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Sean McKotch of Professionals Auto Body uses an electric stud puller on the aluminum body parts of a Tesla. Mirror photo of Patrick Waksmunski

Aluminum has been a part of motor vehicles since the invention of the Model-T, but in 2015 when it was announced that the Ford F-150 would be made of aluminum, it changed that.

Today, aluminum can be found in almost every new car, said Jason Stahl, editor of Body Shop Business magazine, a Babcox Media publication and a leading source of information for the car industry. body repair.

“It’s not new, just different” said Stahl.

Adding more aluminum has changed the way vehicles are repaired, local body shops report.

Ron Perretta, owner of Professionals Auto Body, Duncansville, cites many differences in repairing steel versus aluminum.

Stuckey Automotive Collision Center technician Harold Bradley demonstrates the Pro Spot aluminum self-drilling rivet gun. Mirror photo of Patrick Waksmunski

“We need separate tools to work with aluminium. We must have a separate space. Ventilation must be good, he said. “Aluminum dust deteriorates other metals and contaminates aluminum if we use metal tools. You must have good lighting at 750 lumens.

The aluminum also needs to be heated to over 400 degrees, before work on the piece can begin, he said.

“If you don’t, any solder you make will crack,” said Peretta.

Aluminum is lighter and more fuel efficient than steel, said Mike Schnarrs, manager of the Stuckey Collision Center, Duncansville, and it doesn’t corrode.

“I haven’t seen an aluminum F-150 corrode,” he said.

The downside, however, is “You need separate tools. Aluminum and steel do not like each other. he said.

“Steel has more memory; aluminum is more likely to tear. Aluminum is more difficult to weld than steel due to the composition of the material,” said Schnarrs.

Stahl agreed, noting that when steel is dented, crushed, or otherwise weathered, he wants to return to its original shape.

“Aluminum has no ‘memory’, so it is more difficult to work with. In addition, aluminum has a lower melting point than steel. In general, the exotic or advanced metals in today’s vehicles are more heat sensitive, and failure to follow the automaker’s repair guidelines can compromise the structural integrity of these metals. » said Stahl.

Getting the equipment can be a major investment for body shops.

Perretta invested over $250,000 in equipment to complete the aluminum repairs.

And, he says, it’s very expensive to get certified.

Perretta staff have completed hours of training and received numerous certifications.

Aluminum required a lot of new learning about how to make repairs.

“The level of education that was thrown at the industry was immense compared to previous years,” wrote Mitch Becker, collision industry trainer for 30 years and I-CAR instructor for more than 25 years in Body Shop Business magazine.

Finding people is always a challenge.

“It’s hard to find talent. I was lucky with that, we are complete”, said Peretta. “It’s more difficult (to do aluminum repairs) because of the amount of training required on how to use the equipment and you have to understand the metals you’re working on.”

The Stuckey Collision Center has a cooperative program with the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center.

“We’ve had it for years for repairs and technicians. We encourage young people to take an interest in auto repair. … They are one of our oldest connections in the community,” said Karen Beauchamp, Marketing Director of Stuckey.

Aluminum is likely to play a bigger role in vehicles.

“I see more and more companies opting for aluminium. Along with Ford’s success, it speaks volumes about the value that aluminum brings to their vehicles. Aluminum will be a bigger factor in the future,” said Schnarrs.

“Now they are talking about magnesium. Some vehicles may contain three different metals and you need three different welders,” said Peretta.

“Not all shops repair aluminum due to the investment in tools and the need to have the space to do it properly”, said Schnarrs.

“The F-150 did what Ford said it did: it revolutionized our industry and the manufacturers. As stubborn as this industry is to change, the F-150 has forced us all to look ahead and change. To survive or thrive, you must accept all changes. This includes aluminum. Learning and moving forward is not only necessary; it is absolutely imperative to survive,” Becker wrote.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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