weak batteries show up,” he says. “Heat complaints obviously show their face. In the summer overheating complaints are more prevalent and A/C problems abound.”
However, now that computers are involved, Roman has discovered that technology and information, particularly the latest diagnostics scanners, is often very beneficial to fix cars correctly. It seems that with the progression of diagnostic technology, cars have gotten more intricate themselves.
“Needless to say cars are way more complicated today than when I first started,” he says. “Your car today has over a dozen computers integrated in a network sharing information which makes for interesting problems. I’m an ASE certified master technician and continue to get training in the latest automotive technology; mainly in BMW, VW and Audi. I decided eight years ago to concentrate training and tools for servicing those vehicles.”
However, there are also ways that customers can maintain their own car care, for which Roman gives some advice.
“Follow your manufacturer’s maintenance interval,” he says. “If your car has a maintenance reminder, follow that. At least once a year you should have your car properly inspected. We do digital inspections and give customers a link to see them. I also recommend that consumers get a cheap Bluetooth OBDII code reader, that way they will know why their check engine light is on. You can now get a decent one for less than $100. It won’t give you all the information that a professional diagnostic scanner will but some information is better than nothing.”
Of course, Roman also provides a tip about what not to do.
“Avoid cheap parts when possible,” he says. “You’ll save money now but it will cost you more later.”
There have also been instances when Roman could actually not diagnose a problem, particularly because the customer did not want to dedicate time to it. It sometimes depends on the vehicle, and Roman understands these reasons.
“Common problems are dependent on your year, make and model,” he says, “Sometimes, your 15-year-old car is not worth spending $1,000+ plus on.”
Roman says he believes that although his shop’s small size is his business’s greatest weakness, its greatest strengths are the ability to fix cars the first time around guaranteed and the personal service he provides his customers.
“I like to think our personal service and training sets us apart from most of my competition,” he says. “I like to position myself as the alternative to the dealer because of our ability to repair and service late model cars. And since our overhead is significantly less, we can charge less.”
His customer service is also especially evident due to the shop’s primary weakness.
“Our waiting area is extremely small,” Roman adds. “That’s why I provide rides back home so you can wait comfortably at home.”
His top-notch customer service makes an appearance in one of his most memorable moments of his career, a story that displays his understanding and overall loyalty to the community.
“During the first year in business, a woman came in with her Honda overheating,” he describes. “She unfortunately had a blown head gasket and couldn’t afford to fix it. She was devastated and beside herself because she had no one. Recognizing her struggle as one that I had been in not too long ago, we agreed on a payment plan. She paid $20/week for over a year. She went on to go back to school, became a nurse, got married and to this day brings all her cars to us. She reminds me how we should always help out folks whenever we can.”
Roman’s desire to help his community more translated over to his political life.
In addition to owning DTA Automotives, Roman has been a member of the Mt. Olive Twp. Council since 2007 and currently serves as its vice president. Previously, he was a recreational football and softball coach for seven and nine years, respectively, and joined the council to get more involved with town committees.
As a councilperson, Roman’s job is to oversee the operations of the administration by approving budgets, passing ordinances, and serving as a check and balance to Mayor Robert Greenbaum.
“Politics is always something that has interested me. And I’ve always had a desire to be involved in deciding the course of whatever group I was a part of,” he says. “It all started in college when I was on the Latino Student Council. That was my first exposure to politics. Being a councilman is very rewarding. I love being able to solve resident’s problem and seeing the fruits of your ideas. I raised my four kids, three daughters and one son, here and thankful for the great environment here.”
He also adds, “I’m proud of holding spending down during my 10 years on council and pushing the administration to be more tech savvy. One of the things I’m also proud of is the numerous town rec sport sponsorships, school PTAs, and various school activities.”