'Nothing else to do ... might as well build a car': Data shows bored Americans are flooding auto parts stores amid coronavirus lockdowns

'Nothing else to do ... might as well build a car': Data shows bored Americans are flooding auto parts stores amid coronavirus lockdowns

auto repair

Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bored Americans are fixing up their cars.

  • Deemed an "essential" business, US auto-parts stores are still open.
  • And they're seeing a boon in business as bored Americans fix up the old car or motorcycle they have sitting in their garage, according to data from an April 7 UBS report.
  • "You can only watch Tiger King so many times," one hobbyist told Business Insider. "You gotta go do something, and, for a lot of people, working on that old car is that something."
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Spring for Rob Dibble, a small-business owner in North Carolina, usually means tailgating a few baseball games at UNC Charlotte and getting geared up for the Coca-Cola 600, a Memorial Day NASCAR tradition.

But Dibble is stuck at home rather than taking his ambulance - which is retrofit with a 10-foot bar - to tailgates. His job consulting local businesses on leadership skills is nixed, too. 


So, he's put his attention elsewhere: fixing up a Volkswagen dune buggy from either 1969 or 1970. 

The car has been sitting in Dibble's garage since August. In the weeks since he's been trapped inside, Dibble has repainted it, added new gauges and brakes, and spent quite a bit of time researching how to get a new carburetor on various online forums.

"I thought, 'Well, crap, the weather's nice and I don't have anything else to do,'" Dibble told Business Insider. 


Rob Dibble

Courtesy of Rob Dibble

North Carolina resident Rob Dibble hasn't had much to do since the coronavirus pandemic set in. So he's fixing up an old Volkswagen.

As 95% of Americans find themselves under statewide orders to stay at home, folks are scrambling to pass the time. That's led Americans to dive into puzzles, bread baking, happy hours over video chat, and a slew of other, often deeply wholesome, hobbies.

Dibble and others have also plunged into their project cars, and it's been a boon for auto-parts stores. (Dibble joked that he's keeping the Advanced Auto Parts in his stomping grounds of Belmont, North Carolina, in business.)



An April 7 report from the UBS Evidence Lab revealed which retailers are winning, and losing, from the coronavirus pandemic. For two time periods in the latter part of March, UBS' research team asked 1,000 consumers in the US which stores they were planning on visiting in the next week. These consumers also noted which stores they planned on ordering goods from online.

On March 19, the most consumers said they were planning on going to Walmart and Target, while the least popular stores included Ulta and Dick's Sporting Goods.


By March 26, certain retailers popped in customers. Plans to shop at Kroger, Target, and Sam's Club increased by nearly four percentage points - not surprising, considering that customers were loading up on essentials like toilet paper and canned food as states leaned towards shutting down "nonessential" businesses.


A more surprising uptick in UBS' analysis included AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, and O'Reilly Auto Parts. Each of these stores saw about the same pop as Lowe's and Whole Foods, and a bigger increase than Walmart experienced in the second half of March.


"You hear that everyone should stay inside," Dibble said. "But every time I'm in [Advance Auto Parts], there's whole bunch of other guys looking around to buy something."  

The stocks of the three companies have taken a beating as the global economy more generally tumbles. But, some analysts say that a sluggish economy might unexpectedly buoy automotive repair stores once folks are driving their cars to work again. Fewer new-car purchases mean that people will need to go to repair shops to keep their older cars chugging along. 

automotive part stores

UBS Evidence Lab

Still deemed as essential businesses, auto-parts stores haven't shuttered amid the coronavirus lockdown. Craft stores like Joann Fabrics and Hobby Lobby previously argued that they are essential during the lockdown, though states have largely been unconvinced by their arguments. 

But for hobbyists like Dibble, being able to get auto parts has been key for keeping some sense of normal during the panic. 

"This is one of those things where you can't stay at home and do nothing," Dibble said. "You can only watch Tiger King so many times. You gotta go do something, and, for a lot of people, working on that old car is that something. It stops you from going crazy."


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