Aluminum F-150s: A Headache For Repair Shops?
Aluminum hoods and other body parts have been around for years, even dating back to the old Ford Rangers. But for the most part it’s always been steel used in pickups. Steel that’s easily repairable with welding, heating, bending, body fillers and the deft hands of skilled auto body shop workers.
But the coming of the 2015 F-150 changes all that on multiple levels. The insurance and autobody repair shop world will have to adapt quickly.
“Insurance companies will need to quickly change their flat-rate manuals because of what could be the added time and cost involved working a truck that’s all aluminum,” says Warren Spears, Spears’ Auto Repair in Long Beach, Miss., who has been in the autobody repair business for more than 40 years.
“Aluminum typically cracks and splits when it’s subjected to a hard hit, like when you tag a fender or the vehicle suffers a side impact,” says Spears.
Although Spears has yet to see all the details of the 2015 F-150, he has questions and concerns.
“Small dents and digs can be easily worked out with steel body panels, too. That might not be the case with the new F-150s. There’s going to be a lot of body panel and structural replacements instead of repairs. That adds to repair costs and vehicle downtime. The insurance companies aren’t going to like that one bit. Neither will the vehicle owner.”
The added costs of repairs isn’t lost on Ford. It’s been reported insurance companies may have to increase premiums as much as 10 percent to insure the aluminum F-150. Higher premiums could mean lower residual values as well.
Making body and structural repairs on the new F-150 will affect larger construction companies and other fleets that have up until now done their own body and repair work.
“If you are set on taking on the job of doing in-house body work, “says Spears, “You’re going to have to have employees specially trained for aluminum work — and invest in the tools to handle that work. TIG welding is going to be a must as is separate repair areas and tools so theres no cross-contaimation between aluminum and steel.”
Ford says they are already at work to make sure their dealers and independent repair shops will be trained to work on the aluminum F-150s.
Dealers with their own body shops will need to school body shop personnel on how to properly fix the truck. They’ll also need to invest in new equipment and have their shops updated to keep aluminum F-150 repairs separated from steel work.
Independent auto body shops like Spear’s, and Ford dealers without their own body shops, will also have to invest in training their employees if they want to stay up with the new technology. That is if they want to work on the new F-150s.
“Right now I think I’ll stick to working on trucks that are made from steel,” says Spears. “I’ll let the Ford dealers worry about fixing the aluminum F-150s.”