Cars stuck at sea is the latest challenge facing south-west dealerships with thousands of imported vehicles waiting weeks to be cleaned before they can be delivered.
Ships docked in Port Phillip Bay are laden with vehicles from various manufacturers at the Port of Melbourne to be cleaned and inspected to meet Australia's strict biosecurity protocols.
The extra cleaning is for soil, seeds, plant debris and live insects found overseas which pose a threat to Australia's agriculture industry.
The vehicles have been stored outside overseas for long periods after COVID-19 pandemic-related global supply chain issues.
Warrnambool's Norton Motor Group dealer principal Marcus Norton said businesses were waiting on stock and the delay was frustrating on top of other long-running pandemic hold-ups.
Mr Norton said there were 14 ships full of cars at sea trying to get into the port. He has about 120 cars on ships and said the port wait time was usually about 14 days and it had blown out to 45 to 60 days.
He said this was on top of existing car wait times. "With some we can supply in three to six weeks but quite a bit of product is still 12 months," he said.
"We've got cars that are stuck in this process and we don't know when we're going to get them because they're sitting on a boat. Just in Ford Rangers alone I've got 90 cars on boats and only five of which aren't sold.
"Some of the boats have been floating around out there for a month but there's nothing we can do. The problem we've got now is we're getting them (unlike during COVID-19). You can reach out but you can't touch them. They're right there."
Dealerships are also facing a parts shortage with residents waiting to have their cars serviced or repaired.
Mr Norton said getting parts and accessories was "a challenge".
There's a few days' wait for a basic service but anything bigger was two to three weeks "at best" and up to four weeks "depending on what it is and if we're able to get the parts for it".
Staff shortages have added to servicing delays. Mr Norton employed six overseas workers after exhausting local avenues, while Callaghan Motors has employed an overseas worker and a couple of apprentices but would hire more if it could.
Dealer principal Steve Callaghan said demand for cars was "pretty solid" and service wait times were between two to three weeks with the wait for parts compounding the issue. "We have tried to increase our part holdings to try and cater for a broader range, more than what we would have pre-COVID because you could order a part and it would be here the next day or two days," he said. "Now it could be two months."
Warrnambool Toyota dealer principal Matthew Burgess said prior to January there was a six-week wait for a service but it was now at one to two weeks.
Mr Burgess said hiring a number of qualified technicians had taken "enormous pressure" off its service department and it was still looking for service advisers and parts interpreters.
Warrnambool Automotive Group service manager Tahlyshia Potts said there was a two to three week wait for servicing instead of its usual one to one-and-a-half weeks.
She said everyone was trying to get staff and the dealership recently employed two mechanics.
"Yes we've got new staff but you've got to wait for them to be trained so they can do the services themselves. It's just a process."
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