The heart of Chicago, Ill. is located downtown, near Lake Michigan, at the bustling corner of State Street and Madison Avenue. If you search about 20 miles due northwest, there is an inconspicuous building on a quiet corner in a sleepy, suburban bedroom community. The 2600 sq. foot building has just four repair bays, only three lifts and inside – perhaps the greatest treasure trove of automotive diagnostic capabilities you’ll ever find.
Meet MB Automotive.

On one of the nondescript outside walls of MB Automotive there is a sign proclaiming that this is the home of AC Delco’s “Technician of the Millennium” 2001 & 2006. Inside, you’ll find a family-owned, award-winning shop that provides its customers with the very latest in automotive diagnostics and repair. You will be challenged to find another auto repair facility that has the same level of expertise and quality that MB provides to its customers each day.

From the 1940s until 1980, brothers Fred and Hermann Manna operated a Standard Oil gasoline and service station in Chicago’s busy Lincoln Square neighborhood, providing a hand car wash and full automotive repair services in 4 bays. Teenage sons, Scot and older brother Gary Manna began their automotive careers washing cars and polishing chrome for their Dad and Uncle at that location.

Scot claims that his love for the car repair business (not a love of cars) came even earlier. Being the typical one-car family from that era, Mom drove Dad to work each morning and picked him up at the end of the day. Young Scot insisted on riding along as often as he could, because he was simply “fascinated” by all the goings-on around the business.

At the age of nineteen, Scot took it upon himself to attend a Standard Oil training session for automotive air conditioning repair and convinced the family to add A/C to the shops list of services. There was an A/C parts supply house right across the street from the station. With Scot’s new training, there was no longer any reason to turn away any more A/C jobs. By 1976-77, with just a vacuum pump and a couple sets of gauges, Scot was typically diagnosing and repairing several A/C jobs at the same time. Success led to the purchase of a Sun “Air Care” instant charging machine to help make Scot even more efficient.

In 1980, Fred and Hermann Manna retired, and sold their gas station business. Scot and Gary only lasted a few months working under the new ownership before they decided to branch out on their own. The building is now long-gone and all that remains are fond memories and a water-damaged, black and white photo of the operations.

The brothers eagerly sublet a two-bay Mobil gas station in the nearby suburb of Skokie, Ill. That station was still pumping (full-service, mind you) gasoline, but the repair bays were shut down; so, the younger Manna brothers simply asked the station owners if they could rent the unused bays to sell repairs. After six successful years in business there, the Mobil station property went up for sale. The parties could not strike a deal and the station subsequently was knocked down and became a Taylor Rental Center.

By then, the Mannas had already established their reputation as a diagnostic shop – and had amassed (literally) tons of standard shop equipment and diagnostic tools. They quickly found another Mobil station in town with three unused service bays. The owner of that location had lost interest in the service station business, moved away to Colorado and left “a couple of guys” to pump gasoline at the station. Those “guys” gladly accepted terms allowing Scot and Gary to run service operations in the bays.

By now, the business was running quite well. Gary was the people-person in the partnership and loved interacting with customers at the counter. And wow, did the customers love Gary. Meanwhile, the more technically inclined Scot kept his nosed buried in books, training classes, under hoods and in the back of the shop. The brothers and the business had found their rhythm. The regular Mobil rep for the area saw that things were going well, and he turned a blind-eye to the casual business arrangement, but the Mobil District Manager was less forgiving. He reminded all parties that the station’s lease did not allow for any sublets. Interestingly, Mobil “threw out” the existing station ownership and invited the Manna brothers to take over the entire business, hoping to build-up enough gasoline and service sales to overcome the competition from the nearby Shell Oil station.

The Manna family was now servicing vehicles and pumping gasoline – something they had not done since their father and uncle had sold the Standard Oil station. Again, that business scenario didn’t last very long. This particular Mobil station was on the corner of a large shopping mall. For greater business reasons, Mobil did not renew the lease on the property and offered to find the Manna brothers another, more suitable location.

The next stop for the “Manna Brothers Travelling Band” had more bays, no gas pumps and was at a busy crossroads across from a major shopping mall in Niles, Ill. The property was owned by an elderly couple. When that couple passed away, more than a dozen heirs were looking to cash in on the property, so the Mannas were on the move again.

Scot and Gary decided that after four moves in thirteen years, they had moved around enough and vowed to have control of the real estate at their next location. They found a long-closed and abandoned Shell station that never pumped gas. It was right across the street from a Borg-Warner research facility with its own test track. And that brings the story of MB Automotive to the 1990s, just ahead of the new millennium and to its present location in yet another Chicago suburb, Des Plaines, Ill.

By now, Scot was working at the shop all day, every day and already teaching automotive repair at the local community college four (five-hour) nights a week. Scot had earlier graduated from the Automotive Technology program at Oakton Community College and his instructor asked Scot to come back and teach the summer automotive program. Although the college desperately wanted Scot to teach full-time, Scot believed his calling was back at the shop.

Engine diagnostics were always MB Automotive’s focus. From the time they had purchased their SUN Electric 1015 Engine Analyzer years ago, customers recognized Scot as “the guy who fixed it.” For years, Scot had been attending training and the shop had been acquiring cutting-edge equipment to diagnose the latest technologies. “That has been my curse, from then, now and forever” chuckled Scot, “All the weird and impossible diagnostic scenarios come right to me.”

Although SUN Electric was purchased by Snap-On Tools back in the 1990s, Scot’s relationship with the company persists. There is a still-working SUN Machine 500, running Windows98 in the shop –and, Scot’s shop is a beta-tester for the latest and greatest Snap-On diagnostic units. A new, still-in-testing Snap-On Zeus with Intelligent Diagnostics is running on a countertop. Scot also continues to deliver training classes for Snap-On at the local training center and all around the country.

After leaving the community college position, Scot was contacted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Illinois had recently begun its statewide vehicle emissions testing program. It seemed Illinois roads were full of gross, polluting vehicles and there weren’t enough shops or technicians to efficiently make (correct) emissions repairs and bring those vehicles back into compliance. The state utilized Scot and a handful of other diagnosticians to hold free seminars at community colleges around the state. Chances are, if you lived or worked in Illinois and you received emissions repair training from the state EPA, then you were in one of Scot’s training seminars. The training topics were progressive; Scot may have been the first person to help you understand how catalytic converters work and fail –and then (much) later on, Scot introduced you to mode VI OBDII diagnostic strategies.

Then and now, Scot works with Technicians Service Training (TST), a group of dedicated automotive technicians and instructors committed to the mission of continuing the education of all automotive technicians.

Scot also continues to deliver instructor-led training for WORLDPAC Technical Institute (WTI) at seminars and events all over the US and Canada. By the time you read this, Scot will have just returned from his annual trip to VISION Expo in Kansas City. Over the years, Scot has delivered hundreds of training classes on Advanced Diagnostics. Today Advanced Diagnostics is so broad a topic that you are more likely to hear Scot deliver an 8-hour seminar on diagnosing and reprogramming a single BMW control module.

Before 2010, Scot mainly gave training on generic topics such as mass airflow diagnosis, primarily geared toward domestic vehicles. Once he began his relationship with WORLDPAC, Scot began to focus his skills and training topics on European and other foreign manufacture vehicles. By 2015, Scot was so deep into BMW diagnostics that he bought a used, high-end BMW from one of his customers – just so he could have ready access to a BMW that he could bug, diagnose, repair and document what he had learned. Today, that BMW is Scot’s daily driver and can be found (usually hood-up) in the lot or in a bay at MB Automotive.

What does Scot drive while his BMW is torn apart as he creates his latest PowerPoint slides on Double VANOS and Valvetronic III diagnostic training? One option is his prized LeMans Blue 2006 Chevrolet Corvette. Wait a minute, didn’t we note that Scot wasn’t really a “car guy?” To explain the ‘vette, you have to go back to that signage outside, inside and all-around MB Automotive premises, proclaiming Scot as Technician of the Millennium.

AC Delco, recognizing technician’s achievements as well as the complex technological challenges confronted every day, launched its Technician of the Millennium contest in the US in 1999 with great success. There were three phases within the contest: Phase I: A Time Limited Written Exam; Phase II: Regional Contests where the top scorers from the written exam moved on to real, hands-on diagnosis and repair; Phase III: The Regional Winners participated in a final Hands-On Competition.

That contest was held four times between 1999 and 2006. Scot Manna won the competition in 2001 and 2006, the final year of the competition. When you win a diagnostic competition and AC Delco awards you a voucher for any new GM vehicle… well even “not a car guy” Scot started looking for a Corvette in the perfect color. Needless to say, MB Automotive maintains a relationship with AC Delco to this day.

Despite all the good fortune and accolades for Scot and MB Automotive between those years, the Mannas endured heartbreak in 2004 when brother Gary died in a tragic motorcycle accident. So many loving customers, friends and family attended Gary’s funeral ceremonies that his mourners overwhelmed the long-standing Episcopalian Church just across from the shop. At the time, Gary’s services and procession may have been the largest that the suburb of Des Plaines had ever experienced.

Since then, Scot has been sole proprietor of MB Automotive. Because Scot remains busy with training and travel commitments, he has developed a noteworthy and trustworthy crew to maintain the Manna Brother’s same, high level of expertise and quality that MB provides to its customers each day.
MB Automotive prides themselves on their ability to repair the difficult problem cars with their high level of technical training and the latest in factory-level diagnostic equipment.

MB considers itself a full-service auto repair and maintenance facility specializing in high-tech repairs. They are also a recognized State of Illinois emission repair facility. In fact, Illinois reports MB Automotive as having a 100 percent emissions repair effectiveness index rating (REI). That means if you bring your car to MB because it failed a state EPA emissions test, MB can and will repair the emissions system to its proper operating condition and the repaired car will pass the test 100% of the time.

MB employs highly trained, Master Certified technicians and possesses the latest factory and aftermarket diagnostic equipment. They perform computer re-programming on all Domestic and many Asian and European vehicles. They are also an ASA-affiliated shop and have earned the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence recognition.

Some of Scot’s credentials include: Triple Master Certified ASE Technician -- Advanced level certification in gas and diesel engines; Certified in L1 Advanced Engine Performance; Nationally recognized automotive trainer; State of Illinois trainer since 2005; ASE Master Technician of the Year 2001 and 2009; AC Delco Technician of the Millennium 2001 and 2006; Gates/ASE Master Technician of the Year 2009

Ed Goss – Technician: ASE Certified Master Technician; Certified in L1 Advanced Engine Performance; Specialist in Drivetrain Repairs; Over 20-years with MB Automotive and takes on all the shop’s heavy-duty repairs.

Ishmael Echeverria – Technician; ASE Certified Technician, Engine Repair, Suspension and Steering, Brakes, Electrical/Electronic Systems. Engine Performance, Heating & Air Conditioning. Over 14-years with MB Automotive and a fantastic fabricator.

Johnny Mulhall – Technician; Universal Technical Institute graduate; Experienced ZF transmission valve body rebuilder; Their latest hire with just under a year’s tenure at MB.

Jim Kelley – Customer Service and Front Counter; Jim works part-time, during the afternoon, when the daily activity builds to its highest point in a progressive increase of intensity.

Scot admits that most shops don’t turn a profit if their main focus is diagnostics. “That’s why it’s important that we offer full service maintenance and repairs to our neighborhood customers.” Brake work is particularly profitable. “Brakes are the last components on the car that consistently wear out.

Car manufacturers have done a really good job of designing (other) components that last a really long time,” Scot said. “And tires: we still sell a lot of tires. Our customers like Hankook and Goodyear tires. Of course, we farm the alignments out. We just don’t have the room for an alignment rack.”
On the day that Undercar Digest visited MB Automotive, the Chicago area had just suffered a record-breaking, twenty-six degrees below zero, cold snap. The shop was littered with battery cores, waiting to be picked up by the recycler.

Ishmael “Ish” Echeverria was monitoring repairs to a well-worn Ford Focus. This particular vehicle had battery issues that extended beyond cold-weather woes. Ish had found a parasitic current draw on the newly installed battery caused by an ill-maintained trunk latch. Whenever the trunk wasn’t latched properly, the trunk light would remain illuminated and rob the battery of current needed to start the car. Ish was verifying the repairs before the car was released to the customer.

Johnny Mulhall had just lifted an older Ford Escape on the rack. The repair order stated the vehicle had “massive” oil leaks. Along with addressing the oil leak concerns, Johnny carefully inspected under and around the vehicle, including checking the air pressure and TPMS battery condition at all four corners of the vehicle. Every vehicle receives a thorough inspection along with an estimate for any required or suggested repairs. This particular Escape was a lease vehicle, so the shop was working with both the driver and the fleet management administrator to address any conditions unnoticed by the driver.

Ed Goss was tackling a thankless job. Another shop tried to “tune up” a Ford pickup with a Triton V8 motor – and managed to break off all eight spark plugs in the cylinder heads. Scott was using all of his wits, along with virtually every combination of ratchet, extension, swivel and socket to access what remained of the mutilated plugs. Word on the street is that Ed likes a challenge…

After a quick look under the hood of a Nissan Altima, outside on the lot and in the cold, Scot pulled in a Cadillac SRX. It seems another local shop had done other repairs and now wants MB to replace and reprogram the computer. The shop states the car won’t crank and that there is no communication with the module. It takes Scot just a few minutes to hook up a steady, clean power supply to the battery, connect a GM MDI, fire up his laptop and access AC Delco TDS for GM repair information. Scot flatly states, “I’m going to check a few things before I replace the computer. Even though the other shop says the computer failed to reprogram twice, I’m going to start with an all-module scan using a Tech2 and see what’s reporting. The problem really might be anything.”

At the front counter, Jim was working with a regular customer who drove right up to the waiting room door, opened the hood, walked in and asked to have the battery checked; Jim simultaneously signed for a Bumper to Bumper parts delivery, answered the ringing phone and answered questions for a customer picking up her vehicle. Jim works part-time, early afternoon ‘til closing, when daily activity builds to its highest point in a progressive increase of intensity.

All the foot traffic in the waiting room is surprising. MB doesn’t offer any modern amenities such as premium coffee, bagels, free Wi-Fi or even a TV for its customers. MB reinvests the profits it earns in purchasing up-to-the-minute service information and diagnostic tools, because that’s what MB customers expect. “We offer OE Dealer level service – but not accommodations,” Scot says earnestly.    

In fact, between 20% and 25% of business at MB comes directly from other shops. Some shops want MB to complete the repairs they started, some just let MB do all of the heavy thinking and lifting. “We don’t mind,” Scot said, “It’s what we do. It’s no different than when we sell tires and sublet out an alignment.”

He continued, “Typically, we have one to three cars here from other shops.”

Sometimes, Scot feels like the brick-and-mortar version of the guy in the van with all the scan tools who goes from shop to shop re-setting, reprogramming or re-flashing. “The difference,” Scot said, “is that MB will do the diagnostics – the guy in the van won’t help you with that.” At times, Scot will drive over to the other shop with his reprogramming tools. “If I’m confident reprogramming is all that needs to be done, I’m willing to save the other shop the time and expense of having the car towed to my lot. It’s just easier.”

MB is literally littered with diagnostic tools. Some are old, some are new; foreign and domestic with quite a few only used on VW, BMW and Mercedes vehicles. Some of the tools look like they were simply forgotten, but the truth is that some tools are used so often they never really get put away…
What lies in the future for MB Automotive?

Scot has four adult children. All are successful in their chosen careers, but none are ready to be the next owners of MB Automotive. “Not a one was bitten by the car bug,” laughed Scot.

Scot sees the percentage of work from other shops growing each year and wonders if MB will ever reach the critical mass of becoming strictly a B2B operation. Scot knows that soon, MB and all shops will need a lot more room in order to complete repairs on most vehicles. For vehicles with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), shops will need a large amount room for the targeting systems required to reset and calibrate cameras, sensors and modules. Can some of those repairs be done outdoors? Maybe. Unless the sun shines too brightly and interferes with the sensors. Or, maybe, not at all during sub-zero winter weather. Scot said, “Shop liability is the greater question. What if a shop resets a safety system without using the OE tool and the car is involved in an accident?” You can almost hear the customer saying, “the car was supposed to stop - not me!”

Scot says shops have more basic worries than ADAS. “It’s a shame how our industry devalues technicians”, lamented Scot. “We give too much away, and customers don’t see the value in our technicians’ time and effort. Parts stores that pull codes for free, big box retailers that sell four tires and then offer mounting and balancing for just a penny. Ask the tech who spends eight hours a day installing tires properly, being careful not to mar the customers expensive wheels or damage TPMS sensors. That one penny installation charge devalues him as a human.”

Scot went on, “There is an incredible amount of complexity in today’s vehicles. Nothing is simple. Even on a 16-year old car, the horn circuit might be controlled by three different modules you need a scan tool to check anything. Yet, customers think every electrical issue is just a fuse. ‘You’re doing to charge me for that?’ asks the customer. Nobody knows how these cars work. Advertising makes customers think all these things are simple.” A pet peeve of Scot’s is those technicians who give away their knowledge for free on YouTube. “Don’t give it away. Your training, knowledge and time are worth something.”

As a result, technicians are undervalued and underpaid. Scot told of a nearby shop that had lost two good technicians to a forklift repair company.

Those techs would rather be working on cars, but the work hours, pay and benefits are better than shops can offer. Scot remembers the double-digit, below freezing weather. He watched power-line workers struggle in those conditions, noting those workers were doing a tough job in adverse conditions but were getting paid a lot of extra money for their effort. Scot wonders if any auto service technicians received extra pay for working in the same conditions. “So few people realize how much it takes to keep cars on the road today. Think about it- we don’t spend our commutes navigating around broken-down cars on the roads today. Today’s technicians make sure the wheels of America keep moving.”

Scot also worries about shops that offer free inspections. “Customers understand the true value of free. Those shops are simply searching for low hanging fruit where they can make an easy profit. That free inspection may never advise the customer of a leaking oil seal because most shops don’t make money that way. Shops know that they can make money at the wheels. But once they open up the hood, they’re screwed.”

Recently, a customer came to MB for repairs and Scot advised her that it was time to retire the vehicle. The sub frame was rotted-away, and the brake lines were corroded and dangerous. It was time to move on. The customer showed Scot her receipt for new tires purchased just days ago. Apparently, the tire store had no qualms about selling tires for a vehicle in that condition….

For his part, Scot says MB charges fairly, but charges for all their services. MB is moving toward a tiered labor rate: one rate for diagnostic work and a lower rate for mechanical repair labor. Moreover, MB charges for every part and labor operation they sell, but does not charge trendy technology fees, information-lookup fees, shop supply fees or other junk fees that upset customers. “It’s like going to the hospital and being charged $17 for an aspirin.”

There is no services menu board at MB Automotive. And there is no minimum of one-hour diagnostic labor either. Scot’s experience tells him the amount of time he’s likely to spend on a certain vehicle’s problem and he quotes that diagnostic time up front.

Scot won’t annoy his customers with text messages with ‘today only” coupons. That button on his CRM program is turned OFF. Word of mouth advertising, service reminders and shop referrals are enough to keep MB’s bays full. Like any good neighborhood shop, sponsoring local sports teams, local charities and church bulletin advertising are staples of his marketing plan. Scot’s son built and maintains the shop’s website, but Scot is not a firm believer in social media marketing. Internet reputation damage is brutal. Shops are running scared. “Customers wield too much power,” he worried, “if shops do not bend to customers’ wishes.”

Scot feels fortunate that his health is good and that he is able to rely more on his diagnostic skills than his ability to turn a wrench. The most difficult part is keeping current. He sees a growing need for shops with stellar diagnostic capabilities and no particular end in sight for MB Automotive.