Workshops, super-tech cars are killing them

Workshops, super-tech cars are killing them


Porsches come from all over the Midwest to the garage that Brandon Mehizadeh runs in Minnetonka, Minnesota, like expensive racing pigeons. A typical example is a Cayenne SUV that ran over a deer in South Dakota in the early summer and needed structural work. The workers at the first garage the car was brought to "had no idea what they were doing when it came to technology," because they didn't have access to the Porsche parts catalog, Mehizadeh says. So, like many Porsches before it, the Cayenne was loaded onto a truck and driven hundreds of kilometers to Mehizadeh's LaMettry's Collision branch in Minnetonka. The company had paid for the expensive training and tools needed to get the German luxury automaker certified to repair its cars. Transportation added more time to an already lengthy repair, and the owner of the Cayenne in South Dakota only got his car back in August, Mehizadeh says.

Migration of damaged Porsches is an inconvenience to owners. but it is also a symptom of deeper changes in the auto industry, making it more difficult for people to get their cars repaired. Over the past decade, cars have become increasingly complex and computerized. Every vehicle today is studded with sensors, equipped with hundreds or thousands of computer chips and controlled by software. Auto industry insiders talk about the safety benefits of collecting data and subscriptions to boost profits.

Less discussed are the consequences of computerized cars ending up in the workshop. The repair of complex vehicles requires increasingly specialized and expensive knowledge, and tools that are in short supply. It's part of the same trend that has prompted some farmers to tamper with their tractors and has sparked legal battles over the rights consumers have over their vehicles. The trend is aggravated by the continuing decline in the number of garages, due to consolidation and retirement of owners. According to Focus Advisors, a mergers and acquisitions consultancy that follows the industry, 327 independent stores were acquired by owners of multiple stores in 2021 alone. In other words, the family-run garage is dying out.

In 2016, 225 cars and trucks were on the road for every repair shop in the US. There are now 246 vehicles per workshop. Pandemic bottlenecks in the supply chain for computer chips and auto parts and a shortage of car technicians' labor have exacerbated the problem. According to CCC Intelligent Solutions, which sells software to auto and insurance agencies, cars took an average of 2.1 days longer to repair in 2021 than in 2019, for a total of nearly 11 days.

The Industry insiders say the problem will only get worse: "In 10 years, I see far fewer stores and far more people searching for stores," says Rick White, who trains garage owners through his company, 180biz. An industry survey conducted at the end of last year found that 96% of garages reported delays, with an average scheduling backlog of 3.4 weeks, compared to 1.7 weeks at the end of 2019.

Second-hand electric cars are costing more and more Factors such as the global shortage of chips and the war in Ukraine have greatly slowed car production, inflating the demand for used models and consequently the prices. auto repairs, try doing a realignment on a new car. A car needs a realignment when it swerves to one side or the steering wheel vibrates, a procedure that involves adjusting the suspension, which connects the car to its wheels. A decade ago, repairmen who spoke to claim it took about an hour and a half. Today, the same procedure usually takes three to four hours and can go up to nine. This is because newer cars are equipped with advanced driver assistance systems, capable of keeping cars in their lane, detecting blind spots and avoiding collisions - functions that require the car to have a solid grasp of its position in space. This requires repairers to calibrate a car's sensors and cameras that underpin these advanced systems.

Some vehicle brands can only be calibrated with specialized and expensive tools. For starters, the equipment needed to ensure a car's wheel alignment costs about $ 70,000, says Lucas Underwood, president of L&N Performance Auto Repair of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Then you need lenses, which help the car's sensors and camera systems orient themselves. These may vary by car manufacturer and cost around $ 30,000 per set. hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is not counting the cost of training workers to use these tools, with garages paying thousands of euros a year to keep their staff certified to repair specific cars. Investing in the future, therefore, can cost garage owners millions of euros.

The investment may be worth it for a company that intends to stay open for a while, but many garage owners are close to retirement. An industry survey from 2019 found that nearly half of garage owners were 60 or older. And 30% of owners planned to leave the industry by 2024. Laura Gay, who sold her body shop six years ago and now makes a living by helping other owners sell theirs, paints a grim picture of life in repairing. car today. According to Laura Gay, insurance reimbursements are not up to par with today's complex car repair costs. Meanwhile, workshops struggle to find staff, as older people leave the industry and younger ones are put off by low starting wages. The owners of the workshops "are simply fed up", says the expert, "they are physically and mentally exhausted: we have gone from a very simple sector to a very complex sector".

The garages that survive will be more crowded and they will look different than they used to be. After a decades-long shortage of auto technicians, companies are eager to attract a new generation of workers enthusiastic about electric cars or automated driving technology - as White says, people more like Star Trek engineer Geordi LaForge than to fat ape Gomer Pyle of the Andy Griffith Show.

In Minnesota, Brandon Mehizadeh, who also chairs the Collision Division of the Automotive Services Association, a trade association that brings together independent workshops, has already begun to Seeing New Workers Enter the Industry: "We're getting a lot more tech students who are interested in computers and software and quite skilled with iPhones and iPads," he says. When one of its workshops decided to certify a Kia, Nissan and Fiat Chrysler repair technician, it named its youngest technician: an investment in the future of the repair industry.

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