The automakers have three goals when designing vehicles these days: preventing fatalities, reducing injury-causing accidents, and improving fuel economy. As you’re no doubt aware, this is resulting in the dramatic changes you’re seeing in vehicle technology, design and materials.
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Given that, here are my five primary mandates for shops struggling with issues related to these changes.
1. Know what you’re working with. Never assume you know what materials have been used for various vehicle components. I’ve seen a lot of people confuse magnesium with aluminum, for example. But magnesium can be highly combustible, and often is not repairable.
Boron also poses challenges. Some times it can’t be sectioned. It often can’t be pulled, and doesn’t come galvanized from the manufacturer, requiring the use of expoxy primer.
We’re also seeing a lot more use of combinations of materials: widely differing strengths of steels within a single component, or carbon fiber sandwiched between steel, for example.
The key take away: You need to research OEM information so you understand what vehicles are made out of as well as what can be repaired and what can’t. And it’s not enough to just make sure your techs know what materials they are working with and how to do so. Your estimators need training as well. Aluminum repair isn’t difficult, for example, just different. Your estimators need to understand those differences so they can negotiate and justify appropriate repair processes and time.
2. Know what joining methodologies the automakers want used for repairs. Just because a quarter-panel comes welded-in from the factory, replacement may instead require the use of rivets and adhesives. We’re also seeing more aluminum panels attached to steel, using a variety of barriers between the two to prevent galvanic corrosion. One manufacturer uses almost a cardboard washer to separate the aluminum fender from the apron, which is steel. You need to understand those barriers – and they may not always be listed in the estimating manuals.
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3. Scanning is important, but pre-measuring increasingly is as well. There’s lot of discussion in the industry about scanning of vehicles. But new vehicle designs and materials are also absolutely increasing the need to measure the complete vehicle with a three-dimensional measuring system. To protect passengers, the inertia forces from an accident are being transferred further away from the point of impact than in the past. Honda is among the automakers, for example, with a bulletin on one model that says if the vehicle sustains rear-end damage, you must measure the entire vehicle.