Cindi Brody was getting ready for a trip to Chicago when a low pressure warning light flashed on the instrument panel of her 2020 Ford Escape. She got out to check and found a piece of metal had punctured the sidewall of her tire.
Despite the fact that the Escape is one of the more popular SUVs on the market, the dealer she went to “didn’t have the tire, (so he had to) put on a close match,” said Brody, a suburban Detroit lawyer. And since the owner’s manual made it clear that all four tires on the all-wheel-drive Escape must be the same to ensure proper traction, Brody worried the entire trip. “I didn’t like the anxiety level,” she recalls.
Brody’s situation isn’t unique.
Shortages spread to parts and repair shops
The auto industry has been facing a variety of shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic struck early last year. The most severe involves the semiconductor chips used by the dozens in today’s typical new vehicle. But manufacturers have also been struggling to line up other essential materials, including plastics and foam, tires and even various metal components.
Now, the shortages are extending to consumers, including motorists, as well as farmers and users of commercial vehicles, such as the mining and construction industries.
“The chip shortages get all the headlines,” said Michelle Krebs, lead analyst with Cox Automotive. “But we’ve been hearing about shortages of all sorts of things, even windshield wipers.”
Calls to various service shops and dealers around the U.S. revealed growing shortages of automotive parts and components. Tires appear to be among the most severe.
Where the rubber doesn’t meet the road
“I can’t find a single studded snow tire in the United States,” Dennis Pearce, the shop manager at Noyes Automotive and Tire in South Burlington, Vermont, told TheDetroitBureau.com. “Out of stock, out of stock, out of stock. When I ask my vendors about snow tires, they can’t tell me when they’ll be available again.”
In Royal Oak, Michigan, Marcus Jaworski, the general manager of Just Tires, said virtually everything “is running on backlog.”
Commercial users are facing similar problems, noted the Reuters. Illinois farmer Dale Hadden cannot find any spare tires for his combine harvester and has told his crew to be careful when driving on roads for fear debris could cause a flat, putting a vehicle out of operation.
“This is the most difficult supply-chain environment that I have ever seen,” AutoZone Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bill Rhodes said during an earnings call last month.
Shortages are leaving motorists struggling to find parts and, in many situations, result in vehicles being stranded at repair shops for days, even weeks at a time. But prices have also been rising in the face of shortages.
This creates real headaches for those who have decided to keep their old clunkers running because owners can’t find the vehicles they want on dealer lots — and might not be able to afford what vehicles they can locate. According to Cox Automotive, the price of the typical new vehicle hit a record $45,021 in September, up 12.1%, or $4,872 from a year earlier.
The average transaction price was up 3.7%, or $1,613, from just the month before as manufacturers continue cutting production. Toyota dealers currently have an average of 5 to 7 days’ worth of inventory on their lots. The industry, as a whole, is down below 20 days, compared to a pre-pandemic norm of 60 to 70.
On the plus side, “I think the worst has passed” in terms of the chip shortage, José Muñoz, the CEO of Hyundai Motor North America, said during a conversation with reporters last week. He expects his company’s production plans for the fourth quarter to come close to original plans.
Just a matter of time
But that optimism is starting to look premature. “It may be just a matter of time” before new shortages impact auto assembly lines, said Scott Vazin, U.S. vice president of media relations at Toyota.
Plastics and foam supplies have gone through on-and-off shortages since the beginning of the year, Vazin and other industry officials noted. Manufacturers are beginning to worry about their own supply of tires, as well. And while the industry is able to get the steel it needs — for now — prices for some alloys have more than doubled.
Such problems could cause a new round of factory closures, analysts and industry planners warn. But they could also impact existing owners by leaving dealers and service shops short of genuine replacement parts.
Right now, said a senior auto executive speaking on background, “Toothpicks, band aids and paper clips are keeping us going.” But he fears that upcoming shortages could cause a new round of factory closures. And analysts and industry planners warn that could impact existing vehicles owners by leaving dealers and service shops short of the replacement parts needed to keep older products running.