Vehicle design is more sophisticated than ever. Manufacturers are under constant pressure to make cars and trucks safer, more reliable and more efficient. And, on the other end of the vehicle lifecycle, repair experts must do their part to keep tabs on it all so they can get those vehicles safely back on the road. Ongoing education can help you learn about the latest innovations and collision repair techniques, and in that spirit, let’s break down three important changes in automotive design in the past decade, plus look at what they mean for the repair industry.
Before the use of CAD (computer-aided design) became commonplace, most vehicles had two separate design elements: the frame and the body that sat on top of that frame. Designing a car was time-intensive, and the ability to use the same frame design and only update the body kept costs lower. The use of CAD made design much easier, and there was subsequently a change toward unibody vehicles.
The move away from the traditional body-on-frame design began well over a decade ago in cars, but the shift for larger vehicles has been more recent. Today, more and more SUVs/crossovers are constructed using the unibody design, which makes for a lighter vehicle. Another advantage of this design – and one that matters for repair techs – is the introduction of “crush zones.”
Unibody vehicles are built to crumple at specific points and direct energy around the passenger compartment, protecting the people inside. That makes collision repair assessments a little more complicated. You can’t just look at a vehicle and see what’s wrong. There’s very likely hidden damage that you won’t be able to see. The key takeaway? Multipoint inspections are a must as are up-to-date specifications and an appropriate frame rack.
The quest for light-yet-safe vehicles has also driven an increase in the use of HSS (high-strength steel) and AHSS (advanced high-strength steel): Panels made from AHSS are stronger and lighter than the mild steels traditionally used in vehicle manufacturing. When designing today’s cars, the highest-strength steel is placed around the passenger zone, helping to reinforce that safe area for passengers.
From a repair perspective, it’s important to follow OEM guidelines when determining how to proceed. For instance, manufacturers provide guidelines about replacing panels and exact specifications the vehicle must be returned to. It’s also important to blueprint your repairs and, again, locate that hidden damage. Doing so will ensure you’re maintaining the integrity – and safety – of the vehicle.
High-strength steel isn’t the only material on the rise. As regulators continue to raise the bar on efficiency and emissions, the use of aluminum in vehicle design has increased. Aluminum is light and strong, helping manufacturers work toward those ever-loftier efficiency goals (54.4 miles per gallon by 2025, for instance). According to a study from Ducker Worldwide, by 2025, “On a volume basis, 26.6 percent of all the body and closure parts will be made of aluminum.” So there’s good reason to brush up on your aluminum repair skills, particularly when it comes to welding.
Welding aluminum has unique challenges, including higher conductivity combined with a lower melting point. In order to ensure you’re ready to handle the aluminum repairs that will inevitably roll through your doors, you should evaluate your equipment and training. Do you have technicians on staff who are comfortable working with aluminum? Do you have the right equipment? Schedule additional training if needed, and make sure your techs are set up with the right welding equipment and safety features to handle the fumes that come from working with aluminum. A little prep now will help you handle this growing trend in the future.
Keeping up with the latest changes in vehicle manufacturing and repair can seem like a race you’ll never win, but with diligence and education, you can stay ahead of the pack.
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