What has has been a fear for many has turned into an income generator for others. The value of the knowledge and equipment has opened many repairers’ eyes to the possibilities of profit.
Is the aluminum repair process perfect? No. It is, however, improving. As stubborn as this industry is to change the new models have forced us all to look to the future and change.
As more carmakers use more aluminium, repairability is also increasing. What many thought was not viable is now being done more often. Along with the new welding requirements for some repairers, the writing is on the wall. To survive or prosper, you need to embrace all change. This includes aluminium.
When talking to and working with body shops and repairers, aluminium is a concern, and the common threat is a worry because aluminium takes so long to do. This was the chatter when aluminium was looming. It is repairable and yes it takes longer to repair.
Heat is a requirement for repairing aluminium. The work hardening during the collision made the damaged metal very strong. Heat is used to soften damaged metal and reform the panel – “reform” as dent removal would not be totally correct. The whole panel must be considered in the repair process, not just where the dent is. Heating the damaged area, moving or reforming the metal, and allowing it to cool to hold the forming in place, all the while working to prevent further damage into the panel. This is an art. Careful monitoring and specialised equipment is necessary to do this process correctly. Many have found this process to be too time-consuming and would rather just replace the panels. That’s too bad, given that the cost to repair would be less than replacing, and technicians and shops make more money repairing versus replacing.
Initially the cost of buying equipment was high when aluminium repair took off, and it still remains high. This is a major hurdle for any shop. This has given us the advantage of having a whole new breed of welders in our shops. People may have purchased welders for their ability to weld aluminium, but as an industry we also have great steel welders with the ability to do MIG brazing. As MIG brazing becomes more prevalent, shops are going to notice they’re already set with their welding equipment.
Shops owners who bought aluminium welders and set them in the corner to gather dust until needed are urged to break these bad boys out and start using them. The quality of welds they produce in steel welding, MIG brazing and aluminum is great. To not use this equipment daily is a waste of money and a real shame.
Aluminium dent pullers have also created much more labour work for shops, but have allowed more panels to be saved. The process takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of time to master this skill. But pullers do make the job easier. Keep in mind, however, that they still require time to heat and cool repeatedly.
Education over the years has resulted in learning about adhesives and rivets which has made repairs of other vehicles using similar attachment methods easier to learn and accept.
As technicians learned that different aluminiums require different welding wire, no one wire covers all types of aluminium. This got us away from the one thought that one wire does it all for any type of metal including steel. We needed to match the wire to the vehicle manufacturer requirements. The days of grabbing a welder and welding are quickly going away in our industry. So when Honda wanted a different wire used in the repairs of their steels, we needed to understand and of course, lessen the shock.
We now have an understanding of why this was an issue to carmakers during the repairs. Similar training and thoughts were also a factor discussed at length in aluminium training. This thought process will reap more benefits as MIG brazing becomes more of a required procedure by car manufacturers.
The education on aluminium repairs prepared technicians for why adhesives must often be used with fasteners such as welds or rivets. We have learned about corrosion control with adhesives as well as bonding strength. The education has made us think about car manufacturers’ attachment procedures and where the future takes us for repair of these panels. We have also learned some flaws in some processes, that a blind rivet may not always be the best choice, especially blind rivets in open-view areas such as wheel wells. Or using blind rivets in areas where a flush surface is required, such as taillight pockets and pinch-welds for glass installation. These lessons will carry over into future models to come.
There is also something old that is coming back as a result of aluminium repair that has many benefits all around the industry, the use and recommendation of epoxy primers. Touted as one of the best substrates for bonding body fillers to aluminium and steel repairs, epoxy primers’ increased use on flanges and in weld areas helps to prevent corrosion on any metal.
The best part
Many may not see it, but the increasing use of aluminium in vehicle manufacturing moved our thoughts on training progressively forward. We as an industry could not just sit idle when aluminium came around. As an industry, we needed that push to get us back on track to learning about the changes in manufacturing and repair. Complacency and progress in vehicle manufacturing have been at odds with each other. Aluminium has increased the industry bar up as far as meeting repair requirements. New exotic 4×4’s and supercars are revolutionising our industry and our manufacturers.
Learning and moving forward isn’t just needed, it’s absolutely imperative to survival. Take some classes and be sure in your repair shop all people learn. Knowledge will remain the key to success.