According to the NHTSA, there were 5,687,000 traffic accidents in the US in 2013. Fatalities resulted from 30,057 of those crashes and the remaining 5,584,000 caused either injury (1,591,000) or just property damage (3,950,000). That’s a staggering 15,580 accidents PER DAY, 365 days of the year!!
Whilst a percentage of crashes result in vehicles needing to be written off due to irreparable damage, many more get sent to auto body repair shops to be repaired and restored to pre-accident glory. Every vehicle that’s been in a collision however can present repairers with a unique challenge and this is where understanding the technology behind vehicle construction, knowing about manufacturer repair specifications and repair methods, and being up to date with the types of materials used in modern vehicle manufacture, is vital. This in fact is what auto body repair technology is all about.
Improvements in technology have led to an increasingly diverse car manufacturing industry as vehicle manufacturers experiment with different materials, new technology and design principles. Differences between parts, make, build, design concepts and construction materials have made auto body repairing a much more complex and diverse industry to what it once was. Gone are the days of the old one-vehicle, one-repairer set up because not only has the sheer number of vehicles now coming through the repair shop industry made this unworkable in practice but the technological sophistication of new vehicles has also encouraged specialisation on the shop floor.
Enter the assembly line, which allows repair shop technicians to specialise or concentrate on one type of repair ie fixing doors, removing and installing glass, painting and so on. Modern vehicles typically incorporate a range of materials – steel, metal alloys, aluminum and plastic. There are even car bodies made of fibreglass. Each of these types of material combinations requires a unique repair approach and this is where training, either on the job, or through educational institutions, becomes important.
Common Auto Body Repair Processes
Damaged frames are common after auto accidents but these can be fixed with the use of special hydraulic powered alignment tools that straighten the frame and realign the damaged parts. For unibody vehicles, which are vehicles without frames, it’s particularly imperative they be realigned, to the precise fraction of an inch, to factory specifications. The frame straightening process uses certain benchmark systems to gauge the extent of a misalignment prior to employing frame-straightening machines to realign everything back to their original positions.
Sections of metal panelling beyond economical repair are removed using a range of tools appropriate to the scope of the job ie pneumatic metal cutting guns. Once the damaged section has been removed, new panel sections are welded into place and seamlessly finished to look invisible once complete. Minor dings are generally pushed out with hand tools, pneumatic hammers, hydraulic jacks or hand prying bars. Small dents and creases may be removed by putting a small anvil behind the dent then hammering the panel from the other side. Small pits and dimples can be fixed by ‘metal finishing’, a procedure that uses pick hammers and punches to push the panelling back to its original shape.
Many modern vehicles have plastic panelling and external accessories. Badly damaged panels are removed and replaced in their entirety with new panels supplied by the manufacturer, an authorised after market product, or with quality second hand panels. Other types of damage though require repairing and this calls for some pretty extensive knowledge of plastic types used by the manufacturer as well as recommended repair techniques for that particular make and model. One of the advantages of plastic is that it can be easily remodelled through the use of heat, which softens the material for easier manipulation. Hot water or a hot air gun for instance can be used to soften plastic panels enough so that dents and buckles can be removed by hand.
Where a dent in plastic panelling can’t be repaired by usual methods it can often be filled with plastic or solder. Once the filler has been applied, the area is then filed, ground back to the level of surrounding surfaces and cleaned before paint is applied. Painting is often done by a specialist to ensure the best possible finish for the client but in some cases repair shop technicians can also double as a painter.
So, as you can see, the job of a modern auto repair technician involves specialist training in the use of a range of tools, repair methods, manufacturing technology, computerised damage and structural assessment software and more. Whilst a certain amount of training can be done on the job, many repair shops prefer to employ technicians that have undergone formal training in auto body repair technology.
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