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Collision Professionals Share Challenges and Solutions in Early Bird Session

Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007
By Angie Kilbourne, AutoInc. Correspondent

At Friday morning’s Early Bird Roundtable session “Industry Trends – Today and Beyond,” approximately 80 collision repair professionals gathered to discuss some of the pressing problems they are encountering in their shops today.

Led by Jason Bartanen, technical director with I-CAR’s Tech Center, Appleton, Wis., the open forum allowed shop owners and techs to voice their biggest concerns they have regarding vehicle repairs today, share the solutions they’ve discovered with fellow professionals.

Bartanen kicked off the discussion with questions to the audience about their experiences in the shop with the new materials being used in vehicles, such as ultralight steel. He told participants that with the new emphasis on increased fuel economy, automakers were turning to these new materials to offset the weight increases from the additional safety features added to vehicles, such as side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags.

One of the most important considerations technicians need to understand, Bartanen explained, is that the use of welding equipment on or around these new materials may change their tensile strength capabilities. He told the audience that I-CAR recently did a number of tests on boron steel. I-CAR first performed baseline tensile tests, and the results showed that the pieces broke when 4,500 pounds of force was applied.

Then the samples were heated using welding equipment and the same tensile strength test was applied. The results showed fractures at only one-half of the baseline measurement. Bartanen told attendees that further testing is needed, but that it points to the fact that shops should use extreme caution and investigate the makeup of vehicle materials when heating any area.

In addition, Bartenan talked about the migration of secondary damage moving further away from the point of impact. He stressed that now, more than ever, a thorough damage analysis is required at the time estimates are being compiled. One attendee concurred, saying that it is now standard practice in his shop to measure every inch of a vehicle; no longer can you just walk around the vehicle to assess the damage. He said his shop puts every vehicle on the frame machine to discern even the slightest distortion, which can be turned over to insurance companies as documentation of further damage.

Participants also talked about the obstacles they are encountering when seeking repair information. A poll of the audience revealed that shops are using a mix of automaker service information Web sites, industry forums, and third-party provider information, such as ALLDATA, Mitchell and Identifix.

“There is a wealth of information out there,” said Bartanen. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find it, he added, but it’s there. He also said that a number of Web sites, such as the International Automotive Technicians Network (iATN) and I-CAR, have included directories of automaker and third-party information provider Web sites, with links and descriptions on the information included.

From the responses of the audience, it was clear that collision shops are feeling the pressures of the increased use of sensors and electronics in vehicles. A show of hands by the audience revealed that a clear majority have invested scan tools and voiced the opinion that it is imperative in today’s market to have these tools in the shop.

A number of attendees also related their experiences working with the new tire pressure monitoring systems and nitrogen-filled tires. Some told of their practice to totally replace tire sensors on specific makes if there was damage nearby, as there is no way to visually determine without a scan tool if these sensors were damaged.

Others provided insight into the calibration process when sensors are replaced, advising that it can take up to 20 minutes on some vehicles for the calibration process to complete. One shop owner talked about his efforts to return a customer’s vehicle to precrash condition, right down to finding another shop that could fill the tires with nitrogen for him.

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Copyright 2006. Automotive Service Association and AutoInc. Magazine. All rights reserved.
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