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Auto mechanic shortage causing trouble for Hampton Roads repair shops, customers

Growing problems -- set off by the pandemic -- are costing you more each time you take your car in for a repair.

NORFOLK, Va. — Growing problems, set off by the COVID-19 pandemic, are costing you more each time you take your car in for a repair. The wait times have gotten longer, and the service bill is higher.

A Norfolk car repair shop owner told 13News Now a big piece to solving the problem is found under the hood.

“We need more people that want to do it,” said Josh Webster, an auto mechanic for CarMasters Automotive in Norfolk.

Garages across the U.S. are full of cars, but short on the skilled hands it takes to fix them.

“I know why there is a shortage, because it’s a lot of work, a lot of brainpower,” Webster said.

The labor drop is driving up repair costs.

“With the manpower shortage and with everything increasing, health insurance costs, all that cost keeps going up and we are having to pass that on to the customer,” said CarMasters owner Jim Bennett.

Twenty-four years ago, Bennett, a Navy veteran, opened the shop. His mission is to replenish the auto industry

“My goal has been to help people provide better value,” Bennett said.

Right now, he said that’s threatened by staffing and supply chain woes delaying car parts.

“It isn’t just the computer chips -- a lot of the new manufactures are having serious problems with those -- but we mentioned tires, a lot of common things like that,” Bennett said.

Bennett can’t force manufacturers to move faster but is trying to solve part of the issue by teaching new techs.

“There has been a stigma for a lot of years that being an auto mechanic wasn’t exactly a high skill trade, which it actually is,” Bennett said. “And it can be quite lucrative for those that do it well.”

Techforce Foundation, a company focused on developing the workforce, reports the auto industry will be short nearly 800,000 technicians between now and 2025.

Bennett advises auto programs at trade schools and colleges.

“The amount of students has been dropping,” Bennett said.

Webster is almost finished his program through NAPA Autocare.

“The average time to go from an apprentice that is fresh out of high school to what they consider a 'C-Tech' is probably about two years if you have a good program with a good mentor,” Bennett said.

Bennett said techs can make around $55 an hour with commission. Without more people eager to learn the trade, he worries about what the future holds for shops like his.

“For them to stay open they are going to have to do less and charge more or they won’t keep their doors open,” Bennett said. “And there won’t be places to get vehicles fixed... and this is independents and dealerships.”

If you are looking to get your car repaired soon, Bennett recommends doing your research. He said some shops have more certifications and technology than others.

When you find out what work the car needs done, he suggests checking out how much the repair should cost on Repair Pal.com. He said the website can give you a free estimate for the average cost of most repairs.

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