Ever since automobiles were created, a wide range of body materials have been tried, tested, and favored by manufacturers and drivers alike. For many years, steel has been the material of choice for auto bodies, but now aluminum has taken the spotlight. Sustainable, lightweight, and durable, aluminum is giving steel some serious competition. The only place where aluminum may lose a little ground, however, is in the auto body repair shop.
You may wonder why aluminum and steel are treated so differently by your mechanic. They’re both metals, right? Turns out, the properties of these two common materials are different—which means those differences change the way your car is maintained and repaired, too.
Here’s what you need to know:
Differences Between Aluminum and Steel Repairs
Curious about the dissimilarities between steel and aluminum auto body repair? While both materials are considered metals, they are, in fact, more different than you’d expect.
Parts and Labor
The main difference between steel and aluminum is that steel is still easier to acquire. Aftermarket parts are still mostly available in steel. Meanwhile, aluminum replacements can be difficult to acquire. That is why most aluminum parts end up being OEM parts, while steel repairs are usually done with aftermarket items.
How does this affect labor? Aluminum vehicles require a whole other set of skills. Welding changes. Tools may need to be different, too. There are a few reasons for that that we’ll be explaining in the next sections.
First, steel has something called “metal memory,” which is kind of like muscle memory but not. This means that, if steel gets dented, you can reshape it back into its original form, thereby reducing the overall cost of repair.
Due to its pliability and lack of metal memory, aluminum is harder to repair once its been dented, meaning you would most likely opt for full replacement instead of repairs. However, there are plenty of skilled technicians who can reshape aluminum parts by hand if need be. Many body shops are also adding aluminum dent pulling tools to their stations.
Aluminum and Steel Won’t Mix
Did you know that steel and aluminum don’t get along? Interestingly, aluminum can corrode steel and vice versa. Though contact corrosion is much more probable with plumbing, the chance of it happening in the automotive realm is there.
For instance, if a mechanic does not know not to use tools that recently touched steel on an aluminum vehicle, they could unknowingly compromise the integrity of your car.
That is why many auto body garages are separating aluminum cars from steel cars and even constructing specialized bays. Even dust from steel can accelerate the breakdown of aluminum.
Responsiveness to Heat
Welding is often a necessary step in auto body repairs and replacement. Steel was traditionally worked with welding, but now aluminum calls for mechanics to change things up a bit. Steel takes longer to heat than aluminum, so those who aren’t used to working with aluminum may end up overheating the metal and damaging it. Because of this risk, many vehicles comprised of aluminum are repaired using alternative methods. For example, there are now specialized rivets and adhesives that combine aluminum joints together.
Costs of Repair
You may have seen our other article about the costs of repairing aluminum cars compared to steel. If you haven’t, here is what you need to know:
You personally do not have to worry about paying more for car repairs. As long as you have car insurance with a reasonable deductible, the price is always going to be the same, no matter what. Moreover, the cost of aluminum repairs will not affect your insurance premium.
Secondly, aluminum body vehicles do not cost more to service, since the parts are designed to be installed quickly and easily. Though aluminum may still be rare, that rarity does not affect labor. Just make sure you have chosen an auto body shop with technicians who are well versed in both steel and aluminum repairs.
Is the Future Made of Aluminum?
Sure, aluminum may require a little more expertise and additional tools of the trade, but it is quickly becoming a popular opponent to steel. The main differences between aluminum and steel is that aluminum is more lightweight and parts are designed for efficiency, whereas steel is heavier and may take longer to repair due to the density of the metal.
Whether you have a steel or aluminum vehicle, don’t wait another day to get the body repaired! The longer you wait, the worse the damage could be. We’re here to help, so submit your request by filling out the contact form. A member of our professional team will be in touch.