BodyShop Business
Aluminum: Not Difficult, Just Different

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I receive so many calls from people asking, “What equipment do I need for the F-150? How do I MIG braze for the Honda Civics?” First, take a breath and clear your mind. Now, let’s look at what’s happening.

New government standards on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) and End of Life of Vehicle (ELV) have had a major impact on vehicle manufacturers, who have had to make vehicles more fuel efficient and also safer for new crash testing requirements. They also need lighter materials that are recyclable. This allows vehicles to be lighter and to account for the weight of new electronics to be added. It turns into a serious game of give and take.

This, in turn, changes the repair industry. The new materials automakers chose to use may not be repaired the same as materials we’re used to. The process is called “change.” We may not like it or be comfortable with it, but here it is, and it will continue.

With every change comes learning. Learning what equipment you’ll need to adapt to the change. Learning the skills you’ll need to repair vehicles correctly. Learning what your company and employees will need to know to estimate and plan for repairs. Research and training into the changes become a necessity, not an option.

A Bomb?
Change can be slow, or dropped like a bomb. Years of high-end luxury cars have insulated most shops from having to prepare for mainstream models’ change to aluminum. The requirements to be a certified shop were high and cost prohibitive. Many shops also procrastinated. Now, we’re talking about one of the most popular vehicles in the world going through a major change. It’s time to get on board and accept the inevitable. After all, it’s our responsibility.

It seems that many repairers think the introduction of the new F-150 is like a bomb. It is not. We’ve heard and seen for years the introduction of more aluminum intensive cars and the increase in aluminum panels. We’ve all been working with and on them for years. I find it hard to believe that there is a shop out there that has not worked on an F-150 hood or a similar-in-design vehicle. Also, I believe that many shops ran into the same issue with quarter panel replacements on the new Hondas. The question is, “Did you do it right?” Do you have the capabilities and training for change?

High Strength Steels
Let’s use one example of change. When vehicle manufacturers started using steels that were of incredible strength as compared to the mild steel used in the past, we as an industry had to adapt. Squeeze Type Resistance Spot Welders were brought in, and they were costly, to say the least. Now, ask any technician or shop that made the purchase if they would go back or get rid of their spot welder. Chances are there would be a fight for them. These machines turned into serious moneymakers for shops. The increase in quality and production was amazing. So understand that gearing up for change will have costs associated with it. Being informed is the best way to start preparing.

Let’s look at what you need to start:
  • Information
  • Equipment
  • Training
  • Cost
Information is key to starting and knowing what’s coming and where it will go. It can be gathered from many sources. There is a lot of confusion to date on what Ford is doing and requiring or recommending. Honda has also added to the confusion with their new welding requirements and recommendations. Seek out articles in BodyShop Business and get information from dealers.

First, let’s look at Honda and their recommendation to MIG braze on the panels where STRSW can’t reach. I-CAR has an online course that explains MIG brazing and is a great start to gain some knowledge and background on equipment requirements to achieve proper repairs. Amazingly, it’s similar to all requirements for welding aluminum on Ford, GM and others.

Next, take a class on aluminum. I-CAR has the PRA01 course and ALI01 that cover aluminum repairs extensively. Now you have some idea of what you need to do and prepare for.

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