FORT LEWIS, Wash. - One of Fort Lewis' best-kept secrets is getting a lot of attention despite thousands of troops being away on deployment.

The Automotive Skills Center is one example of Fort Lewis' commitment to providing families with a supportive environment through the Army Family Covenant. With hours to accommodate even the busiest person, the ASC offers plenty of time, space and tools for military ID holders and DOD civilians to work on their vehicles.

"Basically anything you can have done at an auto shop, you can do here, except for air conditioning," said Alex Chase, service technician.

The center is equipped with eight lifts, 16 flat bays and nearly every tool imaginable - with the exception of a few more specialized ones, such as 4x4 tools. All you need to bring is your military ID card and matching vehicle registration.

Chase, one of several technicians at the ASC, said it's his job is to assist customers in whatever ways they need, under one condition: He can't "get his hands dirty.

"We're not actually allowed to touch the car," Chase said, "but we will do our best to answer any questions you have and guide you if you need it."

While there are fees associated with using the center, in most cases they are substantially lower than what you would end up paying to service a vehicle anywhere else.

For Sgt. Jeremy Carlile of 191st Infantry Brigade, bringing his vehicles to the ASC has saved him hundreds of dollars.

"It's nice because I have a full shop of tools, I've got use of a lift, I can do all the work myself, and if I need help, the (service technicians) are right there," Carlile said. "Plus it just saves me a bunch of money."

Rather than pay to have his car's brakes replaced at a local auto shop, Carlile spent $250 on parts from an auto parts store, another $12 for ASC fees, and completed the work himself in about an hour. Had he taken it to an undisclosed auto shop nearby, it would have cost him more than $1,300. And like many who come into the center,

Carlile is by no means a mechanic.

"Most of the things you can do here you can learn online," Carlile said. "If you take five minutes to look it up online, then you come here and take half an hour to work on it, you might save yourself $500."

Chase agrees that you don't need to be an auto expert to work on a vehicle. He encourages anyone with a desire to learn or an issue with their vehicle to go check out the center.

"It's good for somebody who's never done this stuff before, but wants to learn how to do it and not pay big bucks to have somebody else do the work for them," Chase said. "Here. you do the work yourself and we kind of guide you along the way."

Christine Burns came to the center with her husband, who was performing an oil change on their two vehicles.

"Even something as simple as an oil change is really more cost effective to do it yourself," Burns said.

It wasn't their first time at the ASC, nor would it be their last, she said.

"Any repairs except major things like transmission work, we've pretty much brought our vehicles here."

As a courtesy to spouses of deployed service members, the center also offers free oil changes. All spouses need to do is bring their military IDs, vehicle registrations, oil and filters. A service technician takes care of the rest.

"This place is great," Carlile said. "I absolutely recommend this place to anyone."

"Anything that a shop can do, a person can do here with time and patience," Chase said.

Laura M. Levering is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.