The Industry Speaks: 2023 New Jersey Automotive Survey Results

by Jacquelyn Bauman

The automotive repair industry can feel isolating at times. There are so many questions you’re probably asking yourself over and over again: Am I charging what everyone else is charging? Are other shops feeling the pressure of steering like I am? Does the shop down the street have a problem hiring new employees, or is it just me? Are insurance companies the bane of everyone’s existence, or am I having a harder time with them than everyone else? What can I do to make my business more successful? 

Once again, New Jersey Automotive has polled shop owners all across the Garden State to get a temperature check on the industry and paint a picture of where shops are and where they might be headed. All of the questions you could ever want answered by your fellow shop owners are located in the following pages with the NJA 2023 Industry Survey results. We hope that this information makes you feel less alone and provides you with the relevant information you need to help make better decisions for your business.

What describes your primary business?

Collision repair: 81%

Mechanical repair: 4%

Collision & mechanical repair: 15%

Collision shops: Are you a DRP? If so, how many are you on?

1-5 programs: 60%

6-10 programs: 13%

More than 10 programs: 2%

No: 26%

In last year’s survey, 13 percent of shop owners answered that they were on more than 10 DRP programs – a number that had gone up from zero the previous year. It seems over the course of 2023, Garden State shop owners are seeing less value in “playing nice” with a wide range of insurers.

If you answered that you are NOT on a DRP program, is steering more or less of a problem than in the past?

Steering is MORE of a problem than in the past: 50%

Steering has remained about the same: 40%

Steering is LESS of a problem that it’s been in the past: 10%

How many employees do you have, including yourself?

1-5: 17%

6-10: 35%

11-20: 31%

More than 20: 17%

Shop owners in New Jersey have seen a lot of changes to the makeup of their shops over the past few years. Between 2017 and 2021, an average of 31 percent of NJA survey respondents had five or fewer employees, a number which has now dropped to 17 percent. While large shops with over 20 employees are still the minority in New Jersey, most of our survey respondents have found that the sweet spot for their businesses is somewhere between six to 20 employees.

What is the age of your OLDEST employee?

30-40: 0%

41-50: 2%

Over 50: 98%

It’s no secret that the industry is beginning to age out. Shops around the United States are feeling the stress of a significant decrease in their labor pool, and New Jersey is no different. Last year, only 86 percent of survey respondents indicated that their oldest employee was over the age of 50. For the first time since we began asking this question on our survey in 2019, we hit a whopping 98 percent of survey takers who have their oldest employee with a birthdate prior to 1973. Seems like we may soon have to add an option to this question – over 60 years old!

What is the age of your YOUNGEST employee?

18-25: 54%

26-35: 25%

Over 35: 21%

The scariest part of having your employees age out of automotive repair work is not having enough new blood to replace them. After last year’s survey, it looked like things might be in an upswing, as 77 percent of shop owners who responded said their youngest employee was between 18 and 25 years old, with 0 percent saying their youngest employee was over 35; however, it now looks like we are back on a downward trend, with just over half of our survey respondents indicating that their youngest employee is between 18 and 25 years old and a fifth of them stating that their youngest is over 35. 

Do you have any involvement with local vocational/trade schools? 

Yes: 21%

No: 54%

No, but I’d like to: 25%

To confront the problem of a dwindling labor pool, shops are getting proactive in developing new talent by building relationships with local vocational/technical schools. Fifty percent of those who noted they were involved with these schools in some way stated they were part of an Advisory Board, with a few even indicating that they teach automotive repair in their local night school. We hope that due to this activity, we will see some more positive trends in acquiring new technicians in the coming years. 

How many employees have you hired in the past year?

None: 22%

1: 21%

2-4: 44%

5 or more: 13%

What has been your biggest challenge in attracting and retaining employees?

The automotive repair industry has been struggling with a lack of qualified and motivated technicians for quite some time, and the challenges shops encounter to confront that obstacle are pretty consistent. Fifty-eight percent of Garden State shop owners who took our survey stated that their biggest challenge in hiring new employees is that the labor pool is significantly lacking.

“The pool of experienced repair technicians is much smaller than it was 10 years ago,” explained one shop owner from South Orange. “There aren’t many young people wanting to get into the auto body repair business.”

“Honestly, it’s just hard finding young people who can tie their shoes these days,” echoed a collision repairer from Morristown. “It’s a struggle getting someone who actually knows what they are doing, along with getting them to show up. People are f***ing lazy nowadays.”

The abysmal labor rates that insurers are willing to pay has been an issue for the industry for as long as many of us can remember, and now with inflation reaching ridiculous heights, its impact on shops’ capacity to hire new employees can’t be denied. Thirty-eight percent of NJA survey takers wrote that their inability to properly compensate new talent was a leading cause of their labor shortages. 

“We cannot pay new techs enough money based on our shop’s hourly rate from insurers,” a Cliffside Park shop owner stressed. “The current labor rate does not make it feasible to pay competitive wages.”

“The cost of labor is quickly exceeding the quality of labor, when you can find it,” one Rockaway repairer agreed. “We can’t afford to be competitive in compensation compared to other industries fighting for skilled labor.”

What benefits do you offer employees?

With the complexities (and overall rising cost) of life these days, many employees wonder what else a company can provide for them, on top of their regular salary. Over 80 percent of shop owners who took our survey explained that they provide, at minimum, health insurance to their employees. After health insurance, vacation/paid time off (PTO) was the most cited benefit that New Jersey shop owners offer, with 52 percent of them waving “see you soon” to their employees at some point during the year. 

Of course, with the rising age of technicians in the automotive repair industry, it shouldn’t be surprising that 401k/retirement plans were also at the top of the list, with 38 percent of respondents sharing that they offer this benefit to employees in their shops. Other perks that shop owners indicated they offer included overtime pay, flexible hours, profit sharing, paid holidays, free lunches and continuing education.

If you don’t offer benefits to employees, why not?

It should not be a surprise to anyone that 100 percent of survey respondents who indicated that they did not offer benefits to employees cited cost as the reason why they are unable to do so.

“At one time, all of our employees were insured by us,” an Ocean City shop owner revealed. “Now, they all have to be insured through their families’ employers because it’s too costly. It’s nearly breaking the bank.”

“If I was able to find an affordable health plan with less than 75 percent participation, I would do it in a heartbeat,” shared a Manville repairer. “Until that time, I just can’t swing it.”

What do you think is the most pressing issue affecting shops today?

It takes a certain type of fortitude and resilience to be an automotive repair shop owner. Even though every industry has its own set of complexities to navigate, for auto repairers, it seems to be tenfold. Between fighting with insurers to complete safe and proper repairs, to the struggle to get paid what you deserve, to an insufficient labor pool, to consolidation and more, the daily battles that shop owners face are plentiful and unyielding. 

Out of all the issues New Jersey shop owners must endure in their daily business, nearly 60 percent of them indicate that the most pressing one is, without a doubt, the substandard labor rate and the effect it has on their ability to run a successful shop.

“The compensation we’re receiving is not realistic with today’s expenses and costs of goods,” lamented a repairer from Sayreville. “The insurance companies are not keeping up with inflation. It’s always been difficult to do business with what they’re willing to pay us, but as everything gets more expensive, it’s getting harder and harder.”

Of course, insurance companies have a larger chokehold on the industry than just their refusal to pay a sufficient labor rate.

“Insurance companies are the worst part of this industry,” one Newark shop owner expressed. “They are steering work at a ridiculous pace. They have incompetent adjusters, supervisors and claim representatives; they are making claims a nightmare with unfair photo estimates, and they’re taking forever to settle claims.”

“Most insurers act as if they walk on water,” an Edison shop owner agreed. “But in reality, they have a lack of knowledge and inadequate acceptance of required procedures. Plus, with their employee shortage, they’re causing significant delays. And of course, they’re often in violation of regulations and then lie to their customers about it.”

On top of the insurer interference and inadequate labor rates being provided by insurance companies, many shop owners are struggling with the lack of new workers coming into their shops. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents explained that the dilemma of hiring qualified employees to replace those aging out of the industry is their biggest concern. 

“The labor rates make it hard to pay an employee with what the insurance companies are offering us,” shared a Succasunna repairer. “The rates are too low to be able to compete with other skilled – or even non-skilled – industries to attract talent to our trade.”

How would you rate your current state of business?

Over the past few years, the answer to this question has largely remained about the same, with New Jersey shop owners rating their current state of business at an average of between six and seven. This year is no different, landing us at an average rating of 6.68. The largest deviation we see in this question is, for the first time since 2017, we had survey respondents who would classify their current state of business as the worst it has ever been (and this includes during COVID). We hope that this trend will not continue, but you’ll have to look out for our 2024 survey to find out!

Is your shop prepared to repair EVs? Why or why not?

Yes: 26%

No, but I’m working towards it: 53%

No, and I do not plan to work on EVs in the future: 21%

It feels like you can’t drive anywhere these days without finding yourself behind at least one Tesla. As the rate of electric vehicles on the road continues to rise, we wondered if New Jersey shop owners think they’re ready to begin repairs on these “cars of the future” if they happened to roll into their shops. When we asked this question last year, we were surprised that over half of respondents felt they were prepared for these vehicles to appear in one of their bays; however, it seems that as the reality of electric vehicles has settled in, many shops found themselves lacking, as our rate of ‘prepared’ repairers has now dropped to 26 percent. For several of our survey respondents, the reason behind this decline comes down to the almighty dollar.

“We’re just not seeing enough of them yet to make the investment,” one Little Egg Harbor-based repairer shared. “As it stands right now, we have access to OEM data and all the required safety gear. That’s enough for the time being. I will just sublet out anything above our ability.”

Aside from the monetary constraints, some respondents explained that they’re limited by regular aspects of shop ownership such as their lack of qualified technicians and the size of their facilities. 

“I used to run the business,” a Jersey City shop owner shared. “Now, because of the lack of qualified employees, I am stuck working in the business. I don’t have the time or capacity to invest in new training right now.”

“We’re mostly set to start working on EVs,” a repairer from North Jersey reported. “However, full scale adoption will be difficult because of our facility size. Full scale adoption will probably require adding on to the building, relocating or adding an additional facility, which we can’t do at the moment.”

For some shop owners, they aren’t even bothering to prepare because they just don’t see the point.

“Like the water-based paint mandate that never came to be, I feel the EV boom will die the same death,” disclosed one Maple Shade survey taker. “It’s not feasible for manufacturers to continue to make electric cars.”

In your experience, which insurer do you find the most difficult to deal with, and why? 

Over the past seven years, we have asked this question to New Jersey shop owners, and we have had the same three culprits coming in as the top three most difficult insurers to deal with. Although the standing of each one has changed, State Farm, Allstate and Progressive have consistently topped the list. This year, we had another contender tie for the third spot – Liberty Mutual. So, what makes these insurers so challenging to work with?

“Progressive, Allstate and Liberty Mutual do not want to pay for proper repairs,” one shop owner from Central Jersey communicated. “Allstate does not want to pay for proper repairs and delays claims for a month at times. Liberty Mutual delays claims, then does not want to pay for a proper repair…it’s all the same. They’re all terrible.”

“Progressive has a complete lack of knowledge on everything from claims to estimating,” a South Jersey repairer shared. “It’s the blind leading the blind with no direction from the top. The adjusters don’t have a clue on how to repair a damaged vehicle, so they call someone to make a decision, and it goes nowhere.”

For a number of shop owners who took our survey, insurers’ refusal or inability to communicate with them has reached a point they’ve never seen before. 

“GEICO is denying necessary procedures or sending back a change request without any communication or way to communicate with them,” explained a survey respondent from North Jersey. “USAA never answers the phone or returns phone calls. State Farm is difficult to get on the phone too, and when I do [reach them], they refuse to negotiate.”

“I’m still waiting to speak to a human on the phone from State Farm,” joked a repairer from South Jersey. “They really don’t care at all.”

This complete lack of care was reflected in many of the answers from our survey respondents. 

“All the insurance companies have developed a ‘don’t care’ attitude,” a Central Jersey repairer described. “They demand we use alternative and aftermarket parts from multiple suppliers which is forcing us to call numerous vendors to purchase parts. And most of the parts listed from the insurance companies are not even available. Plus, the admin part of the job has increased threefold because of the virtual world we live in. The cost of estimating software is out of control. We need to have multiple systems, which is very expensive.”

Post-pandemic, do you find most insurance companies are:

Less difficult to work with vs. pre-pandemic: 12%

About the same vs. pre-pandemic: 32%

More difficult to work with vs. pre-pandemic: 56%

As we are now three years out from the 2020 pandemic and have settled into a “new normal,” the effects COVID had on the automotive repair industry have now become regular business practices. For the majority of New Jersey shop owners, that means insurers have gotten even worse to work with.

“The staff is lazier than ever before and completely incompetent,” pointed out a shop owner from Orange. “The insurance companies have cut their staff and kept the worst ones around. It’s taking way too long to complete the repair process and to get supplements approved.”

“There’s an unwillingness to accept required repair processes,” disclosed a repairer from Bedminster. “They write an estimate that does not take into consideration the cost to bring the vehicle back to pre-loss condition. That was always the case, but it’s gotten worse. They lack any concern for their insureds. They just don’t care, and they don’t have any reasonable answers.”

In addition to all the regular difficulties shops are used to from insurers (uninformed adjusters, refusal to pay for proper repairs, arguing over supplements, etc.), COVID brought a new challenge to the forefront – virtual estimating. Over half of our survey takers noted that adjusters rarely come to the shop these days and that most would rather conduct their business virtually, which has presented them with new challenges. 

“No adjusters come to the shop anymore,” a repairer from Iselin expressed. “They have the shops doing all their estimating and admin work, and then they pick it apart and will not pay for all the work you prepared for them.”

“They’re still using the pandemic as an excuse,” explained a survey respondent from Woodbridge. “They say ‘we don’t have enough adjusters’ or ‘we don’t have any adjusters in your area.’ The only way to talk to someone is via email. You can’t even get anyone on the phone.”

“It’s easier to deny paying for something when you’re sitting behind a phone and a computer as opposed to being face-to-face,” agreed a Linden-based shop owner. “It’s caused them to have much more of a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ stance on claims.”

How do you educate your current and potential customers?

In any relationship, communication is key – and that isn’t any different in the relationship you hold with your customer. Luckily, most New Jersey shop owners already take this tenet to heart as 83 percent of survey respondents noted that some form of communication with their clients is the main way they keep their current and potential customers informed.

“We focus on extensive communication both before and during the repair process,” explained a Paterson shop owner. “Total transparency is critical in building rapport with current and potential clients.”

“Before they even leave their vehicle with me, we make sure we have given them a full explanation of parts, rates, costs, etc.,” echoed a repairer from Flemington. “You have to give them full disclosure up front, so they know what they’re getting themselves into. Can’t have any surprises.”

Communication about costs and processes aren’t the only important discussions to have with your customers. As one East Orange shop owner noted, many of them are ignorant of what really happens when you go through their insurance.

“We have to explain the insurance company’s procedures and educate the customer on just how lousy their company really is,” he shared. “We tell them the claims process with some companies is going to be a nightmare and ask them please not to blame us.”

“We repair plan prior to blueprinting and starting repairs,” a Perth Amboy repairer detailed. “During that conversation, we determine the customer’s expectations and advise as to what we can do and what we can’t do and if they need to have certain conversations with their insurance company.”

What is your current labor rate?

$50-$60 per hour: 29%

$61-$70 per hour: 32%

$71-$80 per hour: 26%

$81-90 per hour: 4%

More than $90 per hour: 9%

After many years, we are finally starting to see New Jersey shops charge closer to what they are worth for their labor. Between 2017 and 2021, an average of 72 percent of shop owners who took our survey were charging between $50-$60 per hour as their labor rate. We have seen a 63 percent decrease in this number, as less than a third of shop owners’ labor rates now fall within that window. Prior to 2022, we averaged a measly two percent of New Jersey shop owners who charged more than $81 an hour for their labor rate. That number is now 13 percent, and hopefully on the rise.

What do you think your labor rate should be?

Less than $90 per hour: 6%

$91-$100 per hour: 41%

$101-$120 per hour: 38%

More than $120 per hour: 15%

Of course, as current labor rates increase to match the rising cost of everything around us, the ideal labor rate will rise as well. Prior to 2021, an average of six percent of survey respondents could even picture their labor rate being over $101 per hour. As that number inches closer to becoming an actual reality, we are now seeing more than half of Garden State shop owners aim for that amount as their target labor rate. 

What is your current storage rate?

$50-$60 per day: 18%

$61-$70 per day: 12%

$71-$80 per day: 6%

$81-$90 per day: 3%

More than $90 per day: 61%

If you could change anything about this industry, what would it be?

Every industry has its challenges, and ours is no different. But what would be the number one thing Garden State repairers would change if given the chance? For 59 percent of shop owners who took our survey, labor rates were at the top of their list, with hiring qualified employees coming in right behind.

“We will have no future if we do not have a better hourly rate,” one New Brunswick shop owner told us. “If we’re paid more, we can pay our technicians more, which will attract younger techs to the industry and allow us to invest more in our businesses. Without that, we’re not going anywhere.”

“So many business owners do not understand the cost of this industry,” shared a Burlington repairer. “My AC guy charges $125 an hour, and my plumber charges $150. We are undercutting ourselves. I feel like we can change this if we have more communication between shop owners. There’s plenty of work, and everyone wants to get it all instead of working together so we can all get what we deserve. The industry needs to charge correctly and get paid a real wage, which we can’t do with the way we currently go about our business.”

For one shop owner from North Jersey, he wishes the general public was more informed about what the industry has to deal with.

“We need to expose and make public the behaviors and business practices of insurers to the general public, lawmakers, or other interested parties with the intent to encourage fair claim practices and settlements,” he explained. “We won’t be able to make any changes unless the people know what is happening behind the scenes with their insurance companies and how it’s endangering them.”

Many of our survey respondents expressed that a baseline level of standards or best practices for insurance companies, as well as shops, could help move the industry forward.

“We need an even playing field between the shop and the insurer because as it stands right now, insurance companies don’t respect the shops or their customers,” shared one Bedminster repairer. “We need a baseline of experience for insurers, Right to Appraisal in every policy and, of course, increased labor rates and proper reimbursement.”

“I know there are challenges preventing this right now, but I think we need to enforce a much higher level of training as a minimum training standard at all collision repair shops,” a Paterson survey taker explained. “It’s important to have highly trained technicians performing complete, safe and correct repairs on all automobiles without outside influence.”


While many of the struggles shops are facing are familiar – from insurer interference to insufficient labor rates – this year’s survey revealed many new challenges that automotive repairers must confront such as virtual estimating, electric vehicles and unprecedented inflation (as well as all of the subsequent problems this causes). We hope that the results of this survey helped you feel more connected to your fellow shop owners and provided you with some insights that may help you navigate these increasingly complex times. We look forward to getting your feedback in 2024 and hope that there are better days ahead!

Want more? Check out the December 2023 issue of New Jersey Automotive!