In the rush to go lean and cut costs, many shops may have forgotten the fact that it's often necessary to spend money to make money. Nowhere is this truer than with your tools and equipment, which require updates, upgrades and additions to keep your business moving ahead. Considering all the options you have for this part of your shop inventory and the potential costs, investing in the right tools and equipment can be challenging.
Where should you put your hard-earned dollars? Consider those repair areas being immediately affected, or soon to be impacted, by changes in the industry – especially those changes driven by government regulation and new materials used by automakers. Let's look at these changes, along with the tool and equipment purchases you should be considering.
Lighter cars, lighter materials, special tools
Federal government Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards now mandate that by 2015 average fuel economy for cars and trucks combined must be 31.6 MPG (35.7 MPG for cars and 28.6 MPG for trucks). To meet these standards, vehicle manufacturers will look to make their fleets smaller and lighter.
Cutting vehicle weight means increasing the use of aluminum in vehicle parts. Shops should expect to see, in particular, more aluminum hoods, deck lids and fenders, along with other body parts.
Repairing aluminum poses some interesting challenges that shops may not be prepared for. For example, many aluminum hoods currently are double paneled with virtually no access to the backside. Most shops don't have the capability to repair this type of damage, primarily because they don't possess an aluminum stud gun. Be aware that stud guns made for repair on steel are not appropriate for aluminum. Those dedicated to aluminum work are worth the investment – as is the training to use them properly.
Repairing aluminum isn't difficult, but there are a few techniques that need to be learned to achieve a successful repair.
The increase in the number of smaller vehicles will translate into even more use of ultra high-strength steel (UHSS) in cabin reinforcements for passenger protection (on a side note, nearly every manufacturer requires full replacement of these reinforcements, which could translate into more total losses). UHSS is necessary to help these vehicles meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 216A.
FMVSS 216A addresses roof crush. The FMVSS for 2009 demanded that the roof support be 2.5 times gross vehicle weight (GVW). In other words, if a car weighed 2,000 lbs., the roof had to support 5,000 lbs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) didn't think that the 2.5 standards were sufficient. For 2009, it set a standard for three-times GVW. In 2012, that standard will go to four-times GVW. To gain the IIHS's highly prized five-star rating for roof protection, vehicle manufacturers have increased the strength of the B-pillar reinforcements using UHSS.
Repairing these B-pillars starts with correctly identifying them as utilizing UHSS. From there, you need to stick to the manufacturer's repair recommendations. In other words, more than ever before, shops will need OEM repair data. You cannot do structural repairs or structural parts replacement properly without this information. For example, did you know you can section a B-pillar (lower portion) on a Toyota Venza, but need to replace the entire reinforcement on a Toyota Camry? You would if you looked at the OEM repair data.
OEM data, such as Toyota's Technical Information System (TIS for short), shows where to section and the type of welds required for a quarter panel replacement. If you're looking for the best way to access this repair tool, I recommend attending an industry trade show where you can talk to both information providers and the OEMs themselves. You need this repair information. You might be surprised to find that much of it is available directly from the OEMs at no cost.
New world measuring and welding
Along with presenting "material" issues, B-pillar repairs offer other repair challenges shops increasingly will have to address. These super-strong reinforcements are designed to transfer energy and deform. This energy travels to the opposite side of the vehicle, where it can move the B-pillar on that side of the vehicle. Because the vehicle floor may be unaffected, it's possible to overlook this damage. Doing so can create repair problems having to do with improper fit issues.
The best way to avoid this problem is to measure the vehicle (especially before writing the estimate). To do this, I recommend investing in measuring equipment that can measure A- and B-pillars without having them placed on a frame machine.
When it comes to repairing the B-pillar, you're going to need an inverter spot welder. UHSS is highly heat sensitive. MIG welders produce a large heat-affected zone, making their use prohibitive on UHSS parts. Using them for UHSS repairs can be downright dangerous.
This is because the weakest part of the weld is in the heat-affected zone. MIG welding temperatures can approach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This kind of heat turns UHSS and HSS into mild steel, which lacks the strength and energy transfer properties of HSS and UHSS. Spot welders are necessary for these repairs since they incorporate computers that help produce a much smaller heat-affected zone.
Spot welders also provide other advantages over MIG systems since they are fully automatic and can keep records on the welds for each repair job.
But don't run out and buy one without doing some homework. First, you will need to check your shop's electrical supply. Spot welders only work on three-phase power. They also require large-gauge wires (with a recommended minimum of 4-gauge) due to the increase in necessary amps. Before making a purchase, consult with a qualified electrician.
Scan for safety
Side curtains will be mandatory on all vehicles sold in the United States by the year 2013. That means you'll be seeing more vehicles with these airbags and with airbags you'll need to repair. If you're going to repair airbags, you need a scan tool to reset the codes on the supplemental restraint system. You'll also need a scan tool to clear the codes on the occupant classification system and to reset the steering angle sensor. Resetting these sensors will become a far more common repair task due to federal legislation that has mandated that all vehicles have some sort of electronic stability control (ESC) system by 2012.
Part of this system is the steering angle sensor. This sensor calculates the number of tire rotations and the speed at which they are being made. It sends this data to a vehicle computer. If the computer detects a problem (for example, potential loss of vehicle control) it provides a correction, such as activating the ABS or cutting power output to slow the vehicle down to prevent skids and rollovers.
When a damaged vehicle needs an alignment, you need to perform a complete four-wheel alignment, followed by a recalibration of the steering angle sensor. If you don't perform this work, the ESC may not work properly or, worse, not at all. Because most systems do not connect to a fault code on the dash, a scan tool is required to reset the steering angle sensor.
Also on the horizon for repairers is a new Freon refrigerant, HFO-1234yf, now being used in Europe. This new Freon is more environmentally friendly than 134A. General Motors plans to begin using HFO-1234yf in its vehicles next year. To replace this new product, you'll need to invest in a new recovery system, along with leak-detection equipment and new manifolds.
This equipment, along with aluminum stud welders, spot welders and other tools won't come cheap. Fortunately, there are resources to help you budget these costs into your operating expenses. Start by visiting the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) website, where you will find a Guide to Complete Repair Planning (http://abrn.com/CompleteRepairPlanning).
This guide lists more than 800 not-included items for estimates. By adding a few of these items to your estimates, and getting fairly paid for all of your work, you can build additional revenue to reinvest in your shop. The best part of this tool? It's free for everyone. Free is a cost we can all afford, especially when it helps pay for investments you won't survive without.