Auto repair

Business increases at auto repair shops as Minnesotans try to make vehicles last longer

Tim Curtis considered buying a new Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck last year, but the $58,000 price tag was more than the cost of his first home.

Since used car prices are also inflated, he decided to stop shopping and instead keep his 2004 GMC Envoy and 2015 GMC Terrain. His biggest repair in years at Brausen Auto in Roseville was cost $1,200, for the Envoy’s brakes and tires.

“Used car prices have gone up so much so it’s more profitable to keep my cars running and I also know those cars and what’s been done,” said Curtis, 64, of Maplewood.

Auto repair shops are seeing more and more customers investing in maintaining their vehicles due to the extreme distortion in the auto and truck market.

As the economy picked up when the pandemic began to ease last spring, manufacturers were unable to keep up with demand and critical parts remain in short supply. As a result, prices have skyrocketed for new and used cars. For many people, fixing a car makes more sense than committing to a transaction.

April marks the 10th consecutive month in which U.S. consumers on average paid significantly more than the list price for a new vehicle, Kelley Blue Book reported. Used car prices last month were down from a recent high, but were still 23% higher than a year ago, according to the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index.

“Before, it was someone who needed major repairs buying a new car,” said Hunter Darth, owner of German Auto Works in St. Louis Park. “Now they’re like, ‘Oh my God, car prices are crazy, so I’m going to fix my car. “”

Some stores are reporting business up to 30% higher than in previous springs. “We see a lot of older cars today,” said Ted Brausen, owner of the Arden Hills and Roseville auto shops. “I think that group of customers has expanded because of the prices.”

In his shops, he recently saw a 2006 Acura, a 2009 Saturn, a 2009 Toyota RAV4, a 2010 Mercury and a 2014 Cadillac Escalade.

“If you had told me that we would have had a pandemic and things would have been better business-wise, I would never have believed you,” Brausen said.

The range of maintenance work varies. “You have a customer end that does what is needed,” said Raks Pham, who runs Tuan Auto Repair in St. Paul. “And on the other end, you have people who want us to go through the whole car and get their car back in perfect condition.”

Brausen tells his customers to pay close attention to regular maintenance for the first 100,000 miles so their cars are in good shape for another 100,000.

“The best news about scheduling your maintenance is that you very rarely break down,” said Mike Weinhagen, owner of Weinhagen Tire Co. in St. Paul.

While its store’s downtown clientele worked from home, Weinhagen’s repair business fell 20% in 2020. But it quickly recovered as customers opted to stay with their vehicles.

The pandemic is only the second time Weinhagen has noticed his customers are reluctant to purchase vehicles. “The first real change in all these years that I’ve been doing this was in 2008 during the financial crisis,” he said.

As repair shops see their business increase, they are also having difficulty obtaining parts. “Sometimes we have to wait weeks for parts that we used to get in a day,” Brausen said.

Darth said he was monitoring the war in Ukraine as he assessed the availability of parts for his German company Auto Works.

“A lot of the wiring is made in Ukraine for German cars, so we’re warned you’re going to see production drop,” he said. “Even some raw materials come out of Russia.”

But Dark added that, as things stand, if he could find more mechanics, he would have enough work for them. “If we had four more techs here, they’d all be busy,” Dark said. “There is no shortage of work.