Car Body Technology – now too complex to repair?



As the technology in automotive construction becomes more and more sophisticated, we hear more customer concerns about repairability.  Customers are aware that their new car “isn’t just made of ordinary steel” and worry that a car accident repair may compromise the car’s warranty.  We’re also asked why cars are now built in such a complicated manner.  The image shows a 2008 Audi A5 and the six different structural component materials. Some newer models are even more complicated, and every new car now comes with model-specific accident repair specifications, right down to the number and placement of spot-welds.


Safety and fuel efficiency have been the driving factors for alternative construction materials.  Manufacturers now use combinations of mild steel (the “ordinary steel” predominantly used in most cars in the past), high-tensile steels, magnesium alloys, aluminium in a range of forms, carbon fibre and structural plastics.  All these materials in various combinations result in a much stronger car body designed to withstand greater impact in a crash and protect passengers from injury.  They’re also lighter, so cars can go faster (except in Auckland traffic!) and use less fuel (good for the pocket and for the environment).


In ‘the good old days’, damaged cars were pieced back together with a tape measure and oxy/acetylene gas welders, but no longer.  Mig welding replaced gas over 20yrs ago, recently inverter spot welders took charge, but manufacturers are already heading in a different direction and some cars are now glued together.  Riveting/bonding of incompatible materials is now becoming common.


All this requires highly sophisticated crash repair methodologies and equipment, and advanced technician training.  Due to the escalating cost involved, the collision repair industry in NZ is struggling to keep up financially and the fundamental problem lies with the relationship between insurers and repairers.  We have very close relationships with both industries and have the greatest respect for both, but we hear the problems on a daily basis. Insurers believe the panelbeating sector is inefficient, and collision repairers feel unfairly constrained by the payment levels insurers will allow.  Both may be valid, but we do wonder how costs are to be covered and a ROI achieved when smash repair rates are set by insurers at around $50 – $60/hr.  Have they tried engaging a mechanic, plumber, electrician, or even a builder for $50 an hour?  We suspect the tap will still be dripping as we go to press.  We welcome all views on the matter – where do you think the panelbeating sector is heading in the next 5yrs?  Is the industry sustainable?

8 Responses

  1. I Berich
    | Reply

    A tradesman for $50 an hour, that’s a laugh. At that rate the only way crashed cars will get fixed in the future is like in the horror movie CHRISTINE. Check how the evil spirits do it!

  2. TopBroker
    | Reply

    It seams to me the insurance industry is being unfairly maligned in this case, if panelbeaters accept a rate that is lower than they’d wish, they have only themselves to blame – turn the business away surely? Insurance brokers would not accept business with underwriters at less than the standard 20% commission, it would be the thin edge of the wedge and unsustainable. Is it a simple question of supply and demand, are there too many panelbeating shops in NZ?

    • BruceB
      | Reply

      Sorry but this is so naive. Insurance is almost a monopoly market, NZI already had 60% of car insurance and has now bought AMI. They dictate rates to the panel industry so its not a normal market because the seller has no influence, it’s a David & Golliath situation. See the latest PanelTalk for a good understanding of what we’re dealing with.

  3. JohnnyB
    | Reply

    I agree with the last comment as would anyone involved in the panelbeating industry. Insurers have total control in NZ and we’re getting shafted. It’s even worse in Australia (the home of all big insurance companies operating in NZ) and it’ll get worse because there’s no-one to stop it. You start some good conversations Crash Management but your opinions are quite ‘tame’ – who are you afraid of? Oh yeah, insurance companies. Check out the Aussie Crash Repair blog for a reality check – Good stuff.

  4. Robert Jones
    | Reply

    This is correct, its becoming more and more difficult to stay in business in the panelbeating trade. We’re working harder, longer and smarter and the insurers are paying less and less every year. It’s difficult to push back at the risk of being driven out of business all together. It is worse in Australia, in some cases they’re accepting insurance directives to do a job at an ‘averaged payment rate’ that is completely meaningless and has no bearing on the scale of the actual repair. But at least the Aussie’s are starting to talk about it.

  5. Anthony Jeffers
    | Reply

    very useful & informative article..thanks for sharing this with all

  6. Anthony Jeffers
    | Reply

    these repairing technologies are really complex. thanks for sharing this with all

  7. Fabrication Auckland
    | Reply

    I loved your blog and thanks for publishing this about car body technology now too complex to repair!! I am really happy to come across this exceptionally well written content. Thanks for sharing and look for more in future!! Keep doing this inspirational work and share with us.

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