To understand where we’re at in the inflation cycle, consider the shortage of motor collision technicians.

By one estimate, there are about 100,000 open car repair positions right now. That means if you ding your vehicle, whether it’s a fender-bender or something worse, you’ll wait longer to get it fixed as the technician shortage chokes the ability of garages to accept new work. That in turn contributes to higher prices—and if the job is covered by insurance, those strains feed into higher premiums.

The cost of motor vehicle insurance rose by 1.8% in April and by a stinging 22.6% from just 12 months ago, continuing its fastest pace of increase since 1976 and helping to keep the overall rate of inflation well above where the Federal Reserve wants it.

The country needs more collision repair training facilities like the one at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus in Smyrna. Photographer: Houston Cofield/Bloomberg

Training more workers for the garages would soften some of these pressures, says Arianna Sherlock, a senior director at the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, a nonprofit that advocates for education and training.

“Simply put, it’s an issue of supply and demand,” she says. “There are not enough technicians ready to work to replace those that have retired, and unlike a lot of other fields, collision repair work cannot and will not be replaced by a computer or AI.”

To be clear, not all of the insurance increase is because of the shortage of collision technicians. Other reasons include the complexity of modern cars that, instead of being fixed by a spanner and oily rag, now need quasi-chip engineers to reboot their engines. A post-pandemic hangover as insurers play catch-up with their rates is another factor. Insurance, also, isn’t the sole driver of overall inflation, given the outsize role played by housing costs in particular.

Still, the shortage of skilled labor continues to be cited as a major pressure point by those in the industry. One of the drags is the stigma younger workers attach to working in a garage, when fast-evolving tech sectors offer more appealing roles. Such optics need to be addressed, Sherlock says.

“Automotive has also become highly technical—the repair centers of today are not your grandfather’s garage,” she says. “They’re clean, safe and filled with technology.”

Which is why the next time Fed Chair Jerome Powell pulls into a garage for a tune-up, he may be keeping an eye on the queue for repairs.

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