Prior to the introduction of the 2015 Ford F150, aluminum was only used as a primary body material on limited production vehicles like Range Rovers, Jaguar XK sedans, Audi A8s, and certain Mercedes-Benz models. Accordingly, aluminum repair expertise was usually limited to a few high-end collision centers.
The F150, on the other hand, is America’s best-selling vehicle, with about 700,000 units sold each year. This huge volume translates into an increased demand for qualified aluminum collision repair options.
How Aluminum Repair Differs from Steel Repair
“So what?” you might say, “body work is body work.” In the case of repairing aluminum vs. steel, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are big differences between working with these two metals, and shops that are not qualified to make aluminum repairs can cause serious harm to the safety and value of your vehicle.
What’s the difference between aluminum collision repair and steel collision repair? Here are the major differences:
1. Aluminum doesn’t have metal memory like steel.
- This means that when aluminum is dented or bent, it cannot be reshaped back to its undamaged state as easily as steel. A body repair technician needs better skills to reshape an aluminum panel without damaging it beyond repair, as well as aluminum-specific tools like an aluminum dent pulling station.
2. Aluminum reacts to heat much differently than steel.
- Aluminum conducts heat much more than steel, which means that heat travels through aluminum farther and faster. This makes welding aluminum parts more difficult. Welding aluminum requires both special welders unique to aluminum repair and the the skill to weld precisely.
- Since excessive heat will compromise the integrity and strength of the metal, improper aluminum welding can create vehicle safety issues if the car is involved in an accident. With the Ford F150, many parts of the aluminum structure are joined not by welds, but by special rivets and adhesives. Joining these parts requires unique tools that are not used in traditional collision repairs. Special training is also needed to make these repairs properly so that the strength and safety of the vehicle is maintained.
3. Aluminum and steel don’t play well together.
- Unfinished aluminum and steel are actually corrosive to each other. If shavings from one metal contact a panel made of the other metal, damage is immediate. Even using a tool to repair an aluminum panel that was previously used to repair steel will cause corrosion on the aluminum panel!
- Because of this, a completely separate set of tools is required in order to repair aluminum. In addition, aluminum body repair must be performed in an area that is separate from the area where steel is repaired, as even steel dust is corrosive to aluminum.
The Aluminum Advantage
If aluminum requires all of this additional equipment and training to repair, why do auto manufacturers use it? In a word, weight. Aluminum is as strong or stronger than steel, but weighs less. Less weight means better fuel mileage, as well as better towing and payload capacities.
As government fuel economy requirements increase, aluminum and other lightweight materials will become more and more common in everyday vehicles. We at 5 Star Collision believe in staying up-to-date with the latest technologies in the collision repair industry in order to better serve our customers. That’s why we have made the investment in the tools and training to repair aluminum intensive vehicles like the Ford F150.
If you have questions about auto body and collision repair — aluminum or otherwise — or automotive paint repair and refinishing, contact us or just stop by. We will be happy to assist you!