Aluminum: Too Much Focus?

By Jason Stahl

At last month’s Collision Industry Conference, Ford gave a much anticipated presentation on the F-150, revealing more details, especially on repairability, of the vehicle with the military-grade aluminum alloy body and high-strength steel frame.

Yes, I’m talking aluminum again, just like last month. And in so doing, I might be doing the very thing that someone at the conference suggested we as an industry not do: put too much focus on aluminum. Because the technical challenges today aren’t just about aluminum. They’re about high-strength steel. Carbon fiber. Collision avoidance systems. The newer, more vibrant, translucent finishes coming from OEMs. Even glass. 

The person wondered aloud how we could focus so much on aluminum when we haven’t even mastered welding on steel yet. I could see his point, given that a welding instructor once told me you could get 10 welders in a room and ask them if they think they’re a good welder, and all 10 will raise their hand. But give them a destructive weld test, and only two of the 10 will pass. But he wasn’t trying to call out welders; his point was that, aluminum aside, we need a total culture change in the industry, from “I have all the knowledge I need to fix cars because I’ve been doing this for 20 years” to accepting that continual training is necessary.

Sometimes I wonder myself how great it would be to go back to the good ol’ days of heat and hammers, but last I checked, no one has invented a time machine yet. The fact is that these modern-day marvels we call cars are here to stay, and they’re only going to have more and more exotic materials introduced into them as automakers strive to hit the CAFE standards of 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016 and 54.5 by 2025.

As Mitch Becker says in our technical article, “Are You Missing the Boat?” “Ignoring change and not accepting it has only one outcome.” 

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