Repairs of advanced materials require more research and diligence
Detroit—With the movement away from mild steel toward advanced materials such as Boron steel, aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber, it’s never been more important for the collision repair shop to be aware of their use, repair procedures and additional parts or materials are needed to repair them, said Mike Anderson of Collision Advice.
At the recent NACE, in Detroit, Anderson and Larry Montanez of P&L Consultants presented “Aluminum Design, Metallurgy, Analysis, Repair, and Equipment Overview,” in which the latter part of the presentation Anderson focused on not only the changes coming about because of aluminum, but from other materials, and in particular how it affects the estimator.
Accessing the OEM recommendations is essential for proper estimates and repairs, Anderson said, noting that they are available from a number of sources, including subscriptions at www.oemonestop.com or from information providers, such as Audatex’s TechFocus, CCC ONE’s Repair Methods, or Mitchell’s TechAdvisor.
“As an estimator, when you go to write a vehicle, understand this: every single vehicle manufacturer is going to have an area that says, ‘Repairs and inspections required after a collision.’ You will not know what you don’t know, so you need to look this up.”
AllData Collision can also scrub the estimate and analyze the repairs and parts entered into the estimate to advise the estimator of additional operations and parts needed, Anderson said.
“On the Volkswagen Touareg, when I click to replace the aperture, it’s going to tell me it’s Boron steel,” he said. “And not only that, but it’s going to tell me if I need a special adhesive to do that.”
Repair methods specified by OEMs don’t always match how the vehicle was manufactured, either. Anderson noted that one late-model BMW rear panel is welded from the factory but is rivet-bonded in the repair shop.
With high-strength (such as Boron) steels, what was repairable or able to be sectioned in mild steel likely cannot be.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Is this part repairable, or do I have to replace?’” Anderson said. “The next question is, ‘Do I have the required welder? Are there any specific tools, fasteners, or adhesives I need to use?’”
As an example, Anderson said, Ford requires all Boron components to be replaced at factory points; no sectioning is allowed.
“I know a lot of technicians don’t want to get into the roof,” he said. “But don’t let the technician dictate the repair.”
Because Boron steels cannot be galvanized, the application of epoxy primer is essential to restore corrosion protection, Anderson said. And with a cost of between $50 to $80 each, special drill bits for drilling through Boron steel can add up to $200 worth of drill bits on just one job.
“That is not a cost of doing business,” Anderson said, “and it is not included as paint and materials. You list them on the estimate as parts.”
When looking at whether a repair operation or part should be listed as a line item on an estimate, Anderson said there are only four criteria to keep in mind:
1) Is it required to restore the vehicle back to pre-accident condition, according to the OEM?
2) Is it included in any other labor operation?
3) Is there a predetermined time in the database?
4) If not, what is it worth? (This should be a minimum of .1 hour or $1.00.)
Research by Ducker Worldwide showed that within the next decade, seven out of 10 new pickup trucks produced in North America will be aluminum-bodied, Anderson said, and every leading automaker will have an aluminum-body program in place.
“Aluminum hood penetration will reach 85 percent and doors will reach 46 percent,” Anderson said. “Complete bodies will reach 18 percent from less than 1 percent today. The bottom line is aluminum is not coming; it’s here. Now with that said, don’t expect steel manufacturers to stand by and close plants and start laying off people. They will have alternative metals to compete with aluminum.”
Anderson recommended that estimators learn more about the different repair processes required for aluminum to collect for additional time on the estimate, he said, noting that videos on YouTube from manufacturers such as Dent Fix are helpful.
With costs over and above those required of a shop repairing only mild steel for dedicated tools and equipment, technical training, and sometimes the facility, it’s natural that a shop should be able to recoup some of its costs by charging a higher labor rate, Anderson said.
“I’m not telling you what to charge, but I’m telling you you need to sit down with somebody who knows numbers and financials to figure out what your ROI is,” he said.