SOUTH DENNIS — Another trend of the pandemic is that more people are keeping their cars longer and choosing to repair them instead of footing the extra cost for a new or used vehicle.
As a result, car mechanics are busier than ever and are often unable to keep up with the customer demand.
“We are buried,” said Mike Ehrhart, co-owner of Enginuity auto repair shop in South Dennis. “We are really busy fixing cars.”
The expected wait time for repairs at World Tech Auto Center in Hyannis had typically been 24 hours, said owner Besart Kamberi. Now, it is typically two weeks.
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The average sale price for a new vehicle in the United States was $43,355 in August, marking the fifth consecutive month of record highs, according to the Kelley Blue Book.
August also marked one of the lowest monthly sales totals of new vehicles the country has seen in a decade, the vehicle valuation and information source reported.
A worldwide shortage of microchips has led car manufacturers to pause or slow the production of many new models. As a result, car inventors are a fraction of what is typical, and the cars that are available are selling for a premium.
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The shortage of new cars pushed many shoppers into the used-car market, driving prices up, according to Kelley Blue Book.
“People are kind of (between) a rock and (a) hard place,” said Ehrhart, while working extra hours on a Saturday. A lot of people who were planning to buy a new car now can’t.
So instead, they are hitting the “easy button” and paying for the repairs, he said.
Overseas shipping costs
The cost of shipping containers to bring the parts needed to repair the cars has also skyrocketed, said Kamberi.
“It is getting harder and harder every day to import something,” said Kamberi, who relies on parts from around the world.
“Stuff that was normally next-day, second-day (delivery) is now three to four days, 10 days, two weeks. Whenever you are going to get it, you are going to get it,” Ehrhart said.
Last year, when the world stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ehrhart was not surprised when people stopped driving.
“Subsequently, I think people delayed a lot of repairs that were needed. And when things started to go back towards the norm, they came out of the woodwork and wanted to travel and get back to life,” Ehrhart said.
Workforce shortage includes auto and truck technicians
One of the biggest drivers in the backlog of car repairs is the lack of auto and truck technicians, according to a 2020 study by the TechForce Foundation.
Despite strong demand, the shortage continues to worsen even with a slight uptick in degrees and certificates for future diesel technicians, said the Phoenix-based nonprofit. An expected 642,000 auto, diesel, collision technicians will be needed across the country between 2020 and 2024, the report said.
“The repair shops are stranded for help,” Kamberi said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, World Tech Auto had 12 techs, and now there are only five or six, he said.
After losing a mechanic to a more prominent off-Cape dealership in June, Enginuity has had to get along with only three auto mechanics, increasing the wait time for customers. As a result, customers are booking repairs two weeks out.
“I am so far behind now, I can’t keep taking them (customers),” Ehrhart said.