NEWS

How Does the Inventory Shortage Impact Car Maintenance and Repairs?

cost-of-chip-shortage-on-used-cars Inventory shortage: repairs and maintenance | Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

Some symptoms of the pandemic-related shortages within the auto industry are easy to spot: emptier dealer lots, slim pickings for new-car incentives and used-car prices that rival those of new cars. For shoppers hoping to wait out the inventory shortage, there’s a less conspicuous but similarly impactful symptom: The vehicle repair and aftermarket industries are also affected by parts and labor shortages, shipping delays, increased wait times and rising repair costs.

Related: Inventory Shortage Update: Should You Wait to Buy a Car?

Putting off a car purchase can be a smart move right now, especially for used-car shoppers or those without a vehicle to trade in. But the wait may drag out: According to expert forecasts, inventory is expected to improve and eventually cause used-car prices to drop, but noticeable improvements won’t come until late 2022 or even 2023. Waiting to purchase a new-to-you vehicle makes keeping your older vehicle running even more essential, but car maintenance and repairs are likely to come at a higher cost and their own longer wait.

Need a Car Repair? Get in Line

Car being serviced on a garage lift Vehicles being serviced at an auto repair shop | memorystockphoto

COVID-related challenges set off a domino effect: New-car production delays led to decreased supply that couldn’t meet customer demand; in turn, manufacturers quickly pulled back on incentives and average transaction prices climbed. When shoppers couldn’t get their hands on the new vehicle they wanted or could afford, they turned to the used-car market, which caused more inventory shortages and sent used-car prices through the roof.

The next domino is vehicle maintenance. Among car owners who were either priced out of buying a car or couldn’t find the right vehicle due to the inventory shortage, many chose to hold onto their current vehicle. Industry consultancy IHS Markit reports that the average age of vehicles on the road reached a record high of 12 years, partially due to the effects of the pandemic and adjustments to driving behavior. This sparked a rise in demand for repair and maintenance services to keep current vehicles on the road.

“Repair facilities — whether dealerships or independently owned — have struggled in acquiring parts,” David Bennett, repair systems manager at AAA, wrote in an email to Cars.com. “Due to the shortage of new and used vehicles, many consumers are opting to keep their vehicles longer, and as a result, repair facilities are seeing an increase in business.”

Car owners are also willing to spend more on those repairs to keep their current vehicle running. That’s according to Michael Chung, market intelligence director at Auto Care Association. “When people are taking their vehicle in for service, the threshold for saying, ‘OK, this [repair] is too expensive, I’m going to switch cars’ is going up from the $1,500-$3,000 range to $5,000-$10,000 because used cars are priced so much higher,” said Chung in an interview with Cars.com.

Pete Rudloff, owner of Pete’s Garage in Newark, Del., is experiencing increased demand for auto repair services at his shop, but he expects the bump in business to be temporary as new-vehicle inventory stabilizes:

The inventory shortage “has greatly increased the demand for fixing autos due to the cost of new and used auto shooting up pretty high,” wrote Rudloff Cars.com via email. “I’m finding that folks are not keen on paying the super-premium [price] asked on the handful of new autos sitting on the dealer lots … The chip shortage seems to have been significantly beneficial for repair shops. I expect once the chip supply gets resolved, the auto repair sector will see a significant change back.”

Parts, Workforce Shortages Lead to Delays

33-toyota-supra-2020-brakes--exterior.jpg 2020 Toyota Supra brakes | Cars.com photo by Brian Wong

According to automotive market research firm IMR’s 2021 survey of 500 independent repair shops, the average vehicle turnaround time has increased by a day and a half since the pandemic began. Of the shops surveyed, 50% reported frequent disruptions in getting the parts they need to service vehicles, and 34% reported occasional disruptions. The causes of the disruptions ranged from delays in parts deliveries and distribution to shortages of drivers and qualified technicians.

The microchip shortage alone is not the direct cause of parts shortages, according to Rudloff, but COVID-related manufacturing and shipping challenges and workforce shortages are leading to unpredictable wait times for some repairs. “The parts availability issue doesn’t seem to be a lock-and-step issue with the chip shortage,” wrote Rudloff. “We tell our clients when they drop their auto off that our industry is experiencing unusual shortages, but often we won’t know a shortage exists until we order a part or parts.”

Lee Hardegree, owner of ProAuto in Morton Grove, Ill., says he has been navigating the new normal of parts shortages, too.

“Parts have been a challenge,” wrote Hardegree in an email to Cars.com. “We have dozens of vendors we purchase replacement parts from. Their inventory can be hit or miss. A routine brake job on a very common vehicle can make a shop owner go crazy. “‘What do you mean you’re out of brake parts? It’s a Honda Civic, and you have nothing in stock?’ That type of conversation can happen several times a day.” Hardegree said his vendors blame supply chain issues, parts that are sitting in a container waiting to be offloaded, and a lack of employees. “Of course our vendors want to sell us parts, but their inventory is depleted.”

Which Services Are Most Affected?

According to Hardegree, most routine maintenance and repairs at his shop can be completed the same day or the following day, but there are some exceptions. The most common delay in parts that his shop has experienced are “brake pads, brake rotors, batteries, filters and some tires. Again, these parts are very common repairs. Typically, when these parts are out of stock, [we] can usually find a source that can get it to us in a couple of days — not terrible, but not great, either.” Hardegree noted that the worst delay he’s had was waiting for a replacement turbo for a Land Rover, which took almost three months.

Electronic components are also proving to be troublesome, Bennett adds. “Any repairs or parts involving electronics — things like infotainment systems, temperature control systems, onboard computers (e.g., powertrain control modules, body control modules, etc.), heated and/or power seats — are the most challenging to find.”

Like Hardegree, Rudloff has seen a variety of parts shortages that are difficult to anticipate. “Tire pricing and availability has been quite volatile in my experience over the past six months,” he wrote. Though tire shortages seem to be “easing up some” for him, oil filters and brake rotors are among the “stuff that never previously would have been out of stock at our local suppliers.”

Customers Pay the Price

ford-service-kiosk.jpg Ford's digital service kiosk | Manufacturer image

As demand for vehicle maintenance rises, so do the costs for those repairs. According to Chung, the consumer cost of motor vehicle parts and equipment is up 20% compared to 2021. “It’s all-encompassing, so whether it’s new tires, wiper blades or oil changes, consumers are paying significantly more,” Chung said.

“A lot of shops are overwhelmed with work because demand for repairs is at an unprecedentedly high level”, writes Rudloff. “Plus, many shops are working less efficiently because of parts supply shortages. Like all other industries, we are facing unprecedented, COVID-related, workforce shortages. The irony of it is that it’s one of the greatest boon times for auto repair and many shops are working short-staffed because technicians are not available to hire. In an effort to slow down the deluge of requested auto repairs and to make up for the dead time waiting for parts, many shops have raised their rates.”

“Repair costs to the consumer went up slightly because the cost for the replacement parts went up,” according to Hardegree. “All of our bulk supplies like oil, washer solvent, antifreeze etc. are also up in cost. A 30-pound tank of [refrigerant] for air conditioning repairs cost $95 last summer and I just paid close to $300 for the same tank.  I’m told it is projected to be $450-$500 by summertime. The rise in my cost on parts could be 10 cents or several hundred dollars. It used to be a set price on a lot of parts which never changed and was always in stock but now we have to check pricing and availability on every repair order.”

More From Cars.com:

●      Average Age of U.S. Vehicles Hits Record High, Surpasses 12 Years

●      How Much Is the Average Car Repair Bill?

●      How Long Will the Vehicle Inventory Shortage Last?

●      What Are the Most Reliable 2019 Model-Year Vehicles?

●      Are Extended Car Warranties Worth It?

Don’t Let a Broken-Down Car Break the Bank

2021 Ford F-150 check engine light 2021 Ford F-150 | Cars.com photo by Joe Wiesenfelder

As vehicle repair wait times increase alongside the costs, vehicle owners should plan ahead for routine maintenance and repairs and also budget for unexpected repairs. This is especially important for older used cars that aren’t covered under warranty. Chung recommends calling ahead to make an appointment and getting an idea of how long the repair will take since it will likely be longer than expected. It’s also a good idea to ask the service manager about upcoming repairs in order to plan and budget more effectively. “RepairPal.com allows individuals to get ballpark prices for service on a vehicle (year/make/model) in their local area,” Chung said.

Hardegree also recommends staying on top of future repairs to avoid stress and higher costs down the road:

“Get your vehicle inspected and serviced by a professional,” wrote Hardegree. “A reputable repair shop should be able to provide you with a timeline of future repairs. [For] example, brakes and tires do not wear out overnight, and a professional can give you an estimate of mileage and time remaining. A little fluid leak can turn into a big leak if ignored. I tell my customers it is easier to set up a service appointment rather than calling a tow truck … It is in the consumers’ best interest to stay ahead of vehicle maintenance to avoid costly repairs and parts delays.”

Rudloff confirms that repair wait times remain elevated. “My best advice is to have patience. Most shops, at least the good ones, are not going to be able to get folks in right away. Fortunately for car owners, the COVID pandemic has made many jobs flexible for folks to work from home as needed. All of my clients have taken it in stride that they may not have their car for three days or more. The common reply is, ‘No worries, I can work from home.’”

His second piece of advice? Stick with the shop you know. “This is a terrible time to look for a new repair shop … Most repair shops are doing triage every day to figure out what can get done that day,” he said. “Being an established client may give you a leg up on getting in and out quicker if parts availability is on your side.”

Shoppers holding off on a vehicle purchase due to low inventory and elevated prices should do their best to ensure their current vehicle can outlast the worst of the inventory shortage. Planning ahead and budgeting accordingly for vehicle maintenance and repairs can go a long way to prevent a more costly and stressful experience down the road.

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