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Overcoming Parts Shortages: How to Beat the Backorder Blues and Keep Your Repairs Moving

If there’s one thing that makes every Service Manager tear their hair out, it’s getting that dreaded call from parts saying a critical component is backordered for weeks or months. 

Suddenly, repairs hit the skids as you scramble to track down scarce parts. Customers get angry, revenue tanks, and surveys nosedive. I’ve been there, and it’s beyond frustrating.

But part shortages aren’t new – they’ve been around as long as this industry. And over my many years navigating dealership operations, I’ve learned a few unconventional tricks for overcoming backorders and keeping the repairs moving. 

In this post, I’ll break down actionable strategies you can use to beat the “backorder blues” and take control of your parts supply chain when the manufacturer drops the ball.

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Plan Ahead for New Models 

We all know the new model rollout causes part pandemonium. That first oil change rolls in, and boom – no filters to be found. It happens every time, but you can get ahead of it. 

Review parts lists for incoming models and order startup stock well ahead of time. Get those filters, brake pads, and common maintenance components on the shelf before that first new car arrives. Don’t wait for backorders to start piling up.

Sure, you’ll tie up some working capital. But nothing hurts worse than losing days or weeks of service revenue because you can’t get parts. Avoid the scramble and stock up early.

Leverage Purchase Discounts and Bulk Buying  

Most OEMs offer bulk order discounts and incentives to stock up on fast-moving maintenance items and accessories. Yet surprisingly, few dealers fully utilize these programs to get ahead of shortages.

Take advantage of every OEM stocking program out there. Buy in bulk when the discounts kick in to build a deep backstock of the parts you know will be in constant demand. 

It might seem counterintuitive to have so much money invested in inventory. But when the railroad strike hits and parts dry up, you’ll be glad you stockpiled parts months earlier at a bargain price. A little extra inventory now prevents lost business later.

Build an Expansive Network

Connections are king when parts run short. The wider your network, the better your access to parts when OEM channels fail you. There are more options out there than you might think.

For starters, connect with other dealerships – especially same-brand stores in other regions unlikely to face the same shortages. An AC Delco part that’s scarce in Chicago may be plentiful in Phoenix — trade parts to get each other out of jams. 

Independent shops can also be a valuable source as they don’t rely on dealership part channels. Don’t forget salvage yards either – that obsolete part sitting in a junked car could make your day.  

Cast your net far and wide to build rapport with parts sources across the industry. When shortages strike, tap your network to uncover parts squirreled away elsewhere. 

Scour the Internet for Scarce Parts

Need an obscure gasket that’s long-discontinued? Running short on oil filters? Check Amazon and eBay. You can be amazed at the rare parts floating around on the internet these days.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a perplexed Parts Manager insist a part is unattainable – only to locate it in minutes on a random website. Never assume it can’t be found online. 

And don’t rule out forums and enthusiast networks, either. For older or specialty models, owners clubs and niche communities can be a wealth of leads on tracking down parts.

Yes, resorting to the internet cuts into profit margins. But keeping a car down for weeks over a $50 part is senseless. Use all resources available to keep repairs rolling.

Improvising Opens up Options

While we’re on inventive thinking – don’t forget that improvising parts is an option too. Just because the OEM parts system limits your choices doesn’t mean alternatives don’t exist.

For common failures like leaky gaskets or hard plastic trim, molding your own solution in the shop is completely doable. You can often modify another part to work in a pinch. With some creative thinking, you can work around constraints the manufacturer imposes.  

Repair guides can provide specs to cross-reference similar parts across vehicle platforms. Don’t let the OEM computer system limit your choices – there are always more options if you know where to look.

Ingenuity Solves the Thorniest Issues

I’ve seen great Parts Managers track down everything from obsolete brake parts to entire engines for 1930s classic cars. It comes down to ingenuity and thinking outside the box. 

A wise old parts guru once told me: “If I don’t have the part, I don’t have the part – but give me an hour, and I might just find it.” Keep that resourceful mindset top of mind when tackling today’s shortage headaches.

And finally – the customer comes first. If you’re looking at keeping their vehicle idle for weeks over a missing hose, make the tough call to source it elsewhere if needed. Avoiding a lengthy downtime helps keep their loyalty long-term. 

Shortages are frustrating, no doubt. But with proactive planning, an expansive network, and some creative thinking, you can access the parts you need to keep the cars moving in virtually any conditions. Don’t let spot shortages put on the brakes – take charge of your parts supply!

Have your own tips for tackling parts shortages? I want to hear them! 

Call in your parts shortage question to 8333-ASK-SDR. If I play your question on an upcoming episode, I’ll send you fun Chris Collins swag to thank you for contributing.

Shortages are a constant struggle in this business. Let’s talk through our solutions and help each other conquer the backorder blues. I look forward to tackling your parts questions on the next episode of Drive By!

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