If you've recently purchased a new all-aluminum vehicle, you may not put much thought into how your vehicle differs from others on the road (except perhaps when filling up your gas tank and enjoying the increased fuel efficiency). However, if you find yourself in need of body repairs after an accident or hail storm, you may find that the process is not as simple as repairing your previous steel-bodied vehicles -- it requires special equipment and, in most cases, special shops. Read on to learn more about the repair of aluminum body panels, as well as what you should do if your vehicle suffers body damage.
How do aluminum vehicles differ from steel ones?
Many manufacturers have recently turned to aluminum as a viable alternative to steel body panels. Because aluminum is much more lightweight than steel, these vehicles are able to perform well with smaller, more fuel-efficient engines than similarly-sized steel vehicle. Aluminum has also been shown to provide more protection against injury in crashes, as it is better than steel at absorbing the kinetic energy created by a collision.
However, aluminum is a more "finicky" metal than steel -- if raw aluminum is handled in a non-sterile environment and is subject to contamination by other types of metal, this contamination can change the molecular composition of the aluminum, which leads to premature corrosion, peeling paint, and even rust. It's very important to repair aluminum body panels in a sterile environment, and many body shops are not equipped to handle this, or don't have tools and instruments that haven't already been in contact with other types of metal. Although this doesn't necessarily mean it's more expensive to repair aluminum (as compared to steel), in some areas it may be difficult to find a shop that performs these repairs on a regular basis.
What should you do if your aluminum vehicle is in need of body repair?
Your first step should be to contact your vehicle's manufacturer. Because many traditional body shops aren't equipped to provide the sterile environment that fresh aluminum requires, you may need a referral to a specialty body shop. In some cases, any paint warranties or other body-related warranties offered by your manufacturer may be voided if you seek body repairs at a non-specialty shop.
However, in anticipation of the increased need for aluminum-only shops, several manufacturers have created programs to train technicians on working with aluminum and may compensate you for certain expense if your vehicle requires body repairs while still under warranty. By contacting your manufacturer before seeking estimates, you may find out you'll be reimbursed for repairs or even have the use of a rental car while your vehicle is being worked on. Because the manufacturer has a vested interest in ensuring that there aren't consumer complaints about the new aluminum body styles, it will often bend over backwards to ensure that your repair needs are taken care of.
Your next step should be to contact your insurance company. Because you may be required to expand your geographic area when looking for an aluminum auto body shop, you'll want to find out if your insurance company requires written justification from the manufacturer before approving a repair quoted by a body shop outside this area. Even if your insurance company won't pay the full cost of aluminum body repair, it's important to have these repairs performed at a specialty shop. Taking your vehicle to a regular shop, even one you know well, could end up costing you far more in repainting or rust repair bills than you'll save by going somewhere that is fully covered by your auto insurance.
If you're not sure whether your local auto shop offers aluminum body repairs, you can contact them or visit their websites, like http://www.collision1.com/, to learn more.