When Ford decided to go with an aluminum body in the 2015 Ford F-150, the redesigned pickup shed more than 700 pounds and gained considerably better fuel economy.
Ford’s light-weighting innovation has spread ripples into the collision-repair world, which has previously seen aluminum bodies only on exotic, high-end vehicles from Aston Martin, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
It has also sparked discussions among fleet managers about its reparability, including the ability of shops to work on aluminum, labor-rate costs, as well as parts availability and pricing.
Ford says it has implemented engineering changes to the truck that will reduce labor hours and keep increases in the cost of parts to a minimum, while assuring new owners that insurance premiums should remain steady.
“Being made out of high-strength aluminum alloy changed what the collision industry was used to working with,” says Paul Massie, Ford’s collision and powertrain product marketing manager. “Everyone looks at this as a major change, and it is. Long before the vehicle had final approval to move forward as an aluminum-intensive vehicle, there was a lot of work done to analyze the market, equipment and training.”
Designed for Reparability
In several ways, the 2015 F-150 will be easier to repair than the outgoing model in five key areas of the truck, including the apron tube, A-pillar tube, B-pillar tube, floor pan and lower control arm bracket, says Massie.
The vehicle’s high-strength steel frame is now sectionable with a front stub, front third and rear third available for service.
As a result, the front lower control arm mounting brackets can now be replaced without the need to replace the frame section. Also, the new apron tube allows more accessible joints, which is designed to save labor time because the technician no longer must remove the instrument panel for weld access.
Removing and replacing the apron tube and front fender would cost about $1,773 for the 2015-MY vehicle compared with $1,988 for the 2014-MY truck, according to an estimate from Ford using the State Farm Insurance Co. CCC estimating software.
Ford also implemented a parts pricing policy to keep the cost of parts in line with the outgoing model.
Owners should expect comparable parts prices for similar parts as the 2014-MY F-150 because not all parts prices will increase.
When there is no match or no close parts match due to new technology, Ford has selected a reduced pricing strategy, Massie says.
Ford has also begun offering new coverage for paint adhesion under the corrosion warranty of five years and unlimited miles.
Readying for Repairs
To complete collision repairs on the 2015 F-150, shops are being asked to purchase special equipment, modify their work space to prevent cross-contamination with steel body repairs and send technicians to additional courses offered by I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair). Ford chose the group to lead shop training with its 2,000 volunteers and 450 part-time instructors to teach courses.
Ford has been laying the groundwork for its aluminum-intensive truck for some time. The automaker approached I-CAR two and a half years before debuting the vehicle at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show to develop training protocols, says Jason Bartanen, I-CAR’s director of industry technical relations.
“Ford has done a fantastic job about thinking about the reparability of the vehicle,” said Bartanen. “They put together a very comprehensive tooling program. They made that available to dealers. They’ve designed the vehicle with reparability in mind.”
Fleets seeking body shops set up to work on the aluminum-body truck can use Ford’s owner locator tool (owner.ford.com) to identify a dealer or independent shop certified to make the repairs. There are now 757 dealers and 890 independent shops certified to make aluminum repairs. These shops have purchased the proper equipment and completed I-CAR’s training courses, Massie says.
When seeking collision repair estimates to the 2015 F-150, fleet managers may encounter varied price quotes from shops. Estimates may vary based on the skill, training and equipment of the shop providing the repair estimate.
For the fleets that perform their own body work, Ford has provided an equipment list, technician training and step-by-step procedures.
Fleet managers who receive disparate price estimates should ask the shops providing the estimates if they have completed the I-CAR training.
Other questions could include whether they have aluminum-welding capability, whether they employ an aluminum-trained welder and whether they have the right equipment and tools.
“You want to seek out a facility that is certified to repair that vehicle,” said Tony Molla, spokesman for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “The certification is not for the individual; it’s for the facility.”
The TCO Equation
The jury is still out on total cost of ownership (TCO) for the 2015 F-150; however, fleet owners should not expect a high cost-to-own increase from the 2014 to 2015 F-150 models, according to an analysis from Vincentric.
Vincentric analyzed the ownership costs over three years and 60,000 miles for the regular cab, extended cab and crew cab models in rear-wheel drive at the XL trim level.
What they found was that fleets who own the F-150 XL extended cab and crew cab models should realize a cost savings over the 2014 model. Although owners of the regular cab truck may experience a slight increase in cost of ownership, the projected increase over the three years and 60,000 miles should be negligible.
While insignificant, the cost factors that have increased between models include fees and taxes, finance, insurance, repairs and maintenance.
Buyers of the 2015 F-150 will see a reduction in fuel costs based on improved fuel economy and reduced vehicle weight, according to Vincentric.