High-Tech Cars Are Killing the Auto Repair Shop

PORSCHES CONVERGE FROM across the Midwest on the collision shop Brandon Mehizadeh manages in Minnetonka, Minnesota, like expensive homing pigeons. A Cayenne SUV that hit a deer in South Dakota early this summer and needed structural work is a typical example.

Workers at the first collision shop the car was taken to “had no idea what they were doing when it came to the technology,” because they lacked access to Porsche’s parts catalog, says Mehizadeh. So like many Porsches before it, the Cayenne was loaded onto a truck and driven hundreds of miles to Mehizadeh’s branch of LaMettry’s Collision in Minnetonka. That company had paid for the expensive training and tools needed to be certified by the luxury German automaker to fix its cars. The transport added extra time to an already lengthy repair, and the Cayenne owner in South Dakota eventually got their car back by August, Mehizadeh says.
The migration of damaged Porsches is an inconvenience for their owners, but it’s also a symptom of deeper shifts in the auto industry—ones that make it harder for people to get their cars fixed.

Over the past decade, cars have gotten more complex and computerized. Each vehicle is now studded with sensors, packed with hundreds or thousands of computer chips, and controlled by software. Auto industry insiders have waxed poetic about the safety benefits of the “software-defined vehicle”—which also enables revenue-boosting data collection and subscriptions that make it safer to be an auto executive too.

Less talked about are the consequences of computerized cars at the auto shop. Fixing complex vehicles requires increasingly expert and expensive knowledge, and tools that are in limited supply. It’s part of the same trend that has driven some farmers to hack their own tractors and triggered legal fights over what rights consumers have over their own vehicles.

As some Porsche drivers in the Midwest now know, the upshot can be that it takes longer to get your car fixed. The trend is worsened by an ongoing decline in the number of US auto shops, driven by consolidation and owners taking retirement. In 2021 alone, 327 independent shops were acquired by owners of multiple shops, according to Focus Advisors, a mergers and acquisition advisory firm that tracks the industry. The mom-and-pop auto shop, in other words, is going the way of the dodo.–Online

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