ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. With credit so tight, buying a car is really hard these days. Six hundred dealerships have closed this year with another 2,000 expected to shut down by 2010. But not everyone in the automotive industry is losing out. Tim Bomba reports.
TIM BOMBA: It's 7:30 in the morning at the Toyota Service Center in Santa Monica. Janette Devorac(ph) is dropping off her 2005 Prius.
Ms. JANETTE DEVORAC (Prius Driver, Santa Monica, California): It's had the engine light, the maintenance light on for awhile.
Unidentified Man: That's just a reminder. If you have a check engine light or any other type of warning light on, then bring it in. So, let me get this printed up, and I'll get you on your way. This is your first time here. I understand this is a pre-owned car?
Ms. DEVORAC: Yes.
BOMBA: This is Jeanette's first visit here as a car owner. For the past 12 years, she's been leasing. But a few months ago, she did the math and saw all the money she was giving away in lease payments.
Ms. DEVORAC: It just seemed like it made more sense to buy, and five years later, you still own a car, you have something to sell. Everyone I know is trying to spend less and be more practical.
BOMBA: And with the tightening of consumer credit, leasing is often not even an option. Triple A reports that some manufacturers and dealers have discontinued their lease programs altogether. Drivers like Jeanette are learning to embrace the idea that their car is a long-term investment, and as with any investment, you better give it regular attention if you're expecting a return. Jeanette says ownership gives her a whole new attitude about her car.
Ms. DEVORAC: Even when I'm in traffic every morning and I see something out of the ordinary or I hear a noise out of the ordinary, I'll turn off the radio, and I'll roll down the windows, and I'll say, is that my car or is that me?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DEVORAC: I really don't want to have my car break down.
Mr. TONY MOLLA (Vice President, Communications, Automotive Services Excellence): A consumer has every right to expect that a vehicle they buy today will be with them 250,000 mile from now, as long as they take the time to take care of it.
BOMBA: That's Tony Molla of Automotive Service Excellence, better known as ASE.
Mr. MOLLA: ASE certifies automobile technicians. We're very much like the bar exam for the lawyers.
BOMBA: Tony says with more people buying instead of leasing, they're expecting their cars to last years longer. So, even with auto sales down, the demand for trained and certified auto technicians is up. And Tony is seeing people from a variety of other fields enter the business.
Mr. MOLLA: For example, an engineer who may lose his job, they can make just as good a living or better as an automotive technician.
BOMBA: Starting salaries average $30,000. Master technicians with advanced computer skills command six figures - that's right, advanced computer skills.
Mr. MOLLA: If you want to work with computers, the saying goes, work on a car, there's seven or eight of them in there.
BOMBA: Automotive repair has also expanded into the online world, with hundreds of websites promising to turn car owners into informed consumers. Former Wall Street analyst and gear head, David Sturtz, has a website that helps people make sense of repair estimates.
Mr. DAVID STURTZ (Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer, RepairPal.com): I've always considered auto repair very analogous to dentistry, it's a necessary evil that everybody has to contend with.
BOMBA: Sturtz left the financial industry to launch repairpal.com. Only four months old, the site gets 100,000 visitors a month. Go to RepairPal, put in your car's make, model, et cetera, your zip code, and the type of service needed. RepairPal will give you an estimate. Later in the day, Jeanette is back at Santa Monica Toyota picking up her car. When she was leasing, she never had a maintenance or repair charge. That's changed.
Ms. DEVORAC: It's $114.60. That was my first time dropping off my car to the dealer and not having the big zero at the bottom. This time it was a $114.00.
BOMBA: But Jeanette says she doesn't mind paying to keep her car running. So what if the car isn't this year's model? It's hers. And if you're shopping for a car, she has some advice.
Ms. DEVORAC: I would buy a used car, a slightly used car with a very low amount of mileage. Never again will I buy a brand new or lease a brand new car.
BOMBA: This is Tim Bomba for NPR News.