Change happens. It happens all around us on a continuous basis every day. And when changes occur in the workplace, it can be challenging and sometimes, unnerving. In the automotive body shop industry, changes in vehicle models by the OEMs necessitate changes in how those vehicles are repaired. Repair products must also change to keep up with OEM manufacturing techniques and repair requirements.
So how does a body shop technician keep up with all the changes and new repair techniques and products? The answer is training. And I’m not talking about just taking a training course every few years. To be really knowledgeable about changes in the industry, it’s important to make training a continual work experience. Training is available from many sources such as I-CAR (the Inter-industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair); OEM training centers; equipment suppliers; refinish manufacturers, repair product suppliers and third-party consulting and training companies, such as ABRN Contributing Technical Editor Larry Montanez’s P&L Consultants or former columnist Mike Anderson’s Collision Advice.
Among the advanced changes in vehicle design, OEMs are using different types of materials in car manufacture. From high-strength steels to aluminum to composites, different materials require different repair techniques. Many of these material changes are occurring as manufacturers attempt to make vehicles lighter, more efficient and safer to meet government regulations and consumer demands.
There are also changes being made to the adhesives that are used to build the vehicles. Vehicle manufacturing has advanced from not using any adhesives to the use of structural adhesives and recently, the introduction of crash-durable (impact-toughened) adhesives. Accordingly, the repair technician must also learn how to use crash-durable adhesives to return a damaged vehicle to its “as new” condition.
Major changes are not made on most vehicle models every year. On average, new model cars are introduced into the market about every three to five years. Mid-cycle revisions, also known as “running changes,” can be made anytime during a particular model’s lifetime. These changes can be cosmetic changes, such as grille work, or structural component changes to improve a vehicle’s safety rating and fuel economy.
Nevertheless, the savvy auto repair technician needs to keep up with all changes that are made to a vehicle’s design, especially those that will involve the repair process. Continual training, therefore, is necessary both for new repair procedures and supplies, and for understanding the changes in new car models.
One of the biggest gaps in the industry is the time lag between new vehicle models that are introduced into the market and the training available for repairing the new models. The vast majority of training and education on new car models is available from I-CAR. However, I-CAR’s ability to provide a training program on a new car model is dependent on how soon they can procure information from the car manufacturer.
Many times there is a gap of six months or more from when a new car model is introduced and when the repair training program can be offered from I-CAR. The car manufacturers, though, are making an attempt to feed information sooner to I-CAR, so that repair training programs can be offered as soon as, or even before, new models reach the market.
For example, recently, I-CAR introduced its repair training course for the Ford Motor Company F-150 all-aluminum truck. The course was offered well in advance of the truck’s launch, and repair technicians had an opportunity to obtain training before they would ever see the vehicle in their shops. This was a benchmark for the industry, and an illustration of how things should be done in the future.
For all aspects of repair training, I-CAR is an excellent resource for repair technicians. I-CAR is an international, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the information, knowledge and skills required to perform complete, safe and quality repairs. It offers access to high-quality, industry-recognized training solutions. Courses cover topics such as welding, rivet bonding and MIG brazing; and there are also OEM programs covering 16 car manufacturers. The I-CAR Industry Training Alliance awards credit hours that can be applied toward I-CAR Gold Class Professionals and Platinum Individual designations.
Another organization that is very proactive in providing information to the automotive repair industry is the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI). ETI’s mission is to advance the vehicle service industry by providing technical data and open dialog between the manufacturers of transportation products, government regulators and the providers of tools, equipment and service information.
Twice a year, ETI representatives visit the major OEMs to learn about new vehicle models and changes needed in repair techniques. ETI also surveys automotive repair facilities to understand their familiarity with and use of tools, equipment, services and technology. Members of ETI use this research to provide aftermarket shops with new and improved tools, equipment and services. ETI sponsors equipment and tool industry events that provide information on new technologies, products and services, and offer an opportunity for networking with industry leaders.
Most OEMs create training programs and documentation for repair procedures, and most European OEMs — including Cadillac, Corvette, Nissan GT-R, Toyota and Tesla — have excellent program. Repair information for most OEMs is available on their websites, through I-CAR’s website or on ALLDATA. Some manufacturers have been very proactive in making information accessible; Toyota’s Collision Repair & Refinish Training program only requires that your local Toyota/Lexus dealer “sponsor” you. Many others also follow this method. Call your local OEM parts or service managers and ask about these programs.
Car manufacturers, though, are starting to take more interest in developing repair programs. It really is in their best interest to have repairs done properly. A badly executed repair not only reflects poorly on the repair shop, but also has an adverse effect on the customer’s perception of the car model.
Another excellent source of training and education are the suppliers of repair products and tools. Suppliers must keep up with the latest OEM vehicle design changes in order to develop products both for production methods and repair procedures. Equipment suppliers, frame rack suppliers, welding tool suppliers – all have some type of training available for their customers. Check with your suppliers to see what programs they offer to repair technicians.
For example, LORD Corporation offers I-CAR Training Alliance courses. These training sessions cover the specifics of how to use repair adhesives. The courses are not vehicle specific, but rather general knowledge training on how adhesives work and how to use them. Courses can be conducted right at the shop – anytime throughout the day or in the evening, making it convenient to schedule training for a shop’s employees. Other manufacturers, including 3M, Valvoline and SEM, have also partnered with I-CAR on training courses.
Industry trade, training shows
Industry trade and training shows across the country also offer great opportunities for education. The inaugural Automechanika Chicago took place in April 2015 and trained — for free — 2,000 collision and service repair technicians during its three-day training course offerings that covered both technical and shop management topics. The annual NACE show, coming in August to Anaheim, Calif., provides a series of courses from presenters including I-CAR, the Automotive Management Institute and manufacturers. SEMA, which takes place is Las Vegas in early November, will again host the Society for Collision Repair Specialists’ Repairer Driven Education Series. Events like these all offer not only education for shop owners and techs, but also feature a trade show component that allows access to exhibitors who can help boost, streamline or improve a shop’s business.
OEM changes affect repair changes. With more aluminum being used in car design, the auto repair technician is faced with joining dissimilar materials, such as steel and aluminum. There are potential corrosion problems to consider when attaching dissimilar materials, and the right adhesive or joining method must be used to ensure a proper repair.
Among the newest repair products are two-component, crash-durable adhesives, specifically formulated to replace all OEM one-component crash-durable adhesives. These impact-toughened adhesives are ideal for repairing aluminum-bodied vehicles. Crash-durable adhesives offer the strength of structural adhesives, along with maximum flexibility. They also act as a sealant to the vehicle’s body structure. Applications include panel bonding, weld bonding and rivet bonding on aluminum panels.
Another fastening technology that is coming to the forefront is the self-piercing rivet. While this is not a new technology, it is becoming more widely used as a welding alternative, especially in all-aluminum vehicles. Self-piercing rivets (SPRs) look like “pellets” and are attached with a special tool that presses the rivets through multiple layers of metal. The panels are clinched together and the SPR becomes almost unnoticeable. SPRs are extremely strong and eliminate the visibility and interference inherent with traditional “pull” or “pop” rivets.
Training is key
There are always new things to be learned in the auto repair business – new products, new assembly techniques, new tools, and new materials. How to work with different substrates, how repairs are made, what tools are required – all these are changes that the savvy technician needs to keep up to date.
Knowing how to repair a vehicle and how to do it properly is a good business proposition, both for old and new car models. Good business strategy for a repair shop should center on training and education, and the power of knowledge. Knowledge gives you the power to fix a car properly, to negotiate the repairs appropriately and to have the best opportunity for a successful result.