Fixing What’s Broken: The Origins & Potential Outcomes of the Parts Shortage

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The heavy-duty industry has faced a lot of shortages lately.

We’ve talked about the tech shortage. We’ve also discussed the driver shortage.

The parts shortage couldn’t be far behind, right?

While we were kind of hoping the situation would pass, it remains a very big problem—particularly for the independent repair shops and fleets that we work with. We knew we needed to better understand what was going on, so we called for some outside help from two people who have been up-close and personal with the shortage:

  • David Seewack, Founder and CEO of FinditParts.com, the largest single-source provider of heavy-duty parts on the internet.
  • Jimmy Wall, General Manager at Donahue Truck Centers, who has seen the parts shortage impact his customers.

Jimmy describes the shortage as something that comes in waves, impacting certain parts at certain times. “Last month, we didn’t have a certain type of common oil filter and [the order] was two weeks out. Today, we’re fine on oil filters, but short on a different part.”

It hasn’t always been like this. While there are always one-off situations where you might have to wait a few weeks for a part, back in the old days (say, pre-pandemic) you could probably get most parts you might need within a couple of days, if not next-day.

How did we get here?

What’s next for the industry? Are we that much closer to a Mad Max: Fury Road-type dystopia?

As it turns out, there’s no need to pull your flame-throwing electric guitar or Doof Wagon out of storage just yet. But you should keep reading to learn about the shortage’s origins and what your shop or fleet can do in the meantime.

What caused the parts shortage?

So, what’s at the root of the problem? Are parts not getting made fast enough, or are they stuck on one of the cargo ships currently stranded off the coast of California?

According to David, it’s a bit of both. “When one link breaks, it causes havoc in the system,” he tells us, explaining that globalization has had a heavy influence on the situation. “Parts suppliers are not just domestic. [Vendors] are relying on parts coming from around the world. Just starting things back up takes time.”

We probably don’t need to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic is what threw a wrench into things in the first place. While we’re focusing on heavy-duty parts for this blog, the truth is the entire global supply chain has been stuttering for a while. We mentioned the ships waiting to unload in Long Beach; add to that skyrocketing shipping expenses, a huge demand for what does get to storefronts, and the way things continue to stop and start as countries try to put a lid on new outbreaks and resume trade, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.

That trouble is impacting everyone, from digital suppliers to brick-and-mortar stores. The trucks kept rolling throughout the pandemic, delivering much-needed supplies across the country. Those trucks need maintenance and repairs to keep rolling…which is a problem if those parts are stuck on a ship or in another country.

How are parts currently getting to the people who need them?

This probably sounds familiar to most shop owners: If you need a part, you call around to your current vendors until you find it.

Easy, right?

Oh, Fullbay, you may be saying, my sweet summer child.

We know, we know. It’s often not quite that easy anymore.

“When you need a part, a human being has to try to find it,” David says. “That human has to spend a lot of time calling around, researching and finding it.”

So, when a part isn’t easily found (for whatever reason), parts managers have to keep looking. Sometimes other people get involved: technicians and even owners may get on the phone and dig into their emails in an effort to turn up the parts they need.

In short, it absolutely murders workflow efficiency.

Jimmy agrees: “Even when you don’t have a pandemic, there’s always a battle between the parts department and the service department,” he tells us. “Now we get the pandemic involved, and maybe you have a part that is two weeks out, or even months out.”

Yes, months. And that’s if you can locate the part you need. Far too much time is still spent just searching for them.

Say a parts manager spends about 15 minutes calling three of their top vendors. Then they might be turning around and looking for the parts they can’t find. “I knew someone who had to call 30 places because he had customers who needed those parts,” David says.

Even we can see that’s some unfortunate math.

What’s the impact on repair shops?

If you’ve ever had to scramble for parts, you know exactly how much trouble they can cause.

Once it’s established you can’t get a part in a timely fashion, efficiency screeches to a halt. The technician has to clock off the truck and find another one to work on. Usually, the shop will call the customer and ask what they want to do, delivering a version of one of these messages: Hey, do you want your truck back? It’s still driveable or Hey, you can’t have your truck back because this hood won’t be in for three months.

If a truck isn’t driveable and there isn’t enough duct tape to hold it together, the customer or the repair shop needs to find a place to put it. The bay is the work area, and if you’re waiting on a part and a truck is sitting in the bay, you can’t bring another truck in. You also have to move the truck out of the bay, re-park it in the parking lot, move another truck into the bay….and then pull it back in once the part arrives a day, week, or month later.

Those who don’t work in a shop may be rolling their eyes. That should all only take a minute, right?

Maybe in a perfect world, which we don’t live in. “On average, depending on the size of shop or parking lot, it can take five to fifteen minutes to bring a truck in,” Jimmy says. “Or up to half an hour if your shop isn’t so organized.”

Multiply that out by all the trucks you can’t find parts for.

Oof.

What’s the impact on the customer?

Depending on what part is missing—and if the truck is completely down—the customer may end up losing money by the day.

We have a real-life example in the QLS sensor, which Jimmy identified as being difficult to obtain at the moment. The QLS deals with the DEF system and emissions. It disables the truck.

If that QLS sensor can’t be replaced, a truck is down. If a fleet of ten thousand trucks has five thousand that require a new QLS sensor, that’s five thousand trucks that are sitting in a lot, unable to do anything.

It can cripple a fleet.

One truck being stuck isn’t too horrifying. But when you get into thousands, and you keep multiplying into potentially hundreds of thousands, the repercussions start coming faster and harder. Thousands of stranded trucks means thousands of shipments of medications, clothing, and the all-important toilet paper not making it to the people who need them.

What can shops and parts suppliers do to keep up with customer demand?

One of the smartest things a repair facility can do is be cautious about what inventory they stock.

This might seem counterintuitive at first. It’s a parts shortage, Fullbay, you’re saying, so I should get what I can, right?

Easy there, Mad Max. Before you start hoarding parts, remember that customers can ebb and flow. Let’s say you stock up on a particular part that only one big customer uses. If that customer goes poof, that stuff will sit. So consider stocking up on the parts you always sell—the parts multiple customers use, the parts that will continue to move even if you lose a big customer.

On the flip side, if your parts manager notices that you are suddenly moving more of a certain part, they may consider stocking up on that part—at least keeping one or two in stock, if not building up a supply.

You’ll also want to expand your network of vendors. Your regular five or six vendors may not be able to get the parts you need when you need them. The bigger a net you can cast, the likelier you are to pull in the part you need.

The best thing a shop owner can do, however, according to David, is to start using the internet. “I’d keep a cheat sheet of the five people you call that are local,” he says, “and then, if they don’t have it, head online.”

How will this impact the parts industry long-term?

Now that we’ve put a scare into you, we can do some soothing: We probably aren’t headed toward a life in the wastes trying to trade your water rations for TP.

(At least, not because of this.)

David believes that while things are still rough now, the situation can and will stabilize—especially as the trucking industry turns more to the internet for their parts needs. “I think, like anything, it will start transitioning,” he says. The pandemic may have led to this part shortage, but it’s also made people more comfortable with buying parts online when they need to. Nothing will replace your usual local supplier and the service you get there, but people will have more choices.

How can Fullbay help?

While we work hard to serve the industry, the crew at Fullbay can’t solve the parts shortage. What we can do, however, is help our customers access parts across the country through the free Fullbay Marketplace.

We take the convenience of buying through the internet and bring it to you directly through Fullbay. We’ve partnered up with FinditParts and other vendors to show you where the parts you need are located, as well as how much you’ll pay for them and how long it will take for them to reach you. It also shows you alternatives to brand-name parts, which may be easier to obtain than OEM equipment.

Nothing will take the place of your trusted vendors. But turning to the internet does give you options—and now you can do it without ever leaving the app. And when the parts shortage does end, it’ll be one more tool in your arsenal to help you get the parts you need, when you need them, to ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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