Trends in automotive engineering are changing how vehicles are repaired. The collision repair business must keep up with evolving engineering developments and understand them in order to repair vehicles properly.
Proper training for technicians is crucial to the success of body shops. Automotive engineering is evolving faster than ever and repair shops need to keep up with advancements.
Many suppliers of automotive repair products offer in-shop instruction on proper repair procedures. (Image / LORD Corp.)
One of the biggest problems in the industry today is that many body shops are not staying up-to-date with repair trends. Some technicians learned how to do repairs a certain way and are reluctant to learn new methods. Not learning new methods can have devastating effects if cars are not repaired properly – both to the repair shop's business and the safety of the passengers in the vehicle. While training takes time, money and effort, several options are available to help a well-run body shop business keep current with repair techniques.
Several engineering trends are important to consider when discussing the need for training. These trends include the increased addition of safety features in cars, the use of high-tech steels, new welding and bonding techniques, and repair products.
In the past several years, car manufacturers have been adding more and more passenger safety features to vehicles – air bag systems, side airbags and curtains. Some cars have a feature known as a "city safety" system that prevents the car from hitting a vehicle in front of it – even if the driver is not paying attention. Sensors are involved on these safety components, and when a car is in a collision, these sensors must react within a fraction of a second to activate airbags and other protection devices.
Beyond the engineering of the car, there are changes in manufacturing materials that have come into use since the early 2000s. Advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) are much stronger, but more lightweight, than the steel used in cars from the '50s to the '90s. According to a report released in May 2012 by the Automotive Council of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), these new AHSS help improve safety, emissions and durability while keeping costs down. The AHSS offer complex steel chemistries and thermomechanical properties for improved strength and ductility.
Along with the use of AHSS is the increased use of structural adhesives in car engineering and manufacturing. Adhesives are being used for structural integrity, for corrosion protection, as sealers, and for noise vibration harshness (NV&H) control. It's not just that adhesives are being used differently and for different functions, they are now being used in place of welding for some bonding needs.
Technicians must understand how to work with the new metals, plastics and adhesives when repairing today's vehicles. The old standard of using MIG welding for all repairs is no longer suitable. AHSS are extremely heat sensitive and MIG welders, which generate intense heat and sparks, can overheat the AHSS and burn the adhesive.
New repair procedures such as MIG brazing or squeeze-type resistance spot welders (STRSW) are replacing MIG welding for some repair work. MIG brazing joins metal by filling the gap between parts without affecting the parent metal. Because MIG brazing is done at a much lower temperature than MIG welding, it will not remove the AHSS anti-corrosion properties or weaken the surrounding steel. With squeeze-type welders, less heat is built up during the welding process, allowing the technician to weld through adhesives without losing the adhesive's structural value. Squeeze-type welding is recommended by many OEMs for proper repair when using adhesives.
Weld-through adhesives, used as a joint sealer for structural integrity, are becoming increasingly popular in car manufacturing. In this procedure, adhesives are placed into a joint and welded. Adhesives are specified for repair by many OEMs for weld-bonding structural or non-structural body panels, rails or reinforcements during repair procedures. Automotive repair adhesives are used to restore and return vehicles to pre-accident condition, and are formulated to repair all types of automotive substrates. Body shops should use the same adhesive technology as the OEMs whenever possible. Training also is recommended to teach technicians how to properly use the adhesives to keep up with the number of rapidly growing applications for adhesives in OEM assembly operations.
The ultimate goal in effective auto body repair is to return the vehicle as close as possible to pre-accident condition. Therefore, it's important to repair a car according to the manufacturer's specifications and to use the proper repair procedures. After a car has been in a collision, it's imperative that the repaired car maintains the strength to protect passengers in the event of another accident. Repairing a car improperly could affect the energy – the inertia – of a collision impact and possibly affect airbag timing.
Using the wrong repair products or repair methods could slow the inertia, affecting the airbag sensors, which could lead to the airbags firing late. In that "one-hundredths-of-a-second" – so fast that it is not noticeable to the eye – a passenger could be hurt. The repair technician must be certain that the safety features will function properly; that the safety features will react as quickly as necessary after the car is repaired. Without proper training, a repair technician may not be able to provide these results.
As an example of the importance of training, let's compare a 2007 or 2008 vehicle with a similar model from 2011 or 2012. Put them side by side, in the same color, and they almost look identical. But in that time period, the cars might have been made out of an entirely different metal, with safety systems in the new cars that were not included in the older models. The cars might appear to be identical, but the engineering changes are significant enough to warrant up-to-date training for the repair technician.
Keeping current with auto body repair trends also is important for the auto body shop business owner. Car insurance companies have a vested interest in proper car repair procedures and technician training. Most major insurance carriers have direct repair programs (DRPs). To be listed in a program as a preferred repair shop, the business must meet the insurance company's standards for effective, efficient collision repair processes.
Formal and continued collision repair training also is crucial to job security in the industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers generally prefer automotive service technicians and mechanics who have completed a formal training program in a postsecondary institution. Employment of automotive service technicians and mechanics is expected to grow 17 percent through 2020. The increasing lifespan of late-model cars and light trucks will increase the demand for qualified technicians.
The Department of Labor's "Occupational Outlook Handbook" states that job opportunities for qualified applicants should be very good as some employers report difficulty finding workers with the right skills and education. Job seekers who have completed formal postsecondary training programs should enjoy the best prospects. Those without formal automotive training are likely to face strong competition for entry-level jobs.
So how do the aftermarket repair shop and its technicians find the information on the latest car repair trends and training programs? There are several sources such as OEMs, auto body repair websites, I-CAR, secondary education facilities and suppliers of body repair products. Learning to become an auto body repair technician is not a one-time endeavor; it's an ongoing process that must be continued throughout the technician's career.
There are numerous website sources that feature the latest auto body repair techniques. Most of these can be accessed for free, although some are fee-based. While it is recommended to go directly to the OEM source for repair information, in the past, free auto body repair data has not always been readily available from the major vehicle manufacturers. Although this is changing as the OEMs become aware of the importance of providing proper repair procedures, there are many independent sources that offer up-to-date information.
Here are some websites that feature auto body repair information:
www.mycertifiedservice.com  – General Motors' service site features collision repair information, technical resources, owner and service manuals, and collision repair training held in conjunction with I-CAR.
www.fordparts.com  – Ford Motor Company's Motorcraft Technical Access Resource contains workshop manuals, wiring diagrams, tools and equipment, and diagnostics. It also has web-based training courses.
www.moparrepairconnection.com  – Chrysler Group's website offers access to training and technical resources, factory collision repair manuals and a technical support hotline directory.
www.alldata.com  – ALLDATA is one of the largest single sources of OEM information. It features factory-correct diagnostic, repair and collision information, business tools and support services for the global automotive industry. Their training center features repair technique courses, videos, demos and webinars.
www.oem1stop.com  – OEM1Stop is an OEM service source hosted by The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) (www.nastf.org ), a not-for-profit task force dedicated to facilitating the identification and correction of gaps in the availability and accessibility of automotive service information, service training, diagnostic tools and equipment, and communications for the automotive service professionals. The OEM1Stop site features information on 37 car manufacturers.
www.mitchell1.com  – Mitchell 1 offers repair information such as diagnostics, wiring diagrams, maintenance requirements, labor times and part prices. Their OnDemand5 (OnDemand5.com ) program includes information for servicing and repairing almost every domestic and import car and truck on the road.
I-CAR (www.i-car.com ) offers activities, programs, services and resources focused on supporting the collision repair industry to achieve a high level of technical knowledge through training. Courses are taught by industry professionals from collision repair operations, auto insurance companies, suppliers of auto repair products and OEMs. Training is available in classroom settings, online and through the Industry Training Alliance (ITA).
Collision repairs can receive training/qualifications as estimators, steel structural technicians, aluminum structural technicians, non-structural technicians, electrical/mechanical technicians and refinish technicians. The ITA recognizes the accomplishments of training through approved training providers, such as product suppliers and technical institutions.
I-CAR updates its training to stay current with the latest engineering trends and to ensure that all collision repair professionals have the necessary knowledge and skills relevant to their position to achieve a complete and safe repair. I-CAR-accredited repair shops can be classified as I-CAR Gold Class shops.
Ohio Technical College's (OTC) Automotive Technology School (www.ohiotech.edu ), located in Cleveland, is an accredited, postsecondary technical college. A wide variety of specialized collision repair and refinishing training courses are available, including programs in automotive, diesel equipment, collision repair and refinishing, classic-car restoration, alternative-fuel vehicles and power generator systems. Classes are taught by industry professionals from the OEMs, auto repair product suppliers, and industry technicians. I-CAR also is involved in providing curriculum information to OTC.
The OTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree, along with a 72-week Complete Automotive Technology program that provides intense hands-on training in areas such as engine performance and repair, automatic transmission, suspension and steering systems, electrical and electronic systems, and alternative fuel systems. The Auto Body Repair Training Program covers many topics including plastic and adhesives repair, structural analysis and repair, welding, and mechanical and electrical components.
Other options are programs provided by suppliers of automotive repair products and components. Many of these manufacturers work with the automotive OEMs, insurance companies and collision repair experts to teach proper product repair procedures that will result in repairs that match original OEM performance and appearance. Most of these courses can be customized to fit a repair shop's work schedules and can be taught on the shop's premises. Look to your supplier for in-shop instruction and training, certification, how-to videos and repair procedures.
Currently, there is a lack of automotive repair professionals who are receiving adequate technical training. While these technicians might be well schooled when they enter the profession, many of them are not keeping up with repair trends. Although there are several places that offer continued education, there is still a lot more that can be done to further educational efforts for repair technicians.
It's up to technicians and auto body shops to keep up-to-date on current engineering trends and proper repair procedures. If technicians don't understand the changes in car engineering, they won't be able to understand the changes needed for proper repair techniques. Accessing repair websites, industry training courses, secondary education programs and supplier alliance classes can help technician keep current with changing engineering trends.
As vehicle engineering becomes more sophisticated with the use of advanced high-tech materials and components, technicians and repair shops will have to be up-to-speed on the latest repair procedures in order to properly repair the cars of today and the future.
Editor's note: Ed Staquet is Senior Technical Support Manager, Fusor Aftermarket Repair Products, at LORD Corporation.