More and more auto manufacturers are looking at aluminum as a significant portion of a vehicle’s body. But what happens after the car hits the road and requires repairs? Body shops are discovering that they need to quickly get with the times in order to keep up. From Body Shop Business:

Ever since Ford announced the release of its new F-150, aluminum seems to be the talk of the industry. Due to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards requiring automakers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, the maker of America’s best-selling vehicle turned to military grade aluminum alloy to make it 750 lbs. lighter.

But some shop owners aren’t too enthusiastic about the change. For one, purchasing special equipment to properly repair aluminum is a significant investment – one that some speculate will offer little to no return.

“The biggest challenge facing repairers isn’t becoming capable in aluminum repair; it is the downward pressure being placed on repairs from an expectation that somehow we are able to do more, and invest more, for a lesser return,” said Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS).

Dan Risley, president and executive director of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), estimates that less than 20 percent of the industry is ready to perform structural repairs on aluminum vehicles.

“I think a larger portion of the industry is capable of repairing non-structural aluminum parts, but they aren’t equipped to do it. Unfortunately, many of them aren’t properly equipped to do it.”

While the return on investment won’t just magically appear overnight, Risley says that the shops that make the investment in equipment and training will be the ones that survive in the end.

“It probably doesn’t make financial sense for [shops] to pursue it today if they don’t have the capital. However, it will start to even out as more mainstream vehicles, such as the Ford F-150, are manufactured. If you don’t do this at some point, you’re going to be blocked out from repairing those cars.”

And it’s not just the customers who will take their business elsewhere – shops will be facing increased scrutiny from insurance partners, too.

“Insurance companies are going to start identifying which shops are equipped and trained to repair [aluminum] cars,” said Risley. “So if you’re a shop that’s reliant upon direct repair referrals, quite frankly some of those referrals will never make it to your door because you can’t properly repair the vehicle.”

As with any industry, staying ahead of trends is the key to survival. As aluminum becomes more and more of an industry standard, the proper training and equipment for body shops will become a fact of life, not just a luxury.