Ford’s shift from steel to aluminum on its biggest-selling vehicle is an enormous industrial undertaking and affects everyone from the factory floor to the collision repair shop. Ford wants to be sure collision repair specialists know what they’re doing the first time a damaged aluminum pickup rolls into a shop.
Ford sold 763,402 F-series trucks in 2013. It doesn’t report sales of the F-150 separately from the rest of the F series, but Ford production statistics show that 69 percent of all F-series production was F-150 in 2013.
The I-CAR training course will be divided into two segments. The first teaches general aluminum repair techniques, including aluminum welding and the operation of rivet guns. The second concentrates on particular design elements of the 2015 F-150 itself.
Ford has offered to pay the cost of one technician per dealership for the training course, which takes about two days and costs about $1,000. Dealerships that want to have more than one trained technician will pay the additional expense to send extra technicians.
To work on aluminum, Ford recommends that dealerships with body shops and independent repair shops buy new tools, including specialized rivet guns, MIG (metal inert gas) welders, and specialized vacuum systems. Ford has estimated dealerships can buy the equipment they need to get started for $30,000 to $50,000.
When aluminum is bent or broken, it behaves differently than steel. Aluminum does not have the “metal memory” to resume its original shape, as steel does.
Ford strongly recommends collision shops set up separate areas for working on aluminum because of steel-aluminum contamination issues. Galvanic corrosion, similar to rust, can occur when the metals touch each other. Combustion can also occur when the two metals mix.
Among the training requirements will be a weld test in which technicians will be asked to perform six welds from two positions. I-CAR welding experts will travel to dealerships and repair shops to be sure that they have acquired the proper aluminum-handling equipment and that it is installed properly, Bartanen said.
Roughly 20 percent of Ford’s more than 3,000 dealerships have body shops; the rest outsource the work to other dealerships or to independent collision repair shops. Ford said it has enrolled about 420 independent shops and hopes to enroll 750 by year end.
Technicians aren’t the only ones who need a better understanding of the aluminum repair process: Insurance adjusters do too.
Said Bartanen, “This training will be open to the insurance industry so insurance adjusters will know what to do and can write more accurate damage assessments.”
I-CAR and Ford experts also will offer lectures and demonstrations on repairing the new F-150 at the International Autobody Congress & Exposition (NACE) July 30–August 2, 2014, in Detroit, MI.
The 2015 F-150 is scheduled to arrive in dealerships in the fourth quarter.