Covid-19 has created a 'perfect storm' for the owners of damaged cars, now faced with delays of up to 12 weeks for replacement parts. Jane Phare reports.
Kiwis involved in car accidents are being forced to wait up to 12 weeks to have repair work done due to long delays in getting replacement parts.
In some cases panel beaters, eager for work as the Covid-19 negative economy bites, are having to send clients away, telling them to store the car at home or, if the damage isn't too bad, to drive their dinged vehicle until the parts arrive.
Neil Pritchard, general manager of the Collision Repair Association, said before Covid-19 there was a backlog of work for panel beaters simply because of the load.
"It's one of those situations where we keep importing and buying more cars and the roads get more congested. That congestion leads to more accidents and there are not a whole lot of new [panel beating] shops opening up."
Things changed for the industry after the arrival of Covid-19. Once level 4 lockdown lifted, panel beaters started work on the backlog and, with fewer cars on the road, a lower accident rate meant repair shops caught up.
Initially car distributors carried good stocks but now certain parts and panels have either run out or are running low, causing delays of up 12 weeks and sometimes longer.
Covid-19 had created "a perfect storm", Pritchard said. Factories overseas had stopped making parts because of closures, the cost of air freight had soared and shipping container space was unreliable.
Air freight, previously subsidised by passenger traffic, was now "hideously expensive", he said, and car parts were in the long queue for container space.
New Zealand had imported "every vehicle known to man", Pritchard said, but was at the far end of the chain of supply.
Second-hand imports of vehicles not sold originally in New Zealand meant car suppliers were unlikely to stock the parts in the first place. Panel beaters were repairing where they could and, in some cases, using recycled parts.
"A lot of the companies did really well in stocking up early. But like any business they stock fast-moving parts. You can't expect them to stock every part."
Twenty years ago when cars were made of mild steel, panel beaters would have been able to cut and weld to make repairs, he said. "Nowadays your modern vehicle is made of ultra-high-strength steel, aluminium, plastic, fibreglass and composite parts of all descriptions. Those present a much greater challenge for the repairer to join them up again."
Another challenge was to restore all the electronic safety features that might have been damaged in a crash, such as backing sensors and cameras and other advanced driver assistance systems.
James Young of CRS Panel and Paint in Newmarket said the wait for parts was across the board.
"It could be for a modern-day Toyota to anything from America, and Europe as well," he said.
"We pretty much give them [the damaged vehicles] back to the owner to leave it at their place. Some are still driveable, just a little bit ugly."
Pritchard said the long delays added costs to vehicle owners who might have to rent replacement transport if the car was not driveable. He advised car owners to check that their insurance policy cover included the use of a replacement vehicle.
Those involved in a not-at-fault accident often didn't know that the at-fault party's insurer should pay for a replacement vehicle.
"The at-fault party is responsible for providing a replacement vehicle regardless of how long it [the repair] takes," he said.
"So don't be shy about pushing that, particularly where the at-fault party is insured."