Last month, Thatcham’s Repair Methods Assessment Group (ReMAG) released the first draft of its standards for repair methodology.
The proposals are aimed at setting a rigid structure for the format of the information to repairers and provide much-needed repair methods as close as possible to the vehicle’s launch.
ReMAG, launched in late 2007, includes a cross-section of repair industry stakeholders and has met twice to discuss the proposals.
Its focus is to establish rules for manufacturers to ensure that, when vehicles come into the bodyshop, the repairers are able to identify where different materials are used and repair them properly.
But exotic materials are not a new issue.
Audi introduced the world’s first mass-produced all-aluminium vehicle in 1994, the A8, and has since continued to improve upon its Audi Space Frame featured in its newer vehicles.
In the meantime, the arrival of Euro NCAP safety ratings has pushed manufacturers towards quicker development of safety features and, in turn, widespread use of stronger materials.
Tougher emissions regulation has forced carmakers to look more closely at kerb weights, despite the increasing inclusion of technology and safety features into their new vehicles.
And the move towards different materials is gathering pace.
In 2000, these were present in just four model ranges and even five years ago, Thatcham claimed just 5-10% of cars presented for repair featured alternatives to mild steel.
The number has risen dramatically, and now all new vehicles contain exotic materials.
With these materials comes a wider range of joining techniques.
From a situation where simple welding equipment could repair almost all the vehicle parc, today’s increasingly diverse mix of materials means a single repair job may now involve numerous different types of joints.
Although there are no figures linking poorly-repaired vehicles with fatal accidents, industry and media attention is raising awareness of the problems and manufacturers are discussing crash testing accident damaged cars.
However, the bodyshop industry has been quick to react to the change.
Many have made the required investment in tools and training, and the arrival of body repair standard PAS125 last year has meant insurer mandates which have driven up compliance. #AM_ART_SPLIT#
Around 100 are already accredited, and that figure is set to increase dramatically this year as the scheme gathers pace.
Phil Brailey, motor damage supplier manager at Allianz, says: “Bodyshops are professional in this country, provided the methodology is available, with equipment and training.
What to do and what not to do is not an issue.
The big issue is methodology – bodyshops have to get the information from manufacturers.
Once they’ve got that information the repair industry is more than capable of dealing with the challenge effectively.”
With such a wide variety of materials, joining methods and technology featuring in new cars, it has never been more essential for bodyshops to have access to full and accurate information.
But, in reality, it’s often not that simple.
Block Exemption places requirements on manufacturers to provide it, but sets no format or timescale for its release.
As a result, methods vary in cost and content and can arrive months after the model is launched, by which point the first accident damaged examples will have entered bodyshops.
Adam Murray, motor technical manager at Norwich Union, says just one of the 80 vehicles released last year had this data available at launch.
Recent analysis by Thatcham found big differences between the data available for new models.
It found mechanical electrical trim information is usually complete, but of the 90 vehicles analysed, 87 were missing panel methods and 31 were missing MET methods.
Andrew Marsh, TTS and methods operations manager at Thatcham, says this is unsatisfactory.
“Vehicle manufacturers should ensure that all methods are in place at the same time as the first vehicle is available to drive out of the showroom – anything less than that is a risk to the consumer.
Insurers, the repairers and the general public need to be aware of the present situation and continue to ask manufacturers to do better,” he says.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# And it’s not just high-end vehicles which suffer a lack of information.
The outgoing Vauxhall Vectra arrived on the market with no repair method, and delays meant even franchised bodyshops were unaware it contained high-strength steels.
But efforts are being made to resolve the problem.
Thatcham, for example, is releasing phased repair methods through its Escribe service, starting with the most common jobs, with the aim of making these available closer to the vehicle’s launch.
In August, Audatex will trial the long-awaited release of Auda- Enterprise Gold, including a system which will identify materials using different colours.
This will be made available as an update in September.
But Mark Stamp, product development director at Audatex UK, says there are still limitations: “The introduction of colour-coded graphics is dependent upon the supply of information from the vehicle manufacturers.
Just because a part is not colour-coded doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not UHSS or another special material.
The colour-coding mechanism is a guide and will only be as comprehensive as the information available to us”.
New materials are set to appear in almost all repairs, but the industry has been quick to keep up.
Investment in tools and training, as well as new standards and help from bodies such as Thatcham, has made the rapid pace of development manageable.
The onus now falls on manufacturers to ensure repair methodologies are available as soon as the car arrives in showrooms, and help avoid potentially dangerous incorrect repairs.
Information so important to repairers
Different materials and joining techniques can cause problems for estimators, as well as repairers.
If the information is not presented in the repair methods and subsequently discovered during the repair it can mean time-consuming amendments to the original estimate.
Thatcham’s Estimator Accreditation and Systems Transparency initiative (EAST) set out to address the issues.
As a result of its work, the Bodyshop Estimator ATA was launched last year, with practical assessments run by the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors.
It is now concentrating its efforts on auditing manufacturer and estimating system repair times.
“Bodyshops are pretty good at accuracy,” says Phil Brailey of Allianz.
“Professional repairers and insurers want the right price for the job.
If we all strive for that it takes a lot of conflict out of the system.”