Self-proclaimed "car guy" Rich Wilson knows the difficulty of loading a carefully restored classic, a showy street rod or a powerful race car into an enclosed trailer to get it to its destination safely.
He still cringes at the memory of a 1967 Camaro he once owned being scratched as it was loaded into a trailer on the way to a car show.
If you're interested in the Auto Valet, you can call Rick Wilson at 541-580-7846.
But instead of just cursing the ding, Wilson, who owns Road Art Studios LLC in Medford, has since developed what he thinks is a solution to load a sweet ride safely into a trailer — a mounted track system that will pull the car into the trailer at the touch of a button on a wireless remote.
The Auto Valet loading system consists of a 3,700-pound Warn winch with an electric motor that pulls a dolly along a chain track mounted to the floor of an enclosed trailer.
It eliminates the need for the driver to clamber out the window of a trailered car with no room to open the door, then squirm under the car to secure it with tie-downs, Wilson says.
"I thought all along there had to be a better way," he says.
Wilson cited the tight squeezes and the ever-present danger of scratching his car's paint or wrenching his back as primary problems.
With the Auto Valet, however, a car owner can drive or roll the vehicle onto the dolly's steel platform at the trailer's tailgate.
"It doesn't even have to run," says Wilson, with the grin of a man who has moved a few fixer-uppers. He noted that the feature also appeals to owners of race cars with so much horsepower that inching into a trailer can be a challenge.
Once the car is on the loading platform — and while it's still out in the open — the operator can secure the car with standard wheel tie-down straps. Pressing the "Load" button on the remote sends the car on its journey into the trailer.
The fixed tracks guide the vehicle in without a chance of fenders, doors or mirrors scraping against the trailer's side or door frame, and eliminate the need for spotters to keep an eye on blind spots that a driver typically can't see when pulling into a trailer, Wilson says.
When the dolly is completely into the trailer, it automatically locks down to the trailer's frame. A battery pack that drives the winch motor also connects to a charger so it charges while the trailer is on the road, ensuring that it is ready to unload — at the touch of the other button on the remote — upon arrival, Wilson explains.
"I had the idea more than 10 years ago and thought someone ought to build it," Wilson says.
When repeated Internet searches didn't turn up anyone who was building such a product and a patent search didn't show anyone even had designs on such a thing, his partner, Glenda Owens, encouraged him to make his idea a reality.
After what he and his crew describe as "a lot of pinched fingers and a few foul words," they had the first working model.
Wilson got a patent for the Auto Valet in 2009 and introduced it at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show for aftermarket automotive products in Las Vegas in November. It won awards at the trade show and the first unit sold in February.
Jerry Reid, of Flagstaff, Ariz., bought an Auto Valet in February after seeing Wilson demonstrate it at the big trade show.
"We were pretty impressed," he says.
Reid says the only other loading system for enclosed trailers that he had found relied on pulleys, which he didn't think looked as good as Wilson's track system.
"We're pretty confident he has the better product," Reid says.
Reid had the Auto Valet installed on a trailer that he uses to haul his classic cars and race cars and says he was looking forward to the number of car events picking up in the spring so he could give the new device a workout.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.