ELK POINT, S.D. — Circumstance more than anything pushed mechanic Brian Oedekoven to become “The Prius Guy.”
Oedekoven is the owner of Brian’s Repair, an automotive repair/body shop in Elk Point, South Dakota, that works on all makes and models.
However, for nearly a decade, the business has become renown throughout the Midwest for specializing in repairs for the Toyota Prius.
Launched in 1997, the hybrid vehicle, which comes in three models that vary in size and features, is known for its high fuel efficiency, hatchback design and high safety rating.
Oedekoven, 41, has worked on cars professionally since he was a teenager but he didn’t start specializing in the Prius until about seven years ago.
That’s when Brian Atchison, owner of Iowa Pilot Cars, asked Oedekoven if he could start maintaining and repairing his fleet of 25 Priuses.
Iowa Pilot Cars utilizes the hybrid vehicle to accompany oversized loads, often wind turbine blades, that are being transported over the open road.
“He was bringing them to me as they broke,” Oedekoven said. “I just started messing with them more and more and more.”
At Oedekoven’s 5,000 square-foot Elk Point shop, countless Prius parts including engines, batteries and essential and nonessential components are stored in a loft area.
The land behind the repair shop serves as Prius scrapyard featuring dozens of the wrecked vehicles and additional hatches and doors.
Oedekoven even keeps a disassembled a 28-cell Prius battery on his desk. He noted most problems with Priuses stem from battery issues and they have customized equipment to deal with that.
“They are a very, very solid car,” Oedekoven said. “I’ve been told — I never actually read — but Consumer Reports rates them as one of most cost-effective cars to own because they just don’t have very many problems. … They are very reliable and it’s nothing to see 300,000 or 400,000 miles on a Prius.”
Oedekoven and his team have become so knowledgeable of the vehicle, they spent two years on a just-for-fun side-project to build a mint colored Prius limousine out of two totaled regular models.
In addition to gaining experience by directly working on the vehicles, Oedekoven also underwent a quasi-internship a few years back.
He spent three days learning more about Priuses and how to repair them at AutoBeYours, a Scottsburg, Indiana-based Prius specialty shop.
“He does kind of the same thing I’m doing right now,” Oedekoven said. “He buys wrecked Priuses and fixes and then sells them.”
That visit spurred an unofficial partnership between the two hybrid-vehicle repair experts and sellers.
Oedekoven said he stays in touch with the owner of AutoBeYours and they swap information and help each other out from time-to-time rather than act as long-distance competitors.
“It just kind of progressed from there,” Oedekoven said. “I’ve got probably about a 100 cars on the road that I bought wrecked, fixed and resold.”
What really helped Oedekoven grow his business was branding himself as The Prius Guy and launching his website of the same name about six years ago.
“I was just barely getting going and didn’t have a whole lot of money and I spent the money to create the website; now the website is constantly getting hit and I get phone calls and emails and it’s hard to keep control of at times,” Oedekoven said.
“... I got people coming from all areas —South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa — everywhere. I’ve got people that drive a 1,000 miles to get their car worked on..."
Besides his web presence and catchy nickname, Oedekoven also benefits from a lot of positive word-of-mouth from his clients, including Atchison. The Iowa Pilot Cars owner's testimony is prominently displayed on thepriusguy.com
“He became my go-to-guy to get ’em fixed in the area,” said Atchison, who started Iowa Pilot Cars a decade ago.
While it is based out of Sioux City, the company’s fleet can be spotted across Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin, causing them rack up tens of thousands of miles annually.
Atchison said Oedekoven and his team of four full-time mechanics at Brian’s Repair do most of the routine maintenance and 90 percent of the mechanical work on his Prius fleet.
“He knows them from the ground up, he’s fixed them from the ground up and he’s taken on total reconstruction and done everything,” Atchison said of Oedekoven
Although the Prius has allowed Oedekoven to carve out a niche for himself in the crowded auto repair field, he just enjoys that he gets to do something he's always done, which is fiddle with mechanical things.
"I've been tinkering with stuff since I was 18-years-old or younger," he said. "I've always had a knack for it. I can tell you, as a kid, my parents wouldn't buy me anything with screws in it because (I'd) tear it all apart."