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Japanese car parts shortage ahead?

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted: 4 pm ET

The U.S. auto market continues to feel the impact of the Japanese earthquake. Toyota announced this week it would be limiting shipments of some replacement auto parts to U.S. dealerships.

From the Associated Press:

Toyota has told dealers to stop ordering 233 parts for Lexus, Scion and Toyota models unless a customer needs one for a repair. The parts include brake rotors, body panels and shock absorbers.

"We are asking the dealers to refrain from ordering parts in excess of what they need," Toyota spokesman Steve Curtis said Tuesday.

The company won't divulge publicly what those parts are, but the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal have listed brake rotors, body panels, shock absorbers, radiator supports, fender components, tail gate hinges and oil seals.

The key question for current owners of Japanese autos is whether actions like this one from Toyota are just a temporary blip or the tip of the iceberg. If it's the latter, availability and price of some original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, replacement parts could become a major issue.

The answer depends on the amount of damage sustained by Japanese parts suppliers and the numerous challenges facing the country's massive industrial complex, including shortages of fresh water and electricity. As far as Toyota goes, the affected parts amount to less than 1 percent of the 300,000-part total catalogue of replacement parts Toyota currently provides.

Even if there turns out to be major replacement part supply issues for Japanese autos, owners aren't necessarily out of luck. There may be non-OEM alternatives manufactured by third-party companies not affected by the Japanese disaster.

Still, if you've got a car repair you've been putting off, I would consider getting it done soon. There's no telling right now how this will shake out.

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Claes Bell
March 31, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Ngan, it's certainly annoying when you feel like a dealer is trying to convince you to do unnecessary work. As far as alerting the manager, I'm not sure what that would accomplish. The manager may give the tech in question a talking to, but it's also possible the tech had been asked to promote fluid changes by the dealership. If you're unhappy with the dealer's service, a better tactic may be to just vote with your feet and steer clear of the dealer for all but warranty and recall repairs. You'll likely get a better dealer with a trustworthy independent mechanic on most service anyway.

March 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm

One more question. I brought my odyssey into the dealership for the recall fix of the master brake cyclinder. The tech there stated that the power steering fluid looked dark and may need to be serviced.

My husband didn't think it looked dark at all and he took the car to our mechanic who did the power steering service just a year ago. The mechanic agreed with us and said the fluid look fine.

If the dealership is trying to get money out of me for things that don't need to be repaired, should I bring this to the attention of the manager?

Claes Bell
March 31, 2011 at 10:48 am

Interesting question on the oil filters, ngan. I'm not sure whether higher-end filters actually give a benefit, but I might look into that for a future blog.

March 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

Interesting how you stated "if you have a car repair you've been putting off...". I don't usually make my decision on what the cost would be like with gas prices. Car repair ends up costing more the longer you want because the problem becomes bigger or it affects other parts which then have to be fixed too.

On a side note, does the brand of oil or oil filter really matters? my mechanic said the oil filter I got was cheap and he recommended the factory brand.