September 12, 2023

Vehicle Age and Complexity, Consumer Debt and Telematics Impacting Businesses as Year Progresses

by Michael Chung, senior director, market intelligence

Auto Care Association conducts a quarterly survey of members on the impacts of economic, consumer, technology and repair outlet trends on their businesses. The average age of vehicles and consumers’ decision to maintain their vehicle (rather than purchase a new one) continue as the top two issues from 2022 into 2023. 

In this year’s first two survey iterations (March and July), “telematics that could exclude small repair shops” and “increasing vehicle complexity emphasizes the need for professional technicians’ expertise” continue to rank highly:

Top Issues Impacting Member Businesses 

 July 2023 March 2023 2022
Average age of vehicles 1: 4.06 1: 3.94 1: 3.97
Consumers opting to maintain their vehicles as opposed to buying a new vehicle 1: 4.06 2: 3.69 2: 3.91
Longer lasting vehicles are extending the vehicle repair window 3: 3.94 3: 3.67 4: 3.62
Telematics that could exclude small repair shops 4: 3.90 5: 3.48 5: 3.58
Increasing vehicle complexity emphasizes the need for professional technician's expertise 5: 3.69 6: 3.37 3: 3.66
General health of the economy 6: 3.63 4: 3.63 6: 3.58
Unemployment and household budgets 7: 3.31 8: 3.25 9: 3.11
Aging baby boomers' preference for professional technician's expertise 8: 3.27 12: 2.92 10: 3.06
Telematics that currently connect vehicles to primary, new car dealers 9: 3.25 9: 3.08 8: 3.29
Consumer debt 10: 3.17 7: 3.31 15: 2.78

Q: Using the scale from 1 (Low Impact) to 5 (High Impact), please rate the following statements in terms of how much impact each of the following issues is currently having on your business …

Jason Scott of The Automotive Parts Services Group shared that the average age of vehicles has a high impact on APSG and its constituent programs, particularly since the vast majority of its business is aftermarket related and geared toward professional installers. As reported in this year’s Factbook, the average age of light vehicles has been trending upward and is 12.5 years as of January 2023. Since a high proportion of our vehicle parc is out of warranty, service providers have more opportunities to provide maintenance and repair service to consumers.

Possible counterbalances included in the quarterly survey are the “change in service of DIFM [do-it-for-me] events” and “remote work”. As Scott shared, “Remote work can be a negative – if fewer miles are driven, there are fewer opportunities since the vehicle is not on the road as much”. In related news, McKinsey & Co. recently released this report on global return-to-office trends. 

Jose Bueso, chief operating officer and co-founder of Dynamic Automotive, a service provider with six facilities in Frederick County, MD talked about the outsize impact consumer debt had on his customers, particularly in the spring when inflation hovered around 6%. At the time, he saw that “a lot of customers were keeping a close watch on what they had in their wallet. If they had to purchase another vehicle, it would really hit them hard, so they were very cautious about doing that. Even though the used car sales market has tapered a bit [e.g., higher availability] buying a new truck would have a high financial impact for a customer.” 

As a result, customers spending $8,000 to $18,000 for a major repair have not been uncommon at his shops, with about 90% of invoices being paid by credit card. Bueso confirmed that “Doing a little more work on a vehicle is more palatable than getting a new vehicle” for many. 

Bueso also talked about the importance of “Increased efficiency and productivity of service bays”, particularly for independent shops. Since dealerships are more vertically integrated with respect to accessibility to parts, they are less likely to have to wait for parts, positively impacting resource utilization. As Bueso shared, a work environment’s efficiency and proficiency impact its profitability.

Bueso also identified “Telematics that could exclude small repair shops” as having a high negative impact on his six locations and the industry. He said that if he uses Microsoft Word on his personal computer to write an essay, the creative output data belongs to him. Similarly, Bueso contends that when it comes to the use of a vehicle, “the data created by the action of driving inputs belongs to the driver / owner of the vehicle. When any driver travels down the road in their vehicle, the data they are creating is like writing a story on a computer – and that data belongs to that individual. The vehicle manufacturer shouldn’t have the ability to take the data and sell it to third parties.” 

“When any driver travels down the road in their vehicle, the data they are creating is like writing a story on a computer – and that data belongs to that individual. The vehicle manufacturer shouldn’t have the ability to take the data and sell it to third parties.”

Jose Bueso

Scott echoed these concerns, noting that one of the biggest challenges for his company is access to vehicle data, as this has “a massive impact for independent repair shops in the near future.” He noted that “dealerships have delays for service appointments as well as fewer technicians,” so he is hopeful that “dealers recognize the importance of independent shops and have relationships with them to refer customers to”.  

Bueso spoke of the need for government “to intervene and make it a level playing field across the board. We need a stronger hand to make a judgment and standardize systems to ensure driver safety, especially ADAS – we need to have certain parameters to warn a customer if a sensor or system is out of calibration, for example cruise control.” 

Regarding “Increasing vehicle complexity”, Dan Schildge, president of parts manufacturer CRP Automotive talked about the challenge of receiving complex parts back because the shop could not install it. As such, providing technicians what they need (training, instructions and manuals) to make the repair is all the more important.

As a niche supplier that focuses on creating higher quality parts with more advanced technology, Schildge sees increasing vehicle complexity as impacting the industry through higher component prices, driving market demand for remanufactured options for complex components. “Take electronic power steering – these parts are much more expensive than previous generation hydraulic steering racks that are less expensive, use less advanced technology and are easier for other companies to knock off. The independent aftermarket is at risk of being left behind if we don’t recognize opportunities to rebuild these components.” 

This ties to the “preference for professional technician's expertise” – with increasing vehicle and component complexity, Schildge noted consumers’ increased reliance on professional technicians to diagnosis and program modern vehicles. Shops that invest in technology, tools and training will therefore be better positioned to meet customer needs in the years to come. 

We appreciate our members’ participation in these surveys to help us understand the most pressing issues in the industry. If you are interested in participating in this study, contact me at the email address below. Learn more about Right to Repair here – we look forward to meeting with legislators at this year’s Legislative Summit – learn more about this event and register here.
About section background | Auto Care Association

Mike Chung

is director, market intelligence at Auto Care Association. With more than a dozen years of experience in market research, Chung provides the industry with timely information on key factors and trends influencing the health of the automotive aftermarket to help businesses throughout the supply chain make better business decisions. Chung has earned degrees in chemical engineering, environmental health, and business administration. He can be reached at

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