Pandemic Increases Delays in Oil Changes

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Pandemic Increases Delays in Oil Changes
Photo: Igor Sokolov/stock.adobe.com | A service bay in an automotive service station. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more drivers in the United States to put off vehicle maintenance, according to a survey by automotive market research firm IMR Inc.

In addition to the sudden drop in miles driven, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused more drivers in the United States to put off vehicle maintenance, according to a survey by automotive market research firm IMR Inc.

Naperville, Illinois-based IMR’s quarterly Vehicle Maintenance Tracking Study interviews 25,000 U.S. households about maintenance for all the vehicles in their household, including needed service, maintenance and repairs they intentionally have not performed.

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Among the 100 parts, services and chemicals the study tracks, oil changes are the most delayed category, with 4.5% of all vehicles on the road having an oil change delayed between April and June this year. Scheduled maintenance, which may include engine oil and transmission fluid changes, was the fourth most deferred.

A whopping 20.1% of vehicles had some type of maintenance delayed in the second quarter of this year, up from 17.6% in the first quarter. The increase represents approximately 8.5 million vehicles for which respondents decided to postpone service.

Reports of delays had been declining each quarter since IMR began tracking in 2016, from 23.6% to 17.6% in the first quarter of 2020. “That steady decline in delayed maintenance was clearly interrupted as we entered Q2 2020 with the shelter-in-place orders, and as we watched miles driven plummet,” the firm stated on its website.

The top three reasons for deferring maintenance haven’t changed since 2016. The cost of the repair was cited by 31.5% of households that reported putting off maintenance, while finding a convenient time and the importance of the repair for drivability of the vehicle were each cited by 18% of those respondents. However, the survey found a significant jump in “other reasons” for delays, with 59% of those reasons related to the pandemic.

“The main reasons we heard for delayed maintenance, oil or otherwise, were shelter-in-place orders, stores closed or limited hours, not yet comfortable having work done, and not feeling it was necessary because they weren’t driving as much,” IMR President Bill Thompson told Lube Report. “In short, they weren’t really driving anywhere, and with shelter-in-place orders and other restrictions, people were hesitant to do work unless it was necessary.”

While IMR’s data indicates that drivers neglect their vehicles more as the cars age, autos that are 4 to 7 years old saw the largest increase in delayed maintenance between the first and second quarters of this year – jumping from 12.6% to 16.7%. Drivers of vehicles aged 6 to 12 years delayed maintenance at a rate of 19.7% in the second quarter, up from 16.8% in the prior quarter.

When the time comes, 31.4% of those surveyed said they plan to perform the needed service or repair themselves. For oil changes, that number drops to 14.8%.

There are also regional differences in the timeliness of maintenance. Some states saw a larger percentage increase in delayed maintenance than others from the first to the second quarter: about a 10% increase in Maine and South Dakota; 6% to 7% in Alabama, Maryland and Vermont; 5% in Tennessee and Mississippi; and 3% to 4% in Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon and Washington.