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Ridgewater's automotive programs in dire need of donated cars

WILLMAR -- The Ridgewater College auto technician programs have an urgent need for donated vehicles to be used for training students.

The program usually receives 60 to 70 vehicles a year but has received only 10 so far this year, said Bobbie Mattison, executive director of the Ridgewater College Foundation.

"We need them for education; we need them to train our students," Mattison said.

The garage classroom at the Ridgewater College auto body program was full of vehicles this week, all but one of them donated to the college. But most of them have served their purpose and are on their last legs, said Tom Baune, department chairman in the auto body program.

Students will soon need a new set of vehicles so they can learn how to take them apart and put them back together, repair dents and give them fresh paintjobs.

The donated vehicles are often shared between the auto technician and auto body programs, Baune said.

Cars are used in many different ways before they are no longer useful for teaching in the auto programs. Some are used in student training for four to five years.

In their final days, the cars are used for practice welding, and parts that can be used for study and rebuilding are pulled off. Then, some of them are set on fire for training in fighting car fires.

"That's using them up as far as you can use them," Baune said.

There's less pressure for students to begin their training on donated vehicles, he said.

If they break a part learning how to remove it, or if a paint job doesn't turn out quite right, there's no owner to explain it to, he said.

"They're very nervous with that first paint job," he said. "They don't have a customer peeking through the window watching them."

Eventually the students do work on their own vehicles or on vehicles for customers, but that comes later.

Vehicles may be donated to the college through the foundation, so the donation is tax deductible. When a vehicle is donated to the college, the former owner is usually able to deduct the full market value of the vehicle, Mattison said.

The program will take cars, pickups, minivans and SUVs, Baune said.

Often, someone will have a decent, not-too-old car that needs a major repair, he said. If the repair would cost nearly as much as the car is worth, people will sometimes donate it to the college rather than fix it. That's fine for the college's purposes.

Mileage doesn't matter, and tires don't matter, he said.

"It's nice to have something reasonably new, so the technology is current," he said. "But any cars that run, they all have a value for us."

Baune said he has worked with the program for a number of years and has never seen donations this low.

Mattison said she thought that other donation in the programs may be getting cars that might have come to the college otherwise.

The economy may be having an effect, too, Baune said. "Maybe people are going to hang on to stuff longer."

The process of donating a vehicle is not complicated.

"It takes just a few minutes," Baune said.

Mattison said college personnel will even meet a vehicle donor at the door and follow up with the necessary paperwork later.

To donate a vehicle or to get more information, contact Mattison at 320-222-6095.