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Erik Spitznagel

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Why is it important for repair shops to focus on aluminum repairs?

Obviously, aluminum is becoming a much wider-used material in the automotive industry—to lighten the load, to account for making the engine smaller, due to the the miles-per-gallon mandates put out by the government. All of these things have led to more aluminum use, more boron steel use in the structure of the car.

Aluminum panels are something that is really starting to take off. The Ford F-150 pickup, the No. 1–selling pickup in the country, will have a lot more aluminum panels in 2014, not just the hood, but the side panels, the fender, the door.

You’ll see aluminum use blow up across the industry, where you’ll need to be able to do basic repairs on aluminum panels.

What are the main differences in repairing aluminum versus steel?

The first thing is that when working with aluminum, you can’t have cross contamination with steel. If you use a dolly with steel and bring it over to work on aluminum, you’re going to be pushing the steel fibers into the aluminum. If you leave a panel out in the shop, and the guy a couple stalls down is grinding, that dust goes into the air and it’ll settle on the aluminum panels. You always want to maintain a separate room whether it’s through curtain walls or an air-filtration system.

Then, when you pull on aluminum, you have to remember that it works differently than steel. It doesn’t have memory, and it doesn’t want to snap back into place. It’s a work-hardened material. When it’s stamped into the shape of a fender, it becomes hard. When it’s bent in a collision, it becomes harder still. It may even crack or break at that point.

What type of tools or equipment are needed?

The first thing is that you’re going to need separate tools and equipment for aluminum repair to avoid cross contamination. Our system [from Dent Fix] puts the equipment and tools all in one mobile cart, so that you can wheel it in the shop and lock it up so you avoid that contamination.
Then, it’s about the methods of repair. You can’t just take up a normal stud welder and weld an aluminum pin on to the body, because the welder won’t heat up fast enough. What we have is a capacitor discharge welder, which builds up the energy and then fuses the stud onto the aluminum panel.

Then, you need several different pulling devices, from a leverage puller to a squeeze puller. As I said, when you pull on aluminum, you have to remember that it works differently than steel. To pull it out, you have to remember that your energy makes it harden. So, you have to soften it. We have a digital-set heat gun. You have to soften it to around 450 degrees without exceeding 575 or 600 degrees. It’s a generalized temperature, and you want to keep it in that range.

Now you have to pull out the damage by bouncing it, by using a squeeze puller that massages or a bouncy action on your leverage puller. The material is also soft, so you can’t use hammer-on dolly techniques. You have to hammer off.

The important thing is having the different pulling methods, the different tools isolated in the set, the heat guns and then stainless steel brushes.

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