Aluminum Auto Body Repairs are More Expensive
Aluminum is Great for Auto Body, But Harder to Fix
Gone are the days when aluminum was used exclusively on luxury vehicles like Audi A8s, BMWs, Jaguar XKs, some Mercedes Benz models and Range Rovers. With the introduction of Ford’s all-aluminum F150 (one of America’s most popular vehicles with about 700,000 units sold per year), collision repair shops now have to think harder if they need to upgrade their facilities so they can accommodate aluminum collision repair.
Wanting to upgrade isn’t the problem. It’s the cost of upgrading that is. Why? Because there’s a big difference between steel repair and aluminum repair. And a repair shop that attempts to do aluminum repair when it’s not qualified to do so will not just cause safety issues, but might also affect your vehicle’s worth. Big Sky Collision Center is ahead of the game when it comes to aluminum repair, and we can tell you why.
What makes aluminum different from steel?
For starters, steel has better memory than aluminum. This means that while steel can easily be returned to its original shape before it got dented, aluminum requires much more work before it can be reshaped. And it can’t be done properly without special skills, special equipment and time. Plus, it needs to be heated prior to smoothing out.
Second, aluminum is a better heat conductor than steel. And when it comes to repair work, this isn’t considered an advantage because when heat travels faster through a material, like it does in aluminum, welding parts becomes more difficult. This is the reason aluminum parts are generally not welded together; special rivets and adhesives are used instead.
Third, aluminum and steel don’t like each other. Combining aluminum and steel will result in galvanic corrosion. It sounds nasty, right? Because it is. If steel particles come into contact with an aluminum panel, the damage is instantaneous. The paint will bubble and flake quickly. And it doesn’t just happen with direct panel-to-panel contact. If a tool used on steel is used to repair an aluminum panel, it will immediately begin the corrosion process on the aluminum panel. Learn more on our recent post about aluminum rooms.
What is driving up the cost of aluminum body repair?
Unless your shop is an all-aluminum repair shop, it will be necessary for you to dedicate a special space that will be used exclusively for aluminum body repair. Remember we mentioned how aluminum and steel react adversely when they come into contact with each other? This isn’t an exaggeration. Steel can easily and quickly corrode aluminum. Which is why a ‘clean room’ is required for aluminum body repair. (Big Sky Collision Center has a room dedicated to just aluminum repairs, so your aluminum-bodied vehicle is safe with us).
Aside from a ‘clean room’, aluminum repair also requires special training and specially trained welders to do the job. It’s a kind of training that costs much, and not all repair shops are willing or can afford to invest in such expense.
Aluminum repair parts are more expensive than steel parts. The equipment and tools needed to repair aluminum are also quite expensive.
Aluminum is also more difficult to work with, which necessarily means it takes longer to work on. More difficult work and longer hours naturally causes labor cost to go up. The rate per hour is higher. The number of hours worked is higher too. Taking all this together, labor cost for repairing aluminum is nearly twice as much as steel.
While aluminum repair is indeed more costly than steel repair, the thing is, aluminum is also relatively stronger than steel. Which means before it needs to undergo repair, it has to get damaged first. And because it is more resilient, it will not get damaged as easily. But that will also depend on you as the owner and driver, of course.
Big Sky Collision Center Repairs Aluminum Vehicles
We are one of the only auto body repair shops in Billings that have a special building dedicated to aluminum repairs. And when we say a building, we mean an actual structure. Other auto body shops will use a tent, or separate aluminum repairs with a curtain, but we have an entire room that is sealed off dedicated just to aluminum repairs.
Is your aluminum vehicle damaged? Give us a call at 406-259-6328 to schedule a time for an estimate.