As the coronavirus pandemic continues to squeeze dealer inventory and threaten vehicle production, retailers are grappling with another issue: a shortage of repair parts for their service departments.
The backlog has affected a number of Ford Motor Co. dealers who say they're waiting weeks, and in some cases more than a month, for parts needed to fix older-model Escape crossovers and Fusion sedans.
In April, Ford issued a technical service bulletin for coolant leaks into the cylinder head of 1.5-liter EcoBoost engines in 2017-19 Escapes and 2014-19 Fusions. The automaker instructed retailers to replace the short block and cylinder head gasket.
A handful of dealers who spoke to Automotive News said the parts for that repair are taking weeks to arrive as vehicles pile up in their service centers. Ford, in a statement, acknowledged delays this spring but said the situation has since been resolved.
"There were disruptions in parts supply in early May due to supplier closures caused by COVID-19," Ford said. "Upon reopening, parts production and delivery was expedited, resolving shortages by late June. Ford is not aware of any significant parts delays currently impacting dealer ability to repair these engines."
But some dealers say the issue hasn't gone away.
One service manager, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters, called the situation a "nightmare" and said the store has a half-dozen Escapes sitting in the shop awaiting repairs. A second dealership official said enough customers had come in with the problem that the person raised it on a 20-group virtual meeting and heard similar responses from peers. An employee at a third dealership said the store cut a five-figure check in June to a rental company so that affected customers could have temporary transportation while waiting for a fix.
Tim Hovik, a member of the Ford council and owner of San Tan Ford in Gilbert, Ariz., told Automotive News that his store has experienced some parts delays, although he said they weren't limited to any particular models.
"There's a supply chain that's trying to get back on line in terms of parts deliveries and how fast we can fill our orders," Hovik said. "I think sometimes we forget how important some of our vendors are. It seems like we've had some issues as we've come out of this getting those ancillary businesses back rolling."
Retailers across the industry have been forced to upend their normal operations amid the pandemic. Many have pivoted to digital operations and have added contactless pickup and delivery for both sales and repairs.
In some instances, dealers are utilizing vans to service vehicles at customers' homes.
Whether it's a learning curve for a new service or an adjustment to longer wait times, customers at Hovik's store have been mostly understanding, he said.
"I don't know if I've ever seen our customers more patient," he said. "Some of the times we have a vehicle for a few extra days because it takes a little longer to get the parts, and in normal times we have a little more frustration.
"Now, it seems people are a little more understanding. Just about everything in their life is different than in the past."