Why Do Aluminum Body Panel Repairs Cost More Than Steel Panel Repairs?

Car makers are manufacturing cars to be more fuel efficient on the road. Part of this drive has led to the use of lighter materials, such as aluminum. While switching to aluminum can lower the overall weight of a car, it can introduce higher costs when that car has to be repaired after a minor accident or collision. But why does switching to aluminum actually result in higher costs?

Cost of Replacement Parts

There was a time when car body panels were made out of solid steel. Steel is strong, but it is heavy. Aluminum has much of the same strength as steel but is significantly lighter. The problem is that aluminum is also more expensive. When car makers switch to using aluminum, the cost of the replacement parts goes up.

In addition, steel panels can be bent back into their original shape, allowing for less expensive repair. Insurance companies often dictate that an aluminum panel be completely replaced since aluminum is more difficult to bend and shape.

As an example, a recent test compared the cost to repair an aluminum Ford F150 to its previous, all-steel version. That test concluded that it cost a good deal more to repair the same damage to the aluminum F150 than the steel F150.

Cost of Training

Repairing an aluminum body panel is not the same as repairing a steel body panel. Aluminum work requires specialized training. That training can cost up to $20,000 per technician. It takes a lot of repairs to recover a $20,000 training cost!

Specialized Tools and Environment

Working with aluminum also requires new tools since aluminum is a more difficult metal to work with than steel. Some of those new tools include:

  • MIG Welder – repair shops have to use the same level of welding equipment used in the factory since the welder has to have just the right mixture of shielding gas
  • Specialized vacuums – aluminum dust is explosive so specialized vacuums that are explosion-proof have to be used to clean up the dust
  • Aluminum only tools – steel can't be allowed to touch aluminum or it can cause galvanic corrosion. A separate set of tools must be maintained that only touches aluminum and never touches steel
  • Specialized rivet gun that can bond aluminum body panels
  • Dedicated floor space for aluminum-only repairs – since there is so must separation that must be maintained because of flammable aluminum dust, specialized vacuum systems, and dedicated aluminum tools, shops have to pay for extra space to do aluminum-only repairs

There are many benefits to switching to aluminum panels, since a lighter car can allow for smaller, more fuel-efficient engines and components to be used. That efficiency, however, can have a higher price tag in the event of an accident.

For more information and details, contact an auto shop that specializes in aluminum repair, like Exoticar Paintworks Inc.