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  • Variations on a theme

    - by Andrew Hooker, Thatcham Research
    We are in an industry where there are many variations in specifications. I have spoken before of the range of materials available to the car maker today. This range is growing, not decreasing.

    It's very much the same for repair tools and consumables. Not all tools behave the same way or are of the same quality. The correct repair process will vary between car models from different brands, and increasingly between newer and older variants of a particular model as more advanced materials are used.

    It is not just deep within the structure that we find newer, stronger, stiffer steels. In a competitive market carmakers often turn to aluminium or High Strength Steel for body surface panels, as these can be shaped with tighter angles and sharper edges which the car designers love as this gives them more creative freedom.

    Naturally this affects repair. We know steel and aluminium are different to repair so increasingly now our damage assessor needs to consider that damage to the side of a car may require the repair of two or more materials. This is not just an issue with high-end, prestigious cars as all car makers have a range of steels, alloys, and plastics at their disposal today.

    When we consider plastic repairs there is a vast range of tools and systems available. In fact, with so many available it is surprising that more plastic repairs are not carried out. This may be because the tool purchase is not combined with training for the technician, but also for the damage assessor who can typically be left behind in understanding what is possible. He or she may not realise what isn't possible either, leading to frustrations when the panel beater is asked to repair something they can't or shouldn't.

    Even with training and equipment the wrong type of repair process could be applied, and this leads to carmakers having to mandate no-repair zones on a panel or part, or perhaps even mandating that the entire panel is replaced every time.

    We must be aware, more than ever, that an incorrect repair can have a significant effect on a modern car. A softer or stiffer exterior panel could have an effect on the pedestrian safety properties of that panel in a subsequent accident. The odds of this happening are low.

    It is likely that we will have to deal with an angry customer as the repair causes a warning light to appear, or noise or vibration issues. This is increasingly likely as more and more sensors are located on the external panels of a car. Even an excess build-up of paint could lead to the parking system not working for some models.

    We must be very specific and careful regarding the repair method we choose near radar or ultrasonic sensors. Not all of these sensors are visible on the surface of a panel so we must ensure we check to see what is fitted to each vehicle.

    But this is not to say that panels cannot be repaired. At Thatcham Research we will challenge a carmaker who prohibits repairs where we believe it can be repaired; and we, with our vast research experience and test facilities, can test and prove that an appropriate repair procedure does not compromise a specific model, panel, or area of a panel.

    We are here to help our customers repair cars, safely and correctly, so everyone (the bodyshop, the customer, and the insurance company) is a winner.

    Andrew Hooker is Advanced Repair Projects Manager at Thatcham Research