Car care curtailed by COVID-19 | News

Mike Bortner, service manager at Carpenter Auto Repair & Towing, left, helps Rudy Carpenter, owner of the Sharon auto repair shop, work on a car engine. Carpenter said his business skyrocketed after people began getting $600 stimulus checks through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to boost the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not that Mike Fanjkutic was close pals with his delivery people – but he was missing them in early spring.

Well, to be honest, Fanjkutic, owner of Ivan’s Auto Body and Repair in Wheatland, was missing the auto parts they normally delivered.

“Normally they delivered every day like clockwork,’’ he said. “When COVID-19 hit we could go days without getting anything.’’

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states in March, it left these businesses stuck in neutral.

“None of us knew what was going on,’’ Fanjkutic said. “It was a complete mess. I was up at nights wondering where I would get supplies.’’

As the days passed, Pennsylvania created a list of essential businesses. When the list was completed, it included mechanics and auto body shops.

“We were the essentials,’’ said Tom Shirk, a service mechanic with Preston Ford in Sharon.

Still, it wasn’t easy.

“We used to get daily deliveries,’’ said Bob Doddato, co-owner of Tri City Collision, a Sharon auto body shop. “But when the pandemic hit, it became once a week.’’

Deliveries have slowly gotten back to routine, Doddato said.

“But they drop off the parts outside,” he said, in keeping with pandemic restrictions.

During the pandemic, insurance companies have found ways to reduce costs from paying accident claims. Instead of compiling a repair estimate by examining a car after an accident, adjusters often review photos, provided by vehicle owners, of damage.

“They may keep doing it this way from now own,’’ Doddato said.

The pandemic continues to affect body shop businesses. With businesses restricting capacity and operating hours, people are driving less.

“And more people are working at home now too,’’ Doddato added.

For a time auto sales took its lumps.

“We weren’t allowed to sell cars when all of this hit,’’ said Ben Bissett, owner of Ben Bissett Chevrolet in East Lackawannock Township. “But our service shop was allowed to be open.’’

A 47-year veteran of the car industry, it floored him that he wasn’t allowed to wheel and deal. On April 20 Pennsylvania allowed internet car sales and the following month regular car sales resumed.

Consumers didn’t need coaxing, Bissett said.

“Anything we had sold,’’ he said. “People wanted to buy.”

He credits the sales boom partly to the stimulus checks people received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Nobody wants to wait for anything. We want it now,’’ Bissett said.

Rudy Carpenter, owner of Carpenter Auto Repair & Towing, also saw a huge increase in business when stimulus checks hit mailboxes.

“It was crazy busy,’’ Carpenter said. “I had people coming in because they had money to get their car fixed. I had to hire an extra guy and it still was hard to keep up.’’

In a sign that people planned to keep their cars longer, Carpenter said he saw a lot of regular maintenance jobs — brakes, tires, shock absorbers. It’s a sign that people are keeping their cars longer — coming through the garage doors.

His business over the past month business has slowed, a little bit.

“It’s still busy,’’ Carpenter said. “But not crazy busy like it had been.’’

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