Aluminum-body cars and trucks are light, fuel efficient, and durable, but they’re still vulnerable to scratches, dents and other collision damage. That means you’ll see them in your shop. From welders to fume extractors, there are a lot of things to consider when working with aluminum. When it’s time to repair collision damage on an aluminum vehicle, follow these steps.
Step 1: Measure and Estimate
The first step is determining what you’re getting into and providing an accurate estimate. That means doing a visual inspection plus measuring the entire vehicle, so you don’t miss any hidden damage. Keep in mind that aluminum doesn’t have the same degree of metal memory as steel. That means it won’t “remember” what it’s supposed to be shaped like or pop back as easily as steel. As a result, there’s a higher chance you’ll need to replace damaged parts instead of pulling them back into shape, which can add to the overall costs of the repair.
Step 2: Disassemble
The next step in the process is to take apart the vehicle, including removing any significantly damaged portions that need to be replaced. With aluminum, there’s a risk of cutting through one thin layer and damaging the next one, so be sure to choose the right tool for the job. A plasma cutter lets you slice through one layer without penetrating the one underneath.
Step 3: Align the Frame
Load the damaged car onto your frame machine and pull it back into alignment. This step isn’t different for aluminum-body cars, but it’s still important to get it right. Technology like LaserLockTM Live MappingTM can identifying incorrect pull setups before you start so you don't add more damage and slow down the repair process.
Step 4: Complete Panel Work
Now it’s time to repair and replace damaged panels on the vehicle:
- To pull out dents, use a stud welder that works with aluminum. One with capacitor discharge technology can break through the naturally occurring aluminum oxide layer.
- A MIG welder can help you replace portions of damaged panels. Look for one with synergic pulsed technology: It makes for a better weld on aluminum and is required by most OEMs.
- Use a spot welder to replace any panels that can’t be repaired.
For more about the technology behind stud welders and MIGs for aluminum repairs, see “Aluminum Welders 101: Brush Up On the Basics.”
Step 5: Quality Assurance + Paint
Once you’ve finished your repairs, don’t forget to check your work. Be sure to measure the car or truck to make sure it’s back to manufacturer specifications. The final task is to prep and paint. Both of these tasks can be complete the same way you’d do them on a steel-based car.
Overall, there are some specific things to keep in mind when repairing collision damage on aluminum-body cars, but the requirements are manageable with preparation and the right tools.
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