With pickups and sport utility vehicles — plus the related category of crossover utility vehicles — now overtaking sedans as the dominate choice as a daily driver purchase, shop managers and parts purveyors are seeing a larger brand of repair job. Individual parts tend to be bigger, the refinements and features are more sophisticated and the training requires higher levels of rigor.
“You take an emblem off and there’s a camera underneath it,” remarks Darren Huggins, head of collision services for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, which has more than 85 car dealerships and associated repair centers across 10 states.
An SUV can be rolling down the road equipped with more than a dozen cameras and a multitude of sensors while enveloped within the latest situational awareness technology.
“You have all these whistles blowing at you” activating a vast array of various alerts, and the costs accelerate accordingly when work is needed, according to Huggins, who also serves as chairman of the National Auto Body Council (NABC).
“With the severity of the repair the price goes up,” he says. “Cycle time is increased; it takes a lot of time, a lot of skill and a lot of parts.” A mechanical rate that previously ran at $129 per hour is now up to $159, and a bill of $25,000 to $30,000 is not unheard of when a drastic fix is involved.
“And don’t think that ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) isn’t having and impact on the industry because of the cost of the materials,” says Huggins.
“Pickup trucks are now considered daily drivers,” notes Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), further propelling a pattern of vehicle heftiness shifting into heavier metal, including special materials such as high-strength steels and aluminum, plus assorted composites necessitating a uniqueness of shaping and forming techniques.
“That means more training and more equipment in the shop,” says Huggins. Repairing aluminum, for instance, requires a clean room-type setup separated from other operations. “If you can’t work on aluminum you shouldn’t be working on these vehicles.”
“You may need some special tools, such as a locking tool to replace a special sensor,” Molla points out. “Even though the SUVs have gotten bigger, most lifts will handle anything up to a mid-sized truck. Most shops are designed with larger vehicles in mind.”
A structure’s height could become an issue, however, when extra-tall vehicles are coming through the bay doors. “If you’re going to service buses and motor-homes you’ll want a larger facility,” he says.
An old-time rural or inner-city shop that’s yet to be updated may place some constraints on your ability to adequately move about in the bays and circle the car. “The 12-foot-wide stall is too narrow,” says Huggins. “I like 14- to 15-feet if I can get it.”