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Car-buying these days could come with several headaches due to supply shortage. This is what you need to know

Local dealerships have empty lots, prices are rising, and the outlook into 2022 is bleak.

HARTFORD, Conn — It’s a tough time to buy a new vehicle. Just ask John Ransom.

When his wife Lisa leased a Chevrolet Blazer in December last year, they talked to the product specialist about his lease on 2018 Silverado which would end in May 2021. The product specialist suggested he order the vehicle to ensure he got one equipped the way he wanted it.

Ransom, who lives in Windsor, ordered a new Chevrolet Silverado in the middle of February. And then, nothing. In April, he checked with the factory.

“And they still just had it as 1100, which means that the order was submitted, but it hadn't been approved or given a build date," Ransom told FOX61. "So, I figured well, I'll give them a little more time and a check again, like the end of April, same thing.”

Fortunately, he said, GM Financial had extended his lease month-to-month. In August, the dealer he was working with suggested that he put in another order for a slightly different pickup. Nothing.

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At this point, nearly seven months had gone by and there was no build date on either order. Ransom decided to look up the emails for the top executives at GM, starting with the CEO of the company, Mary Barra. In doing that, he stumbled across an executive in charge of customer satisfaction. So, he sent him an email.

That got some results. Within a week and a half, he was told there was a build date of November 1. Once it’s built, it still must be shipped from the Fort Wayne Assembly Plant in Indiana.

Why the delay?

Simply put, today’s vehicles run on microchips. The average 2021 vehicle has over 100 microchips to help run everything from the engine to the power seats, according to Kelly Blue Book. But those microchips are in short supply. 

The shortage and high prices for both new and used vehicles began with the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic last year when many states issued stay-at-home orders. Prices plummeted and automakers shuttered factories for at least eight weeks.

The resulting decline in supply came just as many cooped-up consumers wanted a new or used vehicle to commute to work or to take road trips without coming in contact with others.

While the auto plants were shut down in April and May last year, computer chip makers shifted production to satisfy wild demand for laptops, gaming devices and tablets. That created a shortage of automotive-grade chips, a problem that might not be fully resolved until next year.

RELATED: Fact-checking claims about electric vehicles and their carbon footprint

“You really do have to have your own best interests at heart and know that you're looking out for number one," Tracy Noble, Manager of Public and Govt Affairs for AAA in Connecticut, said. "So, it means doing extra due diligence, it means shopping around.”

AAA Advice

  • Be flexible – Talk to more than one dealer
  • Do your homework – Know what the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the car is, and what the dealer paid for the car.
  • Brand loyalty may be a thing of the past right now – If you’ve always driven a Ford, check out Chevrolet. You might find something that fits your needs that you can get sooner.
  • Be sure to perform maintenance on your current car to maximize the value of your trade-in
  • This situation could last into 2022
  • When you reach a deal on a car, have a sales contract that holds the dealer to the price you’ve agreed on in writing. 

High prices for trucks and SUVs helped General Motors post a $2.4 billion third-quarter profit despite factory closures due to a shortage of computer chips and other parts. But the profit was 40% lower than the $4 billion GM made during the same period last year as sales slumped last quarter and the company lost market share in the U.S., its most profitable country.

On a conference call with reporters, Barra said the global shortage of semiconductors, plus COVID outbreaks at supplier factories, hit the company during the third quarter.

RELATED: Another pony car revolution as the Mustang goes electric

Parts to repair vehicles are also delayed.

Sue Melville has waited months for parts to fix a problem with her brakes on her Ford truck.

“I’m just lucky that I’m working from home now and not doing the 500 miles per week that I was doing before the pandemic. It would have been 12,000 miles driving with bad brakes instead of 3,000,” she wrote to FOX61.

And it’s not just General Motors, all automotive manufacturers have taken a hit. Dealers feel the impact as well with fewer vehicles on their lots in the face of customer demand.

On a recent Saturday, the normally full lot at Lynch Toyota in Manchester was nearly empty.

Credit: FOX61

“We thought COVID was tough,” said Hayden Reynolds, owner and general manager for Reynolds Subaru in Lyme. “We have some used cars, not a ton, but 40 or 50 used cars. New cars are pretty much working where we might have one or two new cars sitting here that aren't sold. But when we get a truck for the cars, people have already put deposits on them.”

“It’ll be a long time before I think you'll see dealers with cars sitting on their lot,” said Reynolds. “I think we're going to be chasing, filling retail orders and demand longer into 2022 than we would ever have guessed.”

RELATED: US auto sales slump, stalled by car computer chip shortage

Reynolds, whose company started selling buggies and wagons in 1859, also notes the changes in the used car market as well.

“The increase in the value used cars because of the shortage of new cars, and demand [for new cars] increase is a phenomenon that I don't think any myself, or any my fellow dealers, have seen ever in the car industry," he said." That's usually not how it works."

Ransom said he is a loyal GM customer.

“I've always had GM cars. My father always had GM cars and his father, my grandfather always had GM cars," he added.

He said this experience has not soured him on the company.

“I understand the whole world is all screwed up. Because what's been going on for the last year and a half, going on two years with the pandemic and everything.," he added. "And, you know, and now the supply chains are all whacked out, the chip issue was just crazy.”

In any case, Ransom got word that his truck was built during the first week of November. Now he just has to wait for it to be shipped.

UPDATE

John Ransom's truck arrived at the dealer in February 2022. 

Credit: Lisa Ransom

Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at dstewart@fox61.com.

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