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Super Tech Tips

The best weapon, as always, is knowledge.

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The ’96 vehicles have been out for at least a year and, by now,
some collision damaged ’97s are likely showing up at your shop.
Although basic vehicle construction changes vary little from year
to year, changes in design – using a vehicle’s basic construction
– often cause problems. The use of new materials and the application
of those materials are also a cause of confusion and frustration.

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The best weapon, as always, is knowledge.

For today’s collision-repair shop and technicians, knowing what
to do is just as important as being able to do it. And while the
need to keep abreast of the major changes has never been greater,
you can’t forget the 1,001 little things that can mean the difference
between a productive day and a nonproductive day.

If you’re feeling a little frazzled or a bit out of the loop,
perhaps the following will give you a better idea of what to expect
in the coming model year.

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Big Picture Changes

  • Ford Taurus – The use of SMC seems to be growing every
    year or, at the very least, it’s showing up in some unlikely applications
    – a trend that’s likely to continue. Take, for example, the radiator
    support of the new Ford Taurus. If you don’t already know, it’s
    a two-piece unit (upper and lower) made from SMC material. No
    spot welds to remove and no welding required.

The radiator support is a structural member, so when it’s damaged
in a collision – depending on the amount of damage and where the
damage is located – accepted SMC repair procedures may be used.
The time of repair must be compared to the cost of a replacement
part.

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Another consideration is the location of the headlamp assembly
and other attaching parts in relationship to the damaged portion.
Remember, SMC repair typically involves a repair patch, which
essentially doubles the thickness of the part at the repair site.
Can you patch the radiator support without sacrificing the "fit"
of other parts?

SMC Repair Tips:

  1. Use only adhesives and fillers designed specifically for SMC.
  2. Backup patches should extend the full length of a crack or
    gouge and approximately 2 inches on both sides.

  3. Ideally, the patch should conform to the shape and contour
    of the original panel being repaired.

These three repair tips may help when deciding to replace or repair.
Don’t forget – if a vehicle manufacturer has specific guidelines
or recommendations, use them.

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Note: If you have never repaired SMC but have worked with fiberglass,
the repair procedures are similar. If you haven’t worked with
either material then it’s time to do your homework. Tech-Cor,
Inc. (Technical Communications Department, 100 East Palatine Road,
Wheeling, Ill. 60090) still produces an excellent repair bulletin
that’s designed for the GM 200 series minivans. It should prove
to be a valuable "primer" if you’re not familiar with
SMC repair methods.

  • Ford pickups – Let’s take a look at frame repair for
    Ford pickup trucks. To facilitate front frame-rail repair, Ford
    offers a service part and a specific repair bulletin. The partial
    frame-rail replacement technique involves cutting off a portion
    of the frame rail and welding the service part in place – a repair
    technique that’s been fully tested.

The new Ford F-150 is all new for 1997, and its frame must be
treated differently than previous Ford pickup frames. There’s
no partial frame-rail replacement technique for the new Ford pickup
trucks, and Ford is not authorizing the use of heat to facilitate
straightening, either – a major change for 1997. Not only will
this change affect how the vehicle is repaired, but the estimator
is also going to have to change how estimates are written. If
the estimator isn’t aware of a change like this until after writing
the estimate, your shop can potentially lose money, a customer
or both.

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  • Ford Escort – The Escort’s one-piece bodyside construction
    eliminates many of the typical exposed seams and helps to improve
    the rigidity and safety of the vehicle. For the collision industry,
    however, it complicates repair.

Ford will make available four service panels:

  1. Quarter panel, dog leg and "C" pillar;
  2. Rocker and "B" pillar;
  3. "A" pillar;
  4. Rocker panel.

For sectioning procedures, refer to general I-CAR sectioning guidelines.

  • GM’s Buick Park Avenue and Century – Both have been
    redesigned for 1997. The Park Avenue now sits on the G-body platform
    – the same platform as the Riviera and Aurora. One major addition
    by GM engineers is a hydroformed reinforcement that extends from
    just behind the front wheel, up the A-pillar and stops at the
    B-pillar; the B pillar has fingers that extend along the roof
    and sill so crash forces will be spread along a larger area. The
    upper engine-compartment rails and radiator support are closed-section
    welded steel.

The Century now sits on the W-platform, and the new Century uses
one piece that extends from the A-pillar through the rear quarter
panel.

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Both the Century and Park Avenue use one-piece lights that attach
directly to the main vehicle structure, with the grille being
part of the front fascia. These changes have eliminated 150 parts,
which helped assembly and fit. These changes also will, hopefully,
aide collision repair.

Note: As car makers try to reduce the number of parts, easier
repairs may follow. Consider this: The one aspect of collision
repair that’s more critical than ever is restoring structural
body dimensions to OEM specifications. Many new vehicles have
tolerances of plus or minus 1 mm or 0.040. Failure to restore
critical structural body dimensions means that every part you
attach to the main structure isn’t going to fit. One part doesn’t
fit, which complicates the fit of another part, which complicates
the fit of yet another part, etc. Get the picture?

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  • 1997 Jeep Wrangler – This vehicle may look like the
    old CJ, but it’s not. The TJ Wrangler has an entirely new body,
    chassis and interior, and the frame has stiffer cross members
    with rails 15 percent thicker than the old CJ. These improvements
    mean that the new TJ is probably going to behave differently in
    a collision and also when straightening.
  • Plymouth Prowler – The car makers haven’t forgotten
    to complicate the repair lives of shop owners who specialize in
    luxury and specialty cars. Plymouth’s Prowler is a niche roadster
    that looks like something from a "Batman" movie, and
    its total production is expected to be between 20,000 and 30,000
    units.

The Prowler’s frame and cross members are all aluminum, as are
the majority of body panels, with the frame consisting of 86 MIG-welded
aluminum extrusions or castings.

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Note: The success of the Acura NSX and other all-aluminum vehicles
will likely carry over to include more production vehicles. The
new GM Riviera and Aurora use aluminum bumpers, and some feel
that aluminum may be a future frame material for pickup trucks.

Working With Aluminum:

The single most important thing to remember about aluminum is
that it’s aluminum, not steel. Aluminum doesn’t change color when
heated, and it conducts heat much more rapidly than steel; therefore,
aluminum welding techniques are different. Aluminum must be kept
free from contaminates, and tools used for steel must not be used
for aluminum. Grinding and sanding methods are different, too.
Fine-grit abrasives used at slower speeds are recommended.

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Safety tips specifically for aluminum: When grinding, sanding
or plasma cutting aluminum, fine particles of aluminum become
suspended in the air. Wear an approved respirator, and also remember
to protect your eyes – aluminum particles are difficult to remove.

It’s in the Details

Understanding and learning about "big picture" technology
will, without a doubt, make your technicians more productive and
less stressed. But don’t forget the details.

It’s often the little things we do that make the difference between
success and failure, so consider the following "mini-tips"
to increase shop productivity:

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  • Exercise your mind – How do you replace the door spring
    on a newly released vehicle when the tool manufacturers don’t
    even make a spring compressor tool yet? Getting the spring out
    isn’t the problem, but getting it back in is.

Before the proliferation of special tools, many technicians would
compress the spring in a shop vise, tie it off with wire, install
it and then carefully cut the wires.

Mind you, this must be done in a safe manner, but if the tool
you need is months away and you have a vehicle to put back together,
are you going to stand around and wait or use some good, old-fashioned
"Yankee" ingenuity? Problem solving skills and creativity
are just as important as tools and sophisticated equipment. Don’t
be afraid to exercise your mind.

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  • Pamper your air tools – Air tools are a key component
    of a technician’s productivity. If you take care of those tools,
    they’ll take care of you.

The No. 1 enemy of an air tool is moisture in the air line, so
make sure the air compressor has an aftercooler and a moisture
separator. Remember, the cleaner the air going into the compressor,
the longer the compressor’s life.

Also, don’t use pressures above the manufacturer’s recommendation
(too much air pressure can shorten the life of the tool), and
lubricate air tools per manufacturer’s recommendations, too. If
you don’t have an in-line lubricator, the best time to lubricate
the tool is at the end of the work day. Too much lubricant can
cause sluggish tool operation, so don’t overlubricate.

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Remember, each time you disconnect an air tool and drop the quick
disconnects on the floor, the possibility of dirt and debris entering
the air tool is increased. It’s a good idea to have your air tools
calibrated once or twice a year – that way you know if they’re
operating within the rated rpm.

  • Safety first – Some may scoff at the concept of safety being
    a Super Tech Tip, but remember, if you can’t work, the paycheck
    will get pretty lean.

With that in mind, make sure you wear approved Z-87 safety glasses
all the time. Safety glasses tipped up on top of your head may
look trendy or fashionable, but they won’t do much to protect
your eyes.

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Wear appropriate eye and face protection as required for each
task. One of the latest statistics states that almost 1,000 workers
a day suffer some kind of eye injury.

And don’t forget to wear ear protection and the correct personal
protective clothing for welding and cutting. Also, make sure your
shop has good ventilation, and wear the appropriate respirator
for each task.

The Whole Picture

One of the exciting aspects of collision repair is that no two
jobs are alike. The car makers are constantly changing the way
they build cars, which ultimately changes the way you repair them.
Sometimes, however, especially when a number of totally new vehicles
are released in the same year, you may wonder why you chose the
career you did and how you’re going to keep up.

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The key to survival is information.

Although what we’ve covered here is probably less than 1 percent
of the coming changes, it’s still a jump-start on the model year
ahead. By keeping informed and by transferring that knowledge
to the repair process, you’ll find that your techs will work more
efficiently and your shop will run more profitably.

Remember, change is constant – of that, there’s no question. The
question is: How quickly can you adapt?

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