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New steels threat to bodyshop business

Increasing use of new high-strength steels in mainstream cars means insurers and fleets must place repairs with properly equipped bodyshops, claims network ABS. It believes the develop strengthens its demands for an independently accreditated bodyshop industry.

Use of boron steel is expected to grow because it offers greater strength than standard steel for the same weight and thickness – but it also requires specialist tooling and skill levels. It is used for certain panels in the latest generation Vectra and can also be found in models from Volvo and Porsche. In the current tough body repair market, however, some repairers simply cannot make this investment.

Terry Mander, Bizzi Bodies of Warwick's MD, says: “Boron repairs take longer and require more skill than a normal steel repair. The danger is that any repairer could use normal procedures and equipment, and believe they have completed the job to a high standard. However, in any subsequent accident, the welds would be weak and the vehicle will not have the same structural strength. Lives could be put at risk.”

Alan Hodgkinson, the chief exec at repairer network ABS, is checking that bodyshops are able to accept boron steel repairs, but questions whether all insurers and fleets are doing the same. “There is a strong possibility that some repairers are ‘having a go’ at completing the repair anyway,” he says.

“We believe that developments of this kind lend weight to the argument that the industry needs an independent accreditation process to grade repairers according to their capabilities. Boron steel is just one new material that is finding its way on to cars, and the days of the ‘one size fits all’ repairer may be numbered. Repairers may soon be forced to develop specialisations in certain materials or certain carmakers.”

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