Back in the ’70s, G. Roland Dickason built a name for himself as an expert in automotive repairs. In 1974, he opened his first shop, Your Car Specialist, whose whole focus was repairing Hondas and Acuras. He did everything on those cars… well, everything except transmissions.
So how did he turn that business model into one of today’s most respected transmission wholesale suppliers?
His first step was to develop a reputation for doing exceptional work at an honest price. “Treat people right, do right by them, build a quality product, and stand behind it,” explains Gil Dickason, Roland’s cousin and now CEO and president of H&A. “It’s the perfect recipe for success.”
Roland’s reputation quickly grew and he started getting noticed around town. One day he received a call from a local auto salvage yard. Would he be able to rebuild a Honda transmission for them? Roland, like most really good techs, was just confident enough — and just cocky enough — to tell them, “sure,” even though he hadn’t rebuilt transmissions before. So they dropped a core off for him to rebuild.
He spent about two days tearing that transmission down to nuts and bolts, cleaning and examining every part carefully, and putting it all back together with the new components it needed. He returned it to the folks at the salvage yard; they installed it and gave it a try. It worked better than when it was new.
So they called back and asked whether Roland would be up for doing “a couple more.” He said, “sure,” and a few days later they rolled up with a flatbed with maybe 50 or 100 cores! Roland called them back: “You said a couple!”
“That’s okay,” they replied, “Just do what you can when you can. We can sell as many as you can rebuild.”
And so began Roland’s operations as a volume transmission repair shop. Soon he split off from his partner, leaving general repairs to focus on transmissions.
A couple months later, Roland asked Gil to leave the lithography business and join him at the shop. Gil made the leap and started by simply disassembling and cleaning manual transmissions for about the first six months.
Then one day, Roland asked whether he could put one back together. “Yeah,” said Gil, “I could do that in my sleep now.” So the two cousins worked side by side, with Roland on the automatics and Gil on the manuals. And the business continued to grow.
Business was growing quickly building transmissions primarily for a salvage yard, but Gil had the idea to take a different direction. He started talking to local dealers, and discovered that Honda couldn’t keep up with their demand for transmissions. So they started selling to nearby dealers.
Finally, about 1996, Gil went to Roland with an idea to expand. They’d offer their transmissions to a larger audience. “We were working on about a 50-mile radius. They’d take them out, we’d pick them up, build them, deliver them, and they’d get their markup,” explains Gil.
It was a good start, but soon Gil realized that if they wanted to compete with the big boys, they’d have to be able to ship units. “We had to develop a shipping department and start marketing in different areas.” Roland took some convincing, but eventually Gil persuaded him to take H&A to the next level. And they quickly became a leader in providing rebuilt Honda and Acura transmissions all across the country, now offering product being staged and shipped from nine distribution centers nationwide.
“I started by working a couple chat rooms that were specific to Honda and Acura,” says Gil. “I’d troubleshoot some of the guys’ problems; usually shift issues related to solenoid problems. I wrote up a little tutorial on how to process and clean the solenoids rather than replace the units. And that fixed a lot of transmissions.
“That turned into, ‘Here’s a company that’ll help you fix a problem rather than sell you a transmission.’ We became known as a company that does good works, rather than just good work. That became our capstone: Just doing right by the customers. And that got us all kinds of positive referrals.”
One of the things that they discovered building Honda and Acura transmissions is how important it was to keep things clean. “Hondas were exceptionally temperamental to dirt and contamination,” says Gil. That dirt would cause valves to stick and could create shift problems and potentially cause a unit to fail.
So the folks at H&A created a rebuilding facility with near clean room standards. “And we were the first company to really start using vibratory and ultrasonic technology to clean and polish the cases. That was just another statement of ours, saying, ‘We don’t just correct everything on the inside; we also take pride in the esthetics of our product.’”
Additionally, these units had overheating issues. “One of the things we learned was to bypass the factory cooling system that typically runs through the radiator,” says Gil. “We provide external coolers, which have been proven to extend the life of the transmission.”
INTRODUCING GEARSPEED PARTS
“There was a guy I used to call on in Montebello,” explains Gil. “I really enjoyed talking to him. I was trying to get him to use our transmissions. He was always busy; had a huge business in the community. He had a lot of great things to say about us, but in the end, he said, ‘Just so you’re clear, I’m never going to buy your transmissions.’
“I was on my way home when it hit me: He may not buy our transmissions, but he has to buy parts.” Gearspeed, which officially opened in 2003 to provide high performance and racing transmissions, began selling parts nationwide in 2009.
Over the years, H&A developed rebuild kits for in-house use with high quality materials, then packaged kits for sale through Gearspeed. “We sourced O-rings, paper gaskets, clutches, steels… we even started having our own components made,” says Gil.
And, since Gearspeed focuses almost exclusively on Honda and Acura, their kits are very specific to each individual unit. “Our kits are ‘low to no-waste’ kits,” explains Gearspeed Manager John Briand. “Every part gets used, so you’re never paying for parts you don’t need.”
What makes Gearspeed unique isn’t that they just sell Honda and Acura parts; it’s that they build with every part they sell. And their connection with those transmissions has enabled them to become a source for many parts that are the product of their own research and development.
For example, back in the early 2000s, it was common practice to replace a Honda sprag with one from GM. It wasn’t an exact fit, but it worked… until 2007. Then it didn’t.
You could buy a new sprag from Honda, but only as part of an assembly. And that could be very pricy. So the technical specialists at Gearspeed designed their own sprag and had it manufactured.
As soon as their first sprags came in, they began their approval process. They measured the new sprag in every dimension, and checked to make sure it fit properly. Then they had the components checked metallurgically, to make sure it met their exacting standards.
Once they were sure the component was built exactly as they’d designed it, they began installing it in their own units. Only after it passed all their rigorous testing were they ready to offer it to you.
Gearspeed also offers what they call their Clean Cut Case. “The aluminum on the case has been a big problem on these units,” explains Product Development Technician Glenn Dickason. “We’ve created a bulletproof program for these cases. We clean them up, clean up the bores, and from there we have two options: We can either sleeve the unit with a steel sleeve, or install oversized bearings, which aren’t available from anyone else.”
To see what Gearspeed has to offer, visit them online at www. gearspeedwholesale.com.
When H&A began designing their Clean Cut Cases, they’d use outside machine shops to handle the machining processes. That cost them a lot in terms of both time and money.
Now, with all that machining capability, H&A has started machining other components for the industry. And they’re looking to expand their machining services to include commonly damaged hard parts from other transmissions.
If you know of a hard part that often needs to be machined or replaced, contact the folks at H&A. If they haven’t already begun repairing those parts, they’ll look into adding it to their remanufactured product line.
Visit www.hnamachining.com to learn more.
H&A TODAY AND THE FUTURE
H&A has been a Honda and Acura repair center since before most people in this business can remember. But at some point it becomes time to expand. H&A is doing that by adding to their product line.
They’re now offering CVTs to their product line, including the 03-11 Civic CVTs and expanding the Honda CVT line. They’re even beginning to offer some of the Jatco CVTs used in Nissans. There are still a lot of rebuilders who aren’t sure they want to get involved with rebuilding CVTs. That’s okay, because now they’re available from H&A.
And they’re even getting back to their Gearspeed roots with high performance and racing transmissions. They’ve set their sights on high performance rebuilds outside the Honda/Acura product line.
Leading that effort is Leo Martinez, who has his roots in high performance and racing. Leo leads the R&D and Tech departments, and is instrumental in their move toward high performance. If you’re looking for something from that line, give them a call.
No doubt about it, the future looks very bright for H&A, thanks in no small part to its dedicated management staff, including Barbara Scott, VP of Sales/CFO; Jason Flejter, VP of Operations; John Briand, Gearspeed Manager; Leo Martinez, VP of R&D/ Tech; and Carol Sprague, Human Resources. These folks are working diligently to take H&A to the next level.
H&A Transmissions is on line at www.hnatrans.com.