Friday, 31 August 2007 17:00

Frame Systems Special Section: Entering the Age of Design Based Repairs

Written by Steve Frisbie
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In the past when a vehicle frame was damaged, the repair was simple…you just pulled it back into place.

        It’s no longer quite that easy.

        Automotive manufacturers have been under increasing and intensive pressure to produce vehicles that not only generate higher fuel efficiency ratings, but that simultaneously offer a greater degree of safety to the vehicle’s occupants. These pressures have led to the use of new and sophisticated structural materials such as Boron and AHSS (Advanced High Strength Steel), which are primarily used in passenger cages as well as other key areas of the vehicle’s structure.

        And while these materials are lightweight and do provide a much higher level of protection for vehicle passengers, they also require much different repair processes than the more traditional mild steel they replaced.

        Additionally, many safety-related systems, such as side air bags and ABS Systems, are now commonplace on most vehicles. Many of these systems are specifically tied to the collision dynamics of the vehicle frame so they will activate at the proper time in the event of a collision. However, if that frame is ever damaged in a collision and not properly repaired, it could fail to react as it was designed to in the event of another collision. What this means, in effect, is that the frame as well as all of the systems that rely on that frame to trigger their activation will not function as originally designed, which essentially renders them useless.

No time to waste

Most of these evolutionary vehicle design and material changes have occurred in the span of only a few short years, and their sheer volume has made it difficult for repair shops to keep pace with what they are and how to repair them. But keep pace they must if they are to survive in this industry.

        And while many body shops continue to earn a decent living painting and pulling sheet metal, those days are rapidly drawing to a close. The streets are now filled with vehicles bristling with sophisticated materials and systems. Crush zones, composites and systems calibrated to frames have become as common as lug nuts. And these advanced systems are no longer limited to just high-end luxury vehicles. They can now be found on vehicles in virtually every make, model and price range.

        Most of these high-tech systems can not be repaired using traditional repair techniques and equipment. Because of their unique properties and inter-dependence on other systems to function properly, these components often require specific repair procedures or replacement processes. Otherwise, they may not respond as designed if that vehicle is involved in another collision… if they respond at all! That places a tremendous responsibility – and liability – squarely on the shoulders of collision repair providers.

        Successful shops understand that to survive in the collision repair industry of the future, they must keep up with vehicle design changes as they occur and understand that each new design may require different repair processes and validation procedures.

        They must also be able to locate OEM information on the correct repair procedures for that vehicle and have the proper analysis tools available to validate that the repairs they make have returned all systems back to their original state. This process is becoming known as making “Design Based Repairs™,” and will require shops of the future to constantly reinvent themselves and the way they do business.


Need the details of construction

In a nutshell, Design Based Repairs means you must know how the vehicle was constructed and be aware of any special materials or systems that might impact how that vehicle should be repaired as well as where those materials are located on the vehicle. Most OEMs do a good job of providing this detailed information. The problem is in educating technicians and estimators to include this step in their repair plan process; knowing where to find the data specific to the vehicle needing repairs; and then having the correct tools and equipment available to make those repairs.

        As more of these newer vehicles are involved in collisions, smart shops will learn to address and resolve these issues and will purchase the tools and data required to properly repair these vehicles as per OEM recommendations. Additionally, these shops discover that having this information at hand will go a long way towards simplifying their lives because a tremendous side benefit is that this OEM repair data is extremely effective in justifying repair plans to insurance providers. Once an adjuster sees a plan based on a recommended OEM repair procedure, the debate over the estimate total is typically over.

New profit centers

Proactive shops recognize that Design Based Repairs creates additional profit opportunities as well. Typically, when new vehicle systems are damaged in a collision they need to be replaced. And there are a lot more systems in new vehicles than there ever were in the past. Components such as Oxygen Sensors, Height Sensors, Accelerometers, Cruise Control Proximity Modules and even headlights that follow the path of the vehicle are just a few of the myriad of systems and gadgets that must be checked, repaired or replaced if they are involved in a collision.

        In the past, most shops would farm out these services to other repair providers – and usually at a higher hourly rate. However, proactive shops have now begun to hire qualified technicians and have established dedicated service bays equipped to check, analyze and repair these various systems. As a result, they make more money on parts, they improve the shop throughout and, perhaps most importantly, they maintain total control of the vehicle throughout the repair cycle.

        Finally, Design Based Repairs can also help reverse the trend towards more vehicle totals. Using Design Based Repair methods enables shops to fix vehicles faster, better and be able to validate the results of their efforts. All of these factors contribute not only to higher quality repairs, but lower overall repair costs and a reduction in vehicle totals.

        Design Based Repairs. Get comfortable with the phrase because it’s destined to be the future of the collision industry for many years to come.

        Written by Randy Gard, president of Chief Automotive Technologies, and Steve Frisbie, Chief Automotive Technologies Marketing Manager.



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