July 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Auto shops try to keep up with rising sales, recalls

Matt Wyatt installs a new part at Joe Lunghammer Chevrolet in Waterford Township. 'There are so many recalls that the general public is so confused,' said Pete Salich, service manager. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

The wave of record-breaking recalls is keeping dealership service shops humming — and some dealers think it will only get busier heading into the fall.

Service departments at dealerships across multiple brands are feeling the rush as U.S. auto sales grow and bring in new business, at the same time millions of vehicles have been called back for safety reasons.

To accommodate new-car buyers and keep up with demand created by recalls, some dealerships are expanding service hours or staff. Some companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co. offer free maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations for a few years as part of buying or leasing a new vehicle, adding to service work.

One Metro Detroit Ford dealership said it is booking customers’ recall repairs into December because the shop is so busy.

GM alone has recalled 29 million vehicles this year — the Detroit automaker recalled 8.45 million last Monday alone — and industry recalls have risen to around 39 million.

“There are so many recalls that the general public is so confused,” said Pete Salich, service manager for Joe Lunghamer Chevrolet in Waterford Township. “They don’t know if their car is part of the recall or not.”

Salich said he expects the dealership’s service department will only get busier this summer. He said revenue is already “quite a bit ahead” of where it was the same time last year.

Salich said the dealership has fixed at least 300 ignition switches on recalled GM vehicles, but he’s still got “quite a stack” of more than 100 to complete. He’s also waiting for big supplies of parts to fix a seat belt issue on the Chevrolet Traverse and axles for the Chevrolet Cruze recall.

GM said more than 296,000 ignition switches had been fixed as of June 25, or about 11 percent of the 2.59 million older cars called back earlier this year for defective parts.

Lunghamer Chevy may extend hours for recall repairs if it has demand and parts. Some service staffers have been picking up a few extra hours, and he and a few other employees are spending much more time on the phone answering customers’ questions.

“The days are a lot more hectic than they used to be,” Salich said.

For now, the recall work is not backing up regular maintenance appointments, Salich and other dealers say.

Joe Criscuolo, parts and service director at Spartan Toyota in Lansing, said receipts in his service department have grown 22 percent since 2012.

Part of the bump has come from Toyota’s program that gives those buying or leasing a new car five free services in the first two years or 25,000 miles of ownership. That program debuted in August 2011. With more demand, Spartan Toyota is looking to add two technicians.

“When the customer’s getting free maintenance, where’s the customer going to go?” Criscuolo said.

New-car dealers in the U.S. employed 262,896 service technicians in 2013, up from 254,200 in 2012, according to a National Automobile Dealers Association study. Sales in the service, parts and body shop at new-car dealers increased 4.8 percent in 2013.

Some Toyota dealers, including Spartan Toyota, said they had technicians working Sundays and evenings during Toyota’s sudden acceleration recall.

Bill Fox is a partner in Fox Dealerships Inc., which includes four dealerships in upstate New York: Honda; Toyota/Subaru; Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram; and Chevrolet. He said he has not had to hire additional people because of the recalls. Fox said he just hasn’t gotten enough ignition switches to expand hours.

“If need be, we’d run overtime,” he said.

AAA President and CEO Bob Darbelnet said in a recent statement he had concerns GM recall repairs could be “significantly backlogged” with only 4,300 dealers to do them. He said days delayed fixing vehicles can “equal lives lost.”

Darbelnet said many consumers already use independent shops — totaling more than 80,000 in the U.S. — and GM could look to work with those shops for “simpler recalls, thus allowing GM dealers to focus on the more critical recall work.”

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney wrote in an email, “Our dealers are doing an outstanding job of taking care of customers who are impacted by the ignition recall (and other recent recalls). They are performing repairs as soon as they receive replacement parts and working with customers individually to minimize any inconvenience.”

GM is allowing dealers some discretion to speed repairs: If an ignition switch part is ordered by vehicle identification number for a certain customer, and that customer hasn’t brought the car in, then that switch can be used to fix a different car.

The automaker also has launched a promotion for all U.S. dealers that includes a $250 credit to an online gift store if they install by today at least 90 percent of ignition switch replacements shipped to them in June.

“We want to encourage dealers to continue to follow up with customers and do everything possible to get vehicles that are part of the ignition switch recall repaired as fast as possible,” Carney said in an email.

Fox Dealerships’ fixed operations director Bob May said in more than 30 years he’s never seen an “incentive to get recalls done quick.”

GM also will send emails in the next few weeks to “a subset of owners” in the ignition switch recall. The company wants to encourage owners who have not contacted a dealer to visit www.gmignitionupdate.com to order parts.

Parts for GM's ignition switch repair await installation. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)