Despite much hoopla from automakers about upcoming cars made from carbon fiber structures and components, there has been a material that has been in use for decades in cars, and that is aluminum. Like composite part use today, aluminum was first used in hoods, bumper rebars and also intake manifolds and other small engine components. Fuel efficiency was not of paramount importance then, but the weight savings of almost 50 percent and the heat transfer properties of aluminum, plus its ready availability, made it a compelling material for automakers to work with.
Fast forward a few decades and we see that aluminum use in automobiles is much more intensive. Recycled aluminum is used in various automobile components and aluminum alloys are used in vehicle subframes and structures. And Ferrari has publicly stated its commitment to aluminum as a structural component as opposed to carbon fiber, which Lamborghini and BMW are embracing in a big way. Notably, Mercedes’ newly-released SL makes extensive use of aluminum too, which makes it lighter yet stronger than the model’s previous incarnation. As an aside, Mercedes is releasing a lightweight E-Class which will use a carbon fiber structure.
Cars with a high aluminum content makes it a concern for collision repair shops, as aluminum behaves in a different way when stretched, heated or welded. And since load-bearing and high strength aluminum parts are also heat-treated, collision repair shops need to make sure that they are up to the task of repairing such vehicles. Because of the special handling required when repairing aluminum cars, some manufacturers are very protective, and sometimes proprietary, of their customers and the way their products are repaired. Some manufacturers have been known to sell structural parts only to those auto body shops that have been certified as repair centers for their cars. In effect, many auto body repair shops have removed from the picture, with only a few auto body repair shops favored.
As of now, there aren’t many manufacturers who have gone to the extent of restricting repairs to specific collision repair shops. But there is an unmistakable trend by manufacturers towards certifying repair shops as qualified service centers for their products. And it will only be natural for car owners who have a need to collision repair to gravitate towards certified shops. For repair shops, the rise of factory-certified repair shops has begun to change the industry landscape. What was previously an open market for repair shops is becoming and industry to where a shop must align itself to specific brands in order to attract business.