Steel Vehicles Have Changed – How We Repair Them Has Too

This is a guest post courtesy of Steve Marks, Industry Support Manager, I-CAR, and the recipient of SMDI’s 2017 Man of Steel Community Hero Award.

Advances in automotive steels are allowing global manufacturers to produce amazing vehicles to meet consumer expectations in style, comfort, electronic connectivity and performance. In addition to the high expectations of the consumer, there is also the EPA 2025 fuel economy target looming in the future. One way to increase fuel economy is to reduce vehicle weight. Since advanced steels are so strong and formable, body panels can be made thinner to reduce mass while maintaining structural integrity for performance and safety, thus providing the highest level of protection in a collision or rollover event. Crash performance is rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the number of stars (up to 5 stars) awarded for frontal, side and rollover tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also assigns ratings, based on their own crash testing.

IIHS Crash Test Buick LaCrosse

Photo courtesy of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); To maintain the original level of crash performance, structural repairs must be done as specified by the vehicle manufacturer.

In the unfortunate event of an accident requiring vehicle repair, the method of repair is not always obvious to the owner. If the paint color matches, the body panels align, and the vehicle drives well, the owner is usually satisfied with the repair. Incorrect repair may not be apparent until months, or even years, later, or in the event of another accident where the structure of the vehicle does not provide the level of protection originally designed into it. The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) recommends four ways collision repairers can repair automotive steel[1]:

  • Spot Welding – the joining of two metal surfaces with heat.
    • This is the most common weld and is usually used to join steels of the same grade, though two different grades can be welded together.
  • MIG Brazing – a special type of welding that minimizes heating of the steel.
    • Used primarily with hot formed boron steel – an ultra high-strength steel with boron added for extra hardening and wear resistance; which can be formed into complex shapes.
  • Weld Bonding/Sealing – spot welding used in combination with an adhesive.
    • This is typically used for overlapping sheet metals.
  • Rivet Bonding – using rivets and studs in conjunction with adhesives.
    • Able to join both similar and dissimilar metals.

When repairs are done correctly, there should be no reduction in the integrity of a vehicle’s crashworthiness. It’s one of the many ways in which the IIHS has advanced automotive safety. Well-known for its crash testing, the IIHS’s annual “Top Safety Pick” and “Pick+” awards are highly coveted amongst automakers. A key criterion of their testing requires collision repairers to restore a vehicle to its original crashworthiness. To achieve this, other automotive materials must be fully replaced with a brand new part. On the other hand, steel reduces the costs of repair (and therefore insurance premiums) because many grades can be repaired, rather than outright replaced, with no reduction in crashworthiness.

Buick Lacrosse BIW

Photo courtesy of General Motors; Only a small percentage of current body structures are made from mild steel. Vehicle structures are now made mostly from advanced steels.

Joining Body Panels

Photo courtesy of I-CAR; Advanced steel body panels must be joined to the structure using the correct methods and equipment specified by the vehicle manufacturer. 

To ensure the correct repair of your vehicle, it’s necessary to have the work done at a trusted repair facility which has the technician skill and training, up-to-date equipment, and the quality parts and products to provide a safe and complete repair.  When going to your local collision repair facilities look for evidence of ongoing technician training and a good reputation of doing quality work. Some vehicle brands have authorized collision repair centers with specialized equipment and training to provide a quality repair. Look for current certificates displayed to prove the technicians receive ongoing training from vehicle makers and from I-CAR.

Looking for the I-CAR Gold Class logo is one way to know your collision damaged vehicle is in the hands of trained technicians. Many vehicle makers, including Honda, Nissan, GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and others, leverage I-CAR Gold Class repair facilities and I-CAR trained technicians for their repair networks. To learn more about I-CAR Gold Class, visit https://www.goldclass.com

I-CAR Gold Class

Photo courtesy of I-CAR; The I-CAR Gold Class logo signifies a collision repair shop has achieved and maintains a high level of role-relevant training across each of the major collision repair roles.

[1] Advanced High-Strength Steel Structures Collision Repair Update: 

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