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Supply Strain: Few rentals and even fewer parts continue to pressure repair shops nationally

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — A frequent Collision Repair contributor made national news this week speaking to Global News on the vicious cycle of parts shortages, rental fleet downsizing and strained customer relations that continues to plague our collision repair industry.

Chelsea Stebner, managing partner at Parr Auto Body and long-time Collision Repair columnist, went in depth on the perilous position many repair facilities, including her own, are currently in, as much of the industry continues to struggle securing OEM parts, paint and other necessary repair materials.

A new challenge that has presented itself to Stebner and her team recently is the issue of revisiting a repair job that has been sitting dormant for a long period of time.

“It’s challenging for our team as well, because you can imagine disassembling a vehicle six months ago, and then going back to do a reassembly or start the repair six months later. So we’re often reading repair procedures over and over again,” Stebner told Global.

She said that while many other industries are beginning to stabilize after the uncertainty spurred on by the initial COVID-19 lockdown, much of the collision repair industry is only now starting to feel its most severe effects.

“We’re seeing the results now. So when everybody says we’re getting back to normal, in our industry, we’re far from normal,” said Stebner.

Ciaran Downes, senior director of national appraisals for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), told Global that the government does what it can to keep drivers stocked in rental vehicles, thanks to its partnerships with rental companies, but they too are being impacted by a limping supply chain.

“Part of that is to ensure that those suppliers are able to maintain a fleet of vehicles available to our customers in the event they have an accident, and would need some loss-of-use coverage,” said Downes.

“We’ve certainly seen that our length of rentals has actually increased as body shops can struggle to source parts to complete a repair, and that can lead to extended repair times, resulting in customers being in rental cars longer than typical.”

Downes says SGI is currently working to identify the most in-demand parts in order to allow halted repairs to resume.

“We have instances where we’re able to get access to 90 percent of parts required to complete the repair but there’s one bracket that’s kind of a key component that seems to hold up other parts. If you’re missing that one, it can basically hold up the whole repair,” he said.

Stebner says the whole situation is worsened by the fact that many rental companies have downsized their fleets over the course of the pandemic, and predicts that the collision repair industry likely won’t return to a state of normalcy for at least two more years.

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