Over the last two decades, sourcing car parts and components has become incredibly simple. Even for the rarest makes and models, online stores and specialist retailers have streamlined how we find and buy car parts – making life easy for private owners and professional garages alike.
But now in the wake of COVID-19 and Brexit, the bubble could be about to burst. With economies decimated by the pandemic and new trade rules creating friction with overseas manufacturers, there is real concern that the UK’s seemingly watertight motoring supply chain faces an uncertain future.
What does this mean for everyday motorists? Could mechanics face shortages when repairing customers’ cars? And what kind of long-term impact might the combined forces of Brexit and Covid have on the availability of car parts in the UK?
In this guide, we’re exploring how Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have affected Britain’s car-part supply.
Car Parts and Covid: The Reality of a Pandemic
No sector has escaped the disruption of COVID-19, but businesses reliant on multinational supply chains have fared the worst. With manufacturers spread across countries and continents, a global shutdown was always going to have major implications for the availability of goods made abroad – including car parts, accessories and components.
When you consider the individual parts of a supply chain, it’s easy to see why Covid has caused such disruption. The pandemic had a knock-on effect throughout the car manufacturing industry, with every stage of the process experiencing unique delays and handicaps.
Firstly, manufacturers were forced to limit the number of workers on factory floors, meaning fewer goods were made per hour. This, coupled with a reduced workforce due to illness and absence, had a colossal impact on productivity and efficiency.
Then of course there’s shipping and logistics, an area which was left in tatters by the pandemic. With long delays at borders and a swathe of country-to-country restrictions, the importation of car parts and components was dramatically reduced in 2020, and delays continue today.
But with that said, it’s not all bad news. As the vaccine rollout gathers pace around the world confidence is returning to the manufacturing sector. Many facilities have now reopened, although some are at a reduced capacity, with parts and accessories once again making their way through the supply chain.
Brexit’s Impact on the Car Parts Supply Chain
No matter which side of the Brexit debate you stand on, the UK’s departure from the EU at the start of 2020 couldn’t have come at a worse time for British businesses. With widespread confusion about new import/export rules and long delays at borders, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic served to deepen the problems facing the UK’s motoring supplies sector.
Ahead of the UK’s official Brexit withdrawal date, confidence was high thanks to the introduction of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). This legislation signed by the UK and the EU, made clear that the trading of goods between the two parties could continue more or less freely after the Brexit transition – great news for manufacturers and consumers alike.
Since then, however, the state of play has changed somewhat. With confusion over import/export tariffs, long queues at borders, and rising tensions about borderless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, some motoring manufacturers are questioning how easy trade will be in the future.
Post-Brexit delays have proved costly to the UK’s car manufacturing infrastructure. Back in January, Car Dealer magazine reported that Honda was halting production at its Swindon plant for two weeks due to Brexit-related delays (further exacerbated by Covid), while Vauxhall, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan all experienced similar problems within their supply chains.
To add to all this, the British government’s decision to bring forward the banning of sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030 has made some manufacturers nervous, with the newly merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA considering closing the UK Vauxhall plant, which it now owns.
There are, however, signs that the problems which arose immediately after the Brexit transition are beginning to sort themselves out. And with the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout, it’s hoped a revitalised manufacturing sector could encourage other overseas carmakers to shift their operations to Britain.
How Have Covid and Brexit Affected Day-to-Day Drivers?
The problems which have affected big carmakers and manufacturers might sound dramatic, but everyday motorists may not have felt the impact of Covid and Brexit when it comes to maintaining their cars.
One of the few plus points of the pandemic was that we were using our cars less, which meant less risk of breakdowns, mechanical issues, scrapes and accidents which would otherwise call for replacement parts and components. Just this month, MoneySavingExpert reported that car insurance is at a seven-year low, thanks in part to there being fewer accidents and claims during the coronavirus lockdown.
Good news for car owners whose insurance policies were due for renewal in early 2021. However, there were some repercussions brought on by the pandemic which had a direct impact on UK drivers, as we detail below:
While many drivers may have breathed a sigh of relief at news that MOTs were being postponed for six months in 2020, the delay proved costly for some. Six months of extra use before the test meant that there were many cars on the road which shouldn’t have been, and subsequent repair bills were considerably higher as a result.
Local Garage Closures and Limited Availability
Elsewhere, basic repairs and servicing were unavailable for much of the pandemic, with garages focusing on clearing the backlog of MOT tests when the six-month delay period ended in November. The lack of service and repair appointments in 2020 may have prompted many drivers to put off taking their car in for its annual service – jeopardising not just their car’s long-term performance, but also their warranty and credit agreement.
Expensive Repair Bills and Replacement Parts in the Future?
While some car parts manufacturers have reopened in the wake of the pandemic, production capacity remains low, particularly compared to pre-Covid levels. This means that as more people return to the road and demand for parts increases, consumers could see a hike in repair and replacement costs, with supply and demand putting a squeeze on manufacturers and fitters alike.
The outlook may seem gloomy, but it’s not all bad news. As UK drivers return to the road, it’s more important than ever to take care of your car – and Holts can help you all the way. Thanks to our range of DIY car maintenance products, you can look after your car as you restart those commutes and road trips once more. For more information and to browse our full product range, visit the homepage.