Auto parts are scarce in Chattanooga area amid pandemic

From ball joints to engine computers, Chattanooga-area auto repair garages are facing a shortage of spare parts for vehicles.

Supply chain issues amid the coronavirus pandemic and overwhelming demand for semiconductor chips are holding back repair work even as parts prices rise, according to local stores.

“That’s really it,” James Roddy of Rivermont Auto Service said on Hixson Pike in a phone interview about what’s missing. “Especially electronic parts. Anything with programming.”

Davy Corbitt, owner of May Bros Auto Repair on Lee Highway, said Monday afternoon he had just hung up on the phone with a woman who has been waiting a month and a half for a part – an electronic brake control assembly.

“It’s out of stock,” he said over the phone.

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Auto parts are scarce in Chattanooga area amid pandemic

Rick Austin, service manager at Brothers Auto on North Access Road, said it was difficult to find all types of parts.

In the past, he said, he could wind up the coin dispensers and everyone had the coin they needed. Now, a distributor may have one piece, but they may really need two copies of the same item, Austin said by phone.

“Others can’t get it at all,” he said.

Chattanooga isn’t alone in juggling the spare parts issue. Nationwide, garages are scrambling to find replacement parts.

One problem is that shortages of semiconductor chips have hampered the assembly of new vehicles, forcing automakers such as Volkswagen and others to cut production. This in turn has led to an increase in the demand for used cars, encouraging people to keep their old vehicles for longer. They need repairs, but supply chain issues are slowing delivery to distributors.

Corbitt said he had also heard there was a shortage of employees at production plants.

“They don’t have enough people in the factory to make parts,” he said.

Stores are asking customers to be patient as they work through the grunts.

“The only thing I can say is I’m at the mercy of the supplier,” Austin said. “If I can’t get the role, I can’t put it.”

Roddy said the garage usually gives customers advance notice of a parts shortage.

“We make them aware that it might be a bit longer,” he said.

Austin said prices have also increased.

“Supply and demand drive prices up,” he said. “It’s even affecting motor oil. It’s not hard to find, but crude oil prices are skyrocketing.”

Sometimes, Austin said, customers had to wait two days to get a part sent from across the country.

Mechanics are hoping the shortage will ease later this year, but it’s unknown at this point.

Craig Fuller, founder and chief executive of Chattanooga’s freight market data and analytics firm FreightWaves, said by phone that he doesn’t see real relief in the supply chain until 2023.

“Things are changing day by day,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough year, much like we’ve seen in 2021.”

Fuller said people need to look at the situation through the lens of supply chain transparency or uncertainty.

“We track 85% of the physical economy globally,” he said. “I do not think so [the problem] is short term. I think there will be supply chain issues for years to come.”

Corbitt said the parts issue is showing up across the board.

While semiconductor chips have a lot to do with the problems, a simple water pump is sometimes hard to come by, he said.

Earlier this month, chipmaker Intel said it would invest $20 billion to build a new semiconductor factory in Ohio to help ease the global chip shortage.

Semiconductor companies diverted production to consumer electronics at the worst of the coronavirus downturn in auto sales last spring. Global automakers have been forced to close factories to prevent the spread of the virus. When automakers recovered, there weren’t enough chips.

“There have been warning signs about this for months,” Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank, told The Associated Press. .

It takes six to nine months for the industry to get chips through a complex web of suppliers, Dziczek said.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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