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?