By Teri Ross, Vice President of Sales & Client Relations at PARS
The impact of COVID-19 has cascaded throughout our world to affect just about every aspect of our lives. Likewise, in the transportation industry, even after 18 months challenges remain.
COVID disruptions touch many of the services provided to our clients and we must face the fact that some of these disruptions are going to resolve slowly.
In the following sections, I detail the lingering pandemic’s impact on each aspect of the delivery cycle and how to adapt. One thing is clear, we are now living in a world where patience is a true virtue.
New Vehicle Deliveries
New vehicle deliveries are still impacted by COVID slowdowns and the resulting lack of new vehicle availability due to the ongoing chip supply issue.
Communication with dealerships can be a struggle due to staffing cuts during last year’s business shutdowns. The fleet contacts who formerly worked at dealerships just a year ago are either no longer employed or are working shortened hours. This results in smaller windows of time for confirming deliveries.
It is not unusual to be instructed to call back on another day when the dealership’s contact is expected to be working. When the employee is finally reached, there are additional barriers: the vehicle can’t be located; or the T&R paperwork has not arrived; or the release from the FMC is not there. These obstacles are causing longer waits in getting vehicles to customers.
Delays exist for vehicle repairs. Prior to the pandemic, vehicles needing mechanical or body repair could get into the shop on the same day that the issue was identified. Currently, we are experiencing waits of several days just to secure appointments.
When an estimate is required for authorization of repairs, there can be more time lost. Often, two visits (and two appointments) to the shop are required to get the job done: one trip for the estimate and a return trip for the actual repairs. Once the vehicle is at the repair facility, additional days can pass before the work begins.
Windshield repair and replacement services have been heavily impacted by the current state of disruptions. Missed appointments have become far too common for mobile windshield repair services, with appointments being rescheduled multiple times before the work is completed.
Holdups can also occur due to the unavailability of the correct windshield. Additionally, advanced vehicle technology may necessitate a trip to the dealership for calibration after the installation. Another step in the process, another delay.
Remediating recalls is also a problem due to parts shortages. There have been increases in the wait times simply because the dealerships cannot get the parts.
The state motor vehicle departments are still struggling to get back to pre-pandemic service levels. While many have re-opened to the public, there is still a large backlog of COVID era mailed-in paperwork to be completed. The state DMVs are juggling this backlog along with current walk-ins and new mail-ins, often under the constraints of reduced staffing. Many states still require appointments and are booked out for months, as enforcement has resumed for expired plates, registrations, and driver licenses. This is another case of demand far exceeding capacity.
If we have ongoing waiting time for paperwork, and a county accepts walk-ins, we send drivers to the DMV. However, this is not a best practice as service levels can vary at different locations. For example, we had two drivers go into a DMV with identical paperwork for the same type of vehicle—one got plates and the other received a rejection slip requiring additional items. PARS has had more success with mail-ins versus walk-ins.
Processing times in some states are reaching 60, 70 and even 140 days. This has a large impact on the delivery of “road ready” vehicles. As an interim solution, when title and registration are held up, PARS has the ability to issue temporary tags and registrations and get the vehicle on the road.
Rental Vehicle Issues
The shortage of rental cars has severely impacted many industries—especially ours. We have always depended on rental vehicles to get our drivers to and from pickup and delivery locations. The struggles of the rental car companies as they emerge from their pandemic reductions have put a strain on the transportation industry in multiple ways. The challenges that we see on a regular basis are:
- Loss of One-Way Rentals – Currently, rental car companies are often offering only round-trip rentals. Delivery drivers traditionally need one-way rentals, as the vehicle being delivered or picked up is used for one turn of the trip. With shortages, rental companies want vehicles returned to their locations and not dropped at another site.
- Shuttered Facilities – Some of the remote rental car locations have simply closed their facilities. We have always relied heavily on the remote locations as they best support our drivers’ transportation needs.
- Sudden Cancellations – Cancellations of rentals have actually occurred with drivers enroute to their drop-off, leaving the driver with no return transportation. Over the past few months this has happened to us multiple times.
- The Need to Scramble for Other Options – The lack of vehicle availability means drivers must find other modes of transportation to and from pick-up and delivery locations.
We continue to monitor every order, ensuring that we are securing transportation as efficiently as possible for our drivers while picking up and delivering vehicles.
Uber / Lyft
While rental vehicles are a challenge, Uber and Lyft are no longer a reliable backup option. The national news outlets have repeatedly described this problem. Like everyone else, PARS has been impacted by the shortage of ride sharing options, leaving our drivers waiting for extended periods of time—if they are even able to schedule a ride. Recently a driver was stranded at the airport for two hours searching for a ride!
Rising costs in these multiple areas are going to raise prices for the customer. As you know, fuel prices have gone up. Insurance premiums also are rising, driven by the high repair costs of vehicles with expensive new technology. These wonderful tech improvements also distract drivers and can cause crashes. We have seen the impact on both driven and auto carrier moves.
While unavoidable costs such a fuel, insurance and maintenance continue to rise, review of transportation data can provide opportunities to reduce costs. Two critical components for analysis are vehicle timing and storage data—this information tells us what’s taking place.
Optimizing Vehicle Moves and Storage
With data, we can capture the reason a vehicle move is placed on HOLD, which essentially stops the move. A hold is expensive if a driver is currently in a rental vehicle. One common reason a vehicle move is placed on hold is that we are unable to reach the pickup or delivery contact. A practice as simple as requesting multiple forms of contact information, such as work phone and personal cell numbers along with a valid email address, helps to ensure we reach the driver in an efficient manner.
Another hold scenario is when there’s a lack of direction about how to handle a dirty or damaged vehicle. This problem can be remedied with a comprehensive client profile which provides preapproval for detailing and procedures for maintenance or a damage claim. When we have specific parameters for solving problems, there’s no need to wait for instructions and delay the vehicle delivery.
Another opportunity for cost reduction is using vehicle storage time to accomplish maintenance repairs or body work. Then, when the vehicle is reassigned to another driver, it is ready. In this case there won’t be delays because the work was completed while the vehicle was in storage.
Also, consider using those stored vehicles for drivers who are waiting for new vehicles to be built and shipped to the dealer. This eliminates rental costs during that time—assuming that you’re even able to secure a rental!
So, is there any good news? We have survived some challenging times, learned workarounds, and fortunately have the support of seasoned industry veterans behind us. For the short term, these problems will continue to plague us. And, yes, there are many. As your grandmother told you, patience is a virtue—and, besides, do we have a choice?
Fortunately, you are not alone, and as the past months have shown, there’s strength in numbers! Peers, vendors, consultants, and experts from every part of the fleet service value chain are looking into innovative approaches and sharing successes.
I’m sure that PARS is not alone among service providers who are analyzing, planning, and implementing novel recommendations that can help our valued customers exceed their business objectives.