Jimmy Daniels, who owns Lynch Collision Center in Bristol Borough, waited a month for a new airbag he ordered to fix a Mustang at his shop.
It’s just one of the auto parts that his and other repair shops have had to wait on, due to the shortage of new cars, used cars and car parts since the COVID pandemic struck automotive manufacturing facilities here and abroad.
“Yes, we’re having a very hard time getting parts,” Daniels said.
But last week, his towing business really grew.
The 6- to 10-inches of rain that fell on Bensalem, Bristol Borough and Bristol Township on July 12 dumped water into low-lying areas that flooded quickly. The damage all that water wrought on approximately 780 families and their homes also flooded a multitude of vehicles.
PEMA site opens:Victim of the July 12 floods? Here’s how you can get help
Now the need for vehicle repairs or replacement cars has greatly increased demands on the already overburdened auto industry in Bucks County, and created some busy days for insurance agents and car leasing companies as well.
Lynch Towing plucked 12 vehicles from the flood waters in the borough and now has them stowed in a fenced enclosure, awaiting their fates after insurance inspections.
The vehicles were parked there Monday, still drying out after a week in the hot sun. One still had water puddled in its trunk.
The damage “varies from car to car,” Daniels said. If water gets into the engine, “it destroys the engine. It also soaks the carpet, upholstery. It will create a mold issue. Many times the insurance company will end up totaling the vehicle because it doesn’t want the liability,” he said.
Water also can affect the electronic components under the dashboard and rust the vehicle’s metal parts, he pointed out.
So many drivers affected by the flood lost the use of one or more vehicles that they kept insurance agents extra busy.
“Last week was bad,” said Thomas LaCroix, who owns Allstate insurance agencies in Fairless Hills and the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia. “It seems that storm had a mind of its own. We had a lot of Bensalem and Bristol claims.”
One client was driving his work truck in Montgomery County when a neighbor called to tell him to get home and move his personal car because their street was getting flooded. By the time he got there, the car was soaked through.
“We call it Lake McKinley,” said Veronica Serrano, who lives on McKinley Street in Bristol, which was hit hard during the storm. Both her family’s vehicles were flooded out of commission.
“They were both towed,” she said, to two different dealerships where they were purchased. “We have insurance coverage … I haven’t had a car since Monday.”
Do you have the right insurance coverage?
LaCroix said that vehicle owners need to have comprehensive coverage to file a flood claim, and not all auto insurance policies have that. Sometimes, when a person has an older vehicle, they will just opt for basic liability coverage in case they’re in an auto accident and injure someone or damage their vehicle, but liability insurance doesn’t cover damage to their own car. That requires collision coverage. And it doesn’t cover a flood.
Flooding and issues like a tree falling on a car, or a car being stolen, requires comprehensive coverage. LaCroix highly recommends that anyone buying a new or nearly new vehicle should make sure their coverage is complete, including liability, collision and comprehensive coverage, particularly if they live in an area where flooding occurs, even if it it’s not a designated flood-prone area.
And all car buyers or those leasing a vehicle should know what their insurance coverage is and when the policy goes into effect before they drive the vehicle off the dealership lot.
“When you get behind the wheel, insurance is peace of mind,” he said. “It’s really, really important for people to know their coverage.”
He said the same applies to homeowners’ or rental insurance. A resident could have insurance coverage for a sump pump failure or a drain backup, but that’s not the same as flood coverage for water coming into a home through doors or windows.
“Anyone can put flood insurance in (their policy) and it’s relatively inexpensive,” he said if the person doesn’t live in a designated flood-prone area.
Anyone with a flood-damaged car should alert their insurance agent immediately to see if it is covered. Sometimes the insurance will cover having the vehicle towed to a repair shop.
When a claim is filed, the insurance agency either sends an agent or does a FaceTime inspection of the vehicle to determine how much the flooding affected it and whether it can be repaired. In the meantime, some insurance agencies line up a rental vehicle for the client, depending on the coverage.
If the person recently bought new tires or other equipment for the vehicle, that could increase the insurance payout if it is totaled. The person should have receipts or proof of the purchases.
But even when a person gets a settlement from their insurance company, they may not be able to buy another car right away.
Need a new car? Get in line
Paul Muller remembers when his Team Toyota dealerships had 400 to 500 vehicles in stock.
“Now we have 40 to 50. Basically, we’re selling them as they come in,” said the dealership president and owner in an interview before the flood struck Lower Bucks. “Most are sold before we even get the car.”
And auto dealerships also are having a hard time getting parts to make repairs. “The parts for even domestic cars are made overseas,” Muller said, where the manufacture of computer chips has been an issue since the pandemic began.
The scarcity of longshoremen at California ports and long-haul truck drivers due to pandemic furloughs also have caused additional delays in deliveries of vehicles and car parts to area dealerships.
“I’ve been in and around the car business for 50 years, never seen anything like this,” Muller said.
He added that the cost of used cars and rental vehicles is up because of their scarcity as well. The shortage in rentals, he explained, is because leasing agencies sold off some of their fleet vehicles last year when the pandemic kept people home and the cars weren’t needed.
Now they are in demand, big time, as people need transportation while waiting for their own vehicles to be fixed or a new car to be delivered. Allstate has even started a ride sharing service called Avail, based locally at Philadelphia International Airport, to help people who can’t locate a rental vehicle.
LaCroix said Allstate has been good in extending the time drivers can have a rental vehicle if their car repairs are delayed, as they have tried to help people out both during the pandemic and the flood.
Last week he had a client who wanted to lease an SUV because he would have an easier time getting into the vehicle than a sedan. The third call was the charm. He was able to get the guy the vehicle he needed.
Both LaCroix and Muller -— whose Team Toyota dealerships are in Middletown and Glen Mills, Delaware County, and Lawrenceville, New Jersey — said their businesses rely on good service to repeat customers, even during these trying times.
“Seventy percent (of business) is repeat, referred customers,” Muller said. “I’m not looking to take advantage of them.”