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Gearing up for aluminum repair

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 09:14
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Is your shop prepared to repair aluminum vehicles or aluminum parts? Many automakers have announced they will produce more aluminum-intensive vehicles. Others have hinted that aluminum will be coming in the near future. There is a lot of speculation that several automakers will be making all-aluminum vehicles, but even if that doesn't happen, most vehicle makers will use much more aluminum for cosmetic panels and other parts.

The collision repair industry has heard this speculation before, but with the recently announced Federal CAFE standards of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, lighter parts are inevitable, and aluminum is one of the best options.

Have a special cart or toolbox for aluminum tools and label them "aluminum only" so they are not confused with tools intended for steel repair. (IMAGES / I-CAR)

Some collision shops went "all-in" gearing up for aluminum the last time we thought it was going to be the next hot material. If you didn't jump on this bandwagon the last time around, this time exercise caution and gear up slowly. Many shops previously outspent any chance of being profitable by overprojecting the true repair opportunity.

If your shop hasn't done a lot of aluminum repair in the past, it probably doesn't make sense to spend many thousands of dollars on equipment before you know how much aluminum repair opportunity you might realize. Considering these factors, which equipment should you purchase for your shop without breaking the bank, but still providing the biggest bang for the buck?

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Hand tools specially made for aluminum repair would be a good place to start. Tools that are used for repairing steel should never be used for repairing aluminum. Cross contamination can occur, which will cause galvanic corrosion. Even a hammer and dolly or a pick used on steel can imbed small particles of steel into aluminum if used on both substrates.

Hammers and dollies made for aluminum typically have highly polished surfaces, or the surfaces that contact the aluminum may be covered with leather. Wood, plastic or rubber mallets also are used so they don't stretch the aluminum when working out dents. Other hand tools such as picks, vise grips and clamps for aluminum would be a good investment. It would be a very good idea to have a special cart or toolbox for the aluminum tools and to color-code or label these tools so they are used on the proper substrates and returned to the right toolbox.

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