Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Dave Bell, owner of Dave's Complete Auto Care in Centerville, with a fake palm tree.

CENTERVILLE — Dave Bell never has to worry about giving people too-complicated directions to his auto repair place.

Just look for the three fake palm trees. One is orange. Another is red. All three light up at night, Vegas-style.

"One guy from the city said it was the most creative way of getting around the sign ordinance that he'd ever seen," said Bell, owner of Dave's Complete Auto Service. "I took that as a compliment."

Bell's love for the beach and the ocean — he grew up in the Florida Keys — is the reason for the phony flora, but its garishness belies his commitment to running a clean shop, educating customers and giving them options. "A lot of times," he said, "that's what people are looking for."

He bemoans an industry with a perception problem, "but the only way to change it is in my business," he said. "I can't go out to Johnny and Mack by the railroad track or whoever and say, 'Look dude, would you please clean up your crap? Could you tuck your shirt in? Could you get some teeth in front of you? Could you brush the teeth you have?' "

Bell said he was determined, when he started his business in 1990, that it would be different, with a high level of professionalism. The stakes, he noted, are high.

"We can kill you — literally. If you get some idiot who doesn't put on a tie rod or fix the front suspension correctly, or, heaven forbid, doesn't tighten your lug nuts correctly, torque them right, simple dumb things like that, he takes a car out and at best, if you're lucky, the tire falls off and you're cussing him and you get a tow truck. At worst, the tire comes off, bounces on the freeway, crosses the median and takes out your wife in a van with your kids," Bell said.

"There is no product that changes quicker that the consumer puts their hand on every single day of their life that changes, or is more technologically advanced, as their auto."

His auto-repair career began at 15 at a Miami cab and limo service. Eventually he worked for a few dealerships in Utah before striking out on his own. After an expansion in 2000, Dave's Complete Auto Service has 30 bays where he has what he considers the best-equipped shop in the state.

Oh, and those trees out front, twinkles cutting through the nighttime dark. They were added less than a year ago, after he spotted some in Key Largo.

"The idea is that every couple of years you add something, or people will get complacent, forget you're there and quit looking," he said.

But have they helped business? "What do you think?" is his reply.

As for his work — the only work he's known — he said he still finds pleasure in what he sees as "a dying breed, almost like stone masons."

"I've always loved it, and I still have a tremendous passion for helping people out and fixing their cars. I throw them their keys and then they call me a day later or send me a letter. I've got a whole wall pasted with letters saying, 'You're the greatest' and 'Thanks for the help.' That makes the grease and the sweat and moaning and groaning and the busted knuckles all worth it."


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com