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Car repairs are still delayed due to supply chain, backordered parts

Oct 19, 2023

Michael Weaver has owned a 2022 Ford Bronco Sport since late September, but he's put less than 1,200 miles on it. It's been in the shop for most of the last five months.

Weaver, 38, who lives in Glenolden, said his vehicle was rear-ended before he made the first payment. But adding insult to body damage has been the waiting: One missing part has come between Weaver and his new ride. It's only because the body shop offered to repair the hard-to-find wheelhouse panel — instead of replacing it with a new one — that Weaver was back on the road in time for the Eagles to head to the Super Bowl.

"At this point you can only laugh," Weaver said just before he got his car back. "We’re at a point where there's nothing they can do."

Manufacturing snags. Factory shutdowns. Shipping issues. All these can mean the part you need to repair your vehicle's mechanical or cosmetic components might not be available when you need it.

Among items on back order in the parts department at Otto's BMW and Otto's Mini in West Chester are steering racks, EV batteries, headlights, ball joints, valve covers, and steering gears.

With more than $300 billion in annual U.S. consumer spending to repair and maintain vehicles, according to the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association Aftermarket division, there are plenty of ways for things to go sideways when it comes to getting parts from factories to mechanic shops.

Add very unusual economic times, and the result can be chaos for many.

"It is the biggest supply chain disruption that we have faced since World War II, so in over 75 years, when our whole manufacturing economy shifted on a dime for wartime — that's how significant and persistent it's been," said Paul McCarthy, president and CEO of the 500-member MEMA Aftermarket division, which represents parts manufacturers of all types for the automotive industry, including such big names as Bosch, Valvoline, Delphi; Pennsylvania players such as East Penn batteries; and Philadelphia-area companies such as Dorman, Continental, and Cardone.

McCarthy said the problems have included shortages, unavailability, or price spikes in all their materials: steel, copper, oil additives, and more. And problems have been threefold across the industry, starting with supply chain troubles at the beginning of COVID, switching to consumer demand issues, and then finally logistical issues.

"And now there's the question as we return to normal, ‘What does demand look like?’" McCarthy said. "History isn't a very good guide."

As Weaver's story illustrates, the supply chain problem affects new and almost-new cars as well as older vehicles in need of repair.

It's gotten to the point that the body shop servicing Weaver's Bronco Sport has changed its way of doing business.

"We end up leaving it in the customer's possession, and they end up driving it damaged, essentially," said Tony DiNapoli, owner of Carstar Tamco Collision in Norwood.

"At this point, with the issues we’ve been having since the shutdown and lack of parts, we’ve had to bend those rules," DiNapoli said, stressing that only since the pandemic has he agreed to allow damaged vehicles in otherwise safe, working order back on the street. But he had to become flexible, especially in light of cases such as one car that has been waiting a year for finishing work. "We just don't have the parts."

For Weaver, the saving grace with having his car stuck in the shop has been working in IT: He normally would commute to work in Plymouth Meeting two or three days a week, but since the crash, he's been working exclusively from home.

That's not an option for Holly Loveland.

The West Chester resident works in beverage industry sales and drives 400 to 500 miles a week, which also includes getting her 12- and 15-year-olds to various activities. So when her Grand Cherokee needed a new engine, she figured the five days of warranty coverage for an Enterprise rental would be plenty of time for the repair, typically a one-day job. David Jeep in West Chester gave her a loaner.

"My kids play sports — travel soccer — so I was like ‘Do you think maybe I should get my stuff out for the weekend?’ and they said you probably won't have to but just to be sure," Loveland said.

Unfortunately, the engine was backordered. Loveland dropped the vehicle at David Jeep in West Chester on Oct. 4; the repair was completed Nov. 10.

The need for more cars to be repaired stems in part from the rising prices of new and used cars and the shortage of them — new-car sales are down to 13.7 million for 2022 versus just under 15 million in 2021, mainly due to production snags. Many would-be buyers are hanging on to cars longer than ever before. The average age of a car on U.S. roads these days is 12 years, and it keeps growing year after year.

Data from the Auto Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia reflect the "hang-on-to-your-car-trend" among people who are probably some of the most eager buyers: Philadelphia Auto Show visitors.

Normally, surveys of show visitors have consistently shown that about half the respondents intend to buy a new car within the next 12 months, and follow-up surveys reveal that even more than half did buy that new car.

But after the 2022 show, although 49% of visitors planned to buy a new car, only 42% actually did.

"For the first time ever it was not higher," said Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the dealers association.

Still, it appears that some dealerships and mechanics are on the road to recovery.

McCarthy said his industry has long bragged of a 95% fill rate — the percentage of vehicle part orders that can be filled from existing stock without lost sales or back orders. The number fell for a while to less than 50%, and so 70% became the new goal for the industry. Now some members report that they have been able to get back up to 90% consistently.

Hank Glanzmann, general manager of Glanzmann Subaru in Willow Grove, said his worst example was a small part of the vehicle dynamics control system in an Outback.

"I think that was the longest one we had to wait for, which was probably about 60 days," Glanzmann said. "Outside of that one it's been a few weeks instead of few months."

It seems like it's some new item all the time. Now it is even interfering where the rubber meets the road.

"Tires are starting to be a huge problem," said Chris Clayton, service manager for Otto's BMW and Mini in West Chester.

And people such as Lonnie Goldiner of Northeast Philadelphia remain outside that 90%.

After his 2016 Honda Civic was in a collision in mid-December, the 63-year-old learned that an air bag component will hold up repairs until March.

"I’m just kind of stuck right now," Goldiner said.