Dave Riccio of Tri-City Transmission

How Dave Riccio Ended Up Fixing Cars for A Living

Dave Riccio of Tri-City Transmission: The Car Guy on KTAR Bumper to Bumper Radio

Dave’s Riccio’s natural talent and aptitude in mechanics started to show itself when he was just a child.  He says it was in his DNA.  Dave’s mom says she knew that she was raising an auto technician because when he was 10 years old, Dave would fix the vacuum when his father had already long given up on it. 

Dave became enamored with the automobile when he was growing up in Phoenix. No one in his immediate family knew much about cars. However, he always looked forward to when his maternal grandfather would come up from Tucson to visit because he would fix the family cars, and of course, Dave would get to help.

Dave credits his grandpa for encouraging Dave to learn, grow, fix things, and help others. Dave says his grandpa “grew up on the poor farm.” As a result, he learned to fix everything.

Dave always looked forward to his grandfather’s visits so he could learn more about cars. Dave said, “Grandpa and I would sit at the kitchen table and he would answer my questions about cars and engines for hours.” His grandfather could draw an explanation of just about anything mechanical on a napkin and Dave would learn the concept. By the 5th grade, Dave knew about pistons, camshafts, timing chains, electric starters, alternators and so on. He and his grandfather also had spent many hours together building small engines for his go-carts and dirt bikes.

It was when Dave was 16 years old that his career as an automobile technician really began. He bought a 1984 Jeep CJ7, a “fixer-upper” with a bad engine, and he was excited to begin restoring it. 

His grandfather brought his tools up from Tucson and they worked together and rebuilt that engine right in the driveway. Dave says, “These days it’s what I refer to as a backyard overhaul!”   

Dave got his first job at a tire dealership in Scottsdale at age 16, and that’s where he began to learn the automotive industry, not in a back yard or at the dining room table, but in an eight-bay full blown mechanic shop. 

According to Dave, when you start at a shop you’re the low guy on the totem pole, known as a G.S. (General Service). Your job description includes; taking out trash, changing oil, fixing tires and being regularly teased by the “real” technicians. However, at age 16 Dave already knew how to rebuild an engine, so some of the technicians allowed him to help them. It was a valuable learning experience.

Because of Dave’s passion to learn more about cars, many of the technicians he worked with took him under their wing, mentored him and showed him the ropes. Even though that was over 20 years ago, Dave is still very close friends with those guys. In fact, one of them works with Dave at Tri-City Transmission today.  

After high school Dave enrolled in community college.  However, because he was in school, he wasn’t able to work as a full time mechanic.

At the time in his life his passion was his Jeep CJ7 that he had restored with his grandfather. Every last dime he earned went to working on that Jeep.Dave joined a group called Mesa 4-Wheelers and was an avid member, going on every 4-wheel excursion he could and working with others to fix their Jeeps.

It was then that he found his dream job working as a mechanic for a Jeep tour company that had 20 Jeeps for him to take care of. The hours where super flexible for his schooling and not only that, he learned more about rebuilding engines, transmissions, transfer-cases and differentials.  As a bonus, he also got to learn welding and fabrication. 

Dave says, “Every day at work was an adventure; it was like a candy store. I fixed Jeeps all day, built Jeep differentials and fabricated for my buddies in my 4-wheel drive club after hours.” Dave worked this job for three years, but after a while he got bored of fixing the same thing over and over again. He was ready to move on to a new challenge.

How Dave ended up communicating auto repair for a living

By then, Dave had decided that college wasn’t for him. So he went back to the tire and auto business as a full time technician. His boss at the time appreciated Dave’s mechanical abilities, but he felt that Dave had a great way of communicating with customers that was rare in the industry. It was then Dave became a full time service advisor, which was a big new challenge for Dave. Dave says that “While I missed working with my hands, I found the ability to speak with customers and help them to understand what I was communicating to be more fun.”

Dave’s knack of being able to communicate with the customers the complicated subject of auto repair, made him an asset to the company and they quickly promoted him to a store manager at the age of 22. 

The store he was assigned to was “no creampuff,” he says. It was the worst store in the region of 15 stores at that time. With Dave at the helm its turnaround came virtually overnight.  Dave says, “I realized that when you take care of people, anticipate their needs, and always give them full effort, success followed.” Dave held the position for two years and when he left, the store was number one in the region in many categories. 

Where Dave learned to run a business

Dave had a close childhood friend whose dad owned an HVAC manufacturing company in Tempe and they had a position open. It was mechanical in nature, seemed reasonable enough, and certainly was a new challenge so Dave jumped in with both feet. 

This job was not working with his hands, but working in front of a computer with a pad of graph paper. It was definitely a new challenge for Dave.

Because Dave wanted to be the best at his job he went to air conditioning trade school at night to learn the business. While it was not the fast pace he was used to in the automotive repair business, he thought it was fun, because this time he was building stuff on paper and getting to see it built in the factory. 

Working at the HVAC company was a totally different dynamic than an auto repair shop and gave Dave skills and knowledge that he uses to run this business to this day.

Dave was able to work very closely with the owner who taught him everything he knew about running a business. The HVAC business was long standing with happy employees, happy customers, a great name, and good economy. Dave took copious notes. Dave says “I couldn’t have had a better teacher/mentor.”

The business owner taught Dave that the wisdom of owning a business was to have competency in the complex realities of life. Business was not black and white. You had to look at all angles and learn how to compromise.

The business owner taught Dave four rules for “being referable” which Dave still uses in his business today. They are: “Show up on time; do what you say you’re going to do; say please and thank you and always finish what you start.” Dave says “they sound simple enough, but 90% of the town can’t accomplish all four on a regular basis.  If you always live by these, you will always have food on your table.”

How Dave ended up owning a transmission shop

Dave was having fun in the HVAC business and was making a great income. Because it was a small business in a specialized niche, Dave’s job description was vast. He got to do everything from designing equipment, creating product literature, designing HVAC systems on Industrial facilities, training clients to use the company’s products, sales and more.

What Dave liked most about working at the HVAC company was that it utilized all the things that he liked to do.

Then one day, Dave’s life as he knew it changed forever.

It started out as any other day; he kissed his family and hopped into his car to go to work.  But when he went to put the key in the ignition he couldn’t do it…he couldn’t control his hand enough to get the key in the ignition, and he had a really bad headache.  Dave thought that he had a migraine so he went back inside and went to bed. 

But when he didn’t get better after several days, Dave went to the hospital.  The early diagnosis was a tumor, a stroke, or Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  It took weeks of testing before the diagnosis was confirmed.  Dave Riccio had MS. 

MS is a disease of the central nervous system. It’s generally an “invisible” disease meaning that you can’t tell from the outside whether someone has it or not. 
Symptoms of MS include numbness of hands and feet, blurred vision, stiff legs, short-term memory loss, dizziness, fatigue and chronic pain.  As the disease progresses the individual may lose the ability to function in other ways.  MS is not curable or preventable, however treatments are available to reduce severity and delay progression.

Dave’s initial MS episode left him physically unable to drive for three months and it was during that recuperation that his life took on a whole new meaning. Suddenly it became Dave’s mission to provide for his family in the event of ongoing relapses of MS.  He felt that owning his own business would be the best way to do that. 

It was then that Dave remembered his clients Mike and Leon at Tri-City Transmission whom he had sold HVAC equipment to. They looked as if they were close to retirement age.  Dave thought that since he had previous experience in the automotive industry (in an earlier job he ran a tire store) he would do well in the transmission business.  He asked them if they would sell their business.

Long story short they did. And so, November 1st, 2006, after having been diagnosed with MS only eight months previously, Dave Riccio became the owner of Tri-City Transmission.

After he purchased Tri-City Transmission Dave attended every technical seminar he could find, then he went back to the shop at Tri-City Transmission and was trained by his employees and the previous owners on how to build transmissions. 

Dave also took multiple trips to California to work for free in another transmission shop to get additional training from a different perspective. 

He says that it took about five years in the business for his hard work to pay off and industry leaders began to notice the success of Tri-City Transmission.

In 2010, Tri-City Transmission was featured in Gears magazine, recognizing them in the top five percent of transmission shops in the US.  Dave was invited to speak at multiple industry expos on how to run a successful transmission shop. 

After nearly a decade in this business, Dave realized he had found his home. He earned his ASE certifications in differential, manual transmission & automatic transmissions. And he’s excited to continue earning more certifications as time allows.

Why Dave found the perfect career

Dave Riccio of Tri-City Transmission: The Car Guy on KTAR Bumper to Bumper RadioWhen he was attending community college, like most, Dave was not certain what he wanted to do with his life. His first choice was to be an automotive technician.  He took autotech class in high school and was seriously considering trade school but never pulled the trigger on it. He then leaned heavily toward wanting to be a teacher because he liked to teach. However, he was not enamored by the money and wasn’t liking the thought of more school. Dave’s next career choice was business. While he never finished a college degree, he still got all three in one; being a technician, teacher and business owner.

Every day, Dave gets to work as a technician at Tri-City Transmission where he mostly focuses on road testing and problem solving. He hates grease, so he leaves the mechanical stuff to other technicians, although he still will build transmissions from time to time because he misses working with his hands.

In addition, Dave gets to teach. He teachers his crew everyday not only technically, but consistently reinforcing the shop culture as situations arise. He says that they solve problems as a team so everyone can learn something leaving no one out. Dave also gets to teach outside of his shop at seminars for industry trade associations. 

In 2011, Dave was invited to co-host Bumper to Bumper Radio, Arizona’s Number One Car Show heard every Saturday morning at 11 on 92.3 FM KTAR. He was able to teach every Saturday morning on the radio, explaining a topic most people don’t understand or even want to understand. And he tried to make it fun.

Lastly, he’s a successful business owner. Dave says, “Owning a business has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but also the most rewarding. Not for financial gain, but for personal growth and the growth of those around you.” 

Dave says that people come and go, both customers and employees, and with every one of them you hope you have made things better for them in some way. Dave realizes you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your piece of it, and that’s what he is happy he is able to do.