For Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, purchasing a new car often isn’t an option. Either you have to take public transit, which isn’t feasible in many areas, or you buy a pre-owned car.
Oklahoma resident Candice Berry was in exactly this predicament in 2019. And so the single mother bought a used truck that she thought was in good working order. However, it turns out that the truck had a laundry list of problems. Not only did the car need new brakes and a purge valve replacement, but the speedometer was also off.
While the purge valve and speedometer weren’t pressing issues, Berry had to replace the breaks as quickly as possible, especially since the truck is her main car. But replacing the truck’s brakes was going to cost money — money that Berry didn’t have. Although Berry called around to mechanics in her area, the estimates were always high, putting the single mother in a tricky situation.
That is until she found Adam Ely in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Adam has run Hard Luck Automotive Services (HLAS) with his wife, Toni, since 2017, and the repair shop has a unique policy of never turning people away, sometimes fixing customers’ cars for free. When Berry got in touch with Adam, the mechanic sent her an estimate. The price? It was just enough to cover the parts themselves, meaning that Adam wasn’t planning on charging Berry for labor. When he did this for Berry, she made sure she returned the favor, nominating him for News 4 and First Fidelity Bank’s Pay It 4Ward Award.
As KFOR Oklahoma News 4 reports in their 2019 coverage of Berry’s story, the bank and news station awarded the single mother $400 cash to pay forward to Adam.
“I’m so grateful to be able to give this to him,” Berry explains in an interview with KFOR. “I can’t think of a better person. He takes time away from his family, he takes time away from things he could be doing for himself to help strangers — and I’m just grateful.”
To show her gratitude, Berry and the KFOR news crew decide to surprise Adam at his garage. While he expects to see Berry there, he thinks they’re meeting just to take another look at her truck. By the look on his face, it’s clear that Adam is surprised, but he remains humble when he accepts his prize and almost immediately gets to work on Berry’s car.
“When you go to a car repair place you’re vulnerable,” Adam explained in his interview with KFOR. “And the last thing you want to be charged is $150 to have a mechanic tell you what’s wrong with your car when you already know that your car is broken. So that’s kind of the way that this started. It was just to kind of knock off that diagnosis fee. And it snowballed into a toolbox in the back of my truck and driving around trying to help folks out.”
In a story from 2019, the BBC reports that Adam is a full-time student studying special education for children with disabilities, and so he has some extra time to devote to HLAS.
Meanwhile, Adam’s wife, Toni, manages the repair shop’s social media presence and merchandise, which includes t-shirts that help pay for some of the repair shop’s costs.
Adam told KFOR that he can trace the beginnings of HLAS back to the first customer he helped for free — a young woman who would have had to quit her job if Adam hadn’t fixed her car. From then on, Adam continued offering the pay-what-you-can service, and more and more people kept showing up.
Like Berry, Tamesha Rayes is one of Adam’s many grateful customers. The BBC reports that it was devastating when Rayes’ car broke down in October 2018, given that she had to drive herself to class and take her son to school. But then Rayes got in contact with Adam, who went out of his way to give the single mother and veteran the best deal possible. First, he called around to find the cheapest parts, and then he found coupons to bring the price down even further. Finally, he repaired the car without charging Rayes for his labor.
“My son Tysen was so impressed as he showed him his tools and let him help out,” Rayes told the BBC. “He didn’t stop talking about him afterwards. He still tells everyone he’s going to be a mechanic like Mr. Adam!”
In his interview with the BBC, Adam explained that he never turns anyone away no matter the circumstances.
“I’ve never turned anyone away. It doesn’t matter about economic status, race or creed. I don’t even care if people take advantage, I will help them, regardless,” Adam said.
Adam added that giving back to the community feels great, especially when he’s able to see that he’s helped someone with their “burden.” That’s at least in part why Adam has continued with the service — it also helps with his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Adam, who left the military in 2007, receives money from the Veterans Association of America for his disabilities, which include back and knee injuries and PTSD flashbacks.
“It’s such a great feeling to be able to give back to people. I get so much more out of it than they do, to see that their burden is taken off them,” Adam told the BBC.
“Doing this gets me through the PTSD 100%!”
Since Adam’s exposure in the media back in 2019, HLAS has grown, as the team details on their website. In light of the repair shop’s lease expiring, the crew spoke in front of the Midwest City Council in September 2020 to ask for help. After explaining the project, the team acquired a $250,000 property for free so that they could continue operations. However, the HLAS crew goes on to say that they still need to raise an additional $250,000 to pay for building costs and permits, and so Adam and his wife are looking for any help that they can get.
“Every little bit helps. If you know a concrete guy, tell them our story or send them our way! If you know a window guy, tell him we need 10,” the crew writes on their about page. “Every donation no matter how big or small helps us get one step closer to our goal. Every shirt sold and every dollar collected puts another brick in the mortar.”