“I have customers that want new cars. It’s just, what they want is not available, or it’s a year behind.”
As car production continues to lag amid the global chip shortage, the demand for auto repairs has shot up.
With fewer new vehicles available to buy, customers have opted to invest more in the cars they already have, said Mike Kirsch, the head mechanic at Brunner’s Garage in the South Side Flats.
“[We’ll] look at their car and say, ‘Well, your car is going to be, I don’t know, $500, $700, $1,000 to repair,’ whatever the number is. And they will look at it and say, ‘Well, it’s an older car. Maybe I’m going to go buy a new car,’” Kirsch said. “But there’s just no new car out there right now to buy. I have customers that want new cars. It’s just, what they want is not available, or it’s a year behind.”
Pushed to keep their old vehicles, he said, customers end up “spending a lot of money on regular maintenance: brakes, tires, some check-engine lights. People are spending a thousand, fifteen-hundred dollars [on] their car to keep it for another year at least.”
Wait times have gone up at Brunner’s and nationally because supply chain disruptions continue to delay parts deliveries. Labor shortages have also helped to bump up by 1.5 days the average turnaround time at automotive repair shops across the country, according to an August 2021 survey. The research shows that one in every four automotive repair shops said a lack of auto technicians was a primary cause of service delays.
Kirsch said the work shortage is a long-building problem that reflects the overall aging of his industry.
“All the technicians are all my age: They’re all old people now. They’re all getting ready to retire. And a few of the garages around here … they retired [and] closed up,” he said.
Auto tech shortage
While Brunner’s Garage is fully staffed today, Kirsch noted that the four-employee operation has struggled to