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High strength steel causes havoc

Confusion and controversy is mounting in the bodyshop industry over repairs made to vehicles containing High Strength (HSS) or Ultra High Strength Steels (UHSS) like Boran.

The Body Repair Industry Campaign (BRIC) and Jeff Mack, head of the RMI’s bodyshop division, claim that only 20% of bodyshops are equipped to deal with UHSS.

Both accuse insurance companies of failing to make sure their repairers have the proper equipment and skills to correctly repair vehicles, and say that low profitability in the industry is preventing repairers investing in appropriate equipment and training.

“If an insurer is asking a repairer in their approved network to repair a car, they need to make sure it has the proper equipment to do the job,” says Mack. “They have a duty of care to their policyholders.”

Shaun O’Reilly, research director of BRIC, adds: “Many repairers are unable or unwilling to finance this new type of welding kit as the economic outlook for them under the existing conditions is so poor.”

Since coming on to the market in 2002, most new cars use UHSS somewhere in their construction.

According to Thatcham figures from September 2003, between 5% and 10% of vehicles presented for repair had at least some body parts made from the material. Thatcham was compiling a list of cars using the material but is now referring repairers needing technical information direct to car manufacturers.

Ron Nicholson, former director-general of the VBRA, says: “Our members are all accredited by the British Welding Standard. They are all up to speed on UHSS.” However, he agrees with BRIC that tight margins are making investment difficult.

Peter Coffey, MD of welding equipment supplier Wielander and Schill, confirms that specialist tools and skills are needed to repair UHSS. However, he adds, “There is a lot of misleading information about the equipment needed.

The minimum requirements are: 8000 amps with a clamping force of 300 Decanewtons, and the tip should be 14mm in diameter. MIG brazing units should use inverter technology.”

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