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Long wait times for car repairs become the ‘new normal’ amid calls for more auto workers

When Nathan Woodrow’s car was damaged in an accident last August, he didn’t think it would take close to a year to have it fully back to normal.

“The whole front needed repairing,” he said.

While the bulk of the work was finished by January, an issue with the headlights and bonnet paint caused a delay.

“In that time I moved to Toowoomba [from Brisbane],” Mr Woodrow said.

“I went back and forward with the insurer … and in April they contacted me again and I was finally able to get it booked in for mid-August,” he said.

a man stands next to a car with the bonnet up

Mr Woodrow was surprised by how long it took for his car to be fixed.(ABC Southern Qld: Tobi Loftus)

Mr Woodrow said local repairers told him the delay was just due to a “huge” backlog in cars needing repair work done.

“I’m happy to wait. I can drive my car as it only needs a minor rectification,” he said.

“But it’s just absolutely crazy that I’ve got to wait so long for my car to be 100 per cent fixed after an accident.”

Up to ‘four times’ more work

Greg McGuire, owner of Powers Smash Repairs in Toowoomba, likes being busy, but is as frustrated as his customers when it comes to waiting.

“For a small panel shop like mine, we’re getting three to four times more quotes and business coming through, which means our timelines are being pushed out to get people in,” he said.

a man in work clothes stands in fornt of a workshop holding a drill

Greg McGuire has “three to four times” more work than usual at his smash repair business in Toowoomba.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

“Early on, we’d pride ourselves on getting a car finished within a week. But time frames are definitely blowing out.

“I’ve heard some repairers are booked out until November, and I’ve heard of some other places having a two-week wait just to do a quote.

“Parts are a little bit of an issue, but getting staff is a bigger issue.”

Waiting game

Mr McGuire said he had noticed more parts needing to come from overseas.

“We don’t manufacture cars in Australia anymore. Everything’s from overseas, and I think companies are keeping a minimum amount of stock in Australia.

“Unfortunately, it’s parts that the panel industry needs a lot, like front parts, where you have little accidents.

“We’ve had issues with things like wheel arch moldings.

“I’ve just done a quote on a car this week, and was told that part was on backorder, and it’d be maybe up to eight weeks before it comes into the country.

“It’s just supply and demand, and they are not being able to supply for the demand.”

two 'bandaid' stickers on a car body covering a dent

Car owners are facing lengthy waits to fix even simple panel-beating jobs.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

A spokesperson for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, the group representing global car manufacturers in Australia, said the industry was still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

“These events resulted in the shutdown of manufacturing of both car parts and microprocessor units, along with disrupted supply chains and shipping schedules,” the spokesperson said.

“Consequently, deliveries of whole cars, as well as individual parts, have been impacted.”

The ‘new normal’

Stuart Charity, Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) chief executive officer, said it was an “Australia-wide phenomenon”.

“Unfortunately, it’s not just confined to collision repair, it goes across mechanical repair as well,” he said.

“We are one of the most car-dependent nations in the world, and as we’ve bounced out of COVID lockdowns we’ve seen a big increase in vehicle numbers.

“And the number of accidents that occur on the road is directly proportional to the number of vehicles on the road.”

But in addition to parts supply, he pointed to a skills shortage in the repair industry as a bigger issue.

“We’re short of around 30,000 technicians Australia-wide across collision and mechanical,” Mr Charity said.

“To put that into context, that represents at least one technician per workshop out there.

“I think it’s going to be the new normal for a little while, and there’s no quick-fix solution.”

The AAAA is lobbying for more skilled migration, but Mr Charity admitted even that was a “short-term fix”.

“We as an industry need to do better at promoting careers,” he said.

“We need to change the perception that it’s a low-paid, low-skill industry of last-resort. Because there’s a terrific array of different careers in all the automotive trades [and an] opportunity to run your own business.

“And, obviously [there’s] more work than we can handle.”