In the auto industry, aluminum is a popular material for car body construction. It’s lightweight and durable – which makes it perfect for fuel efficiency! Many luxury brands now choose this lightweight material exclusively for their products, such as Audi, Range Rover, and more.
With the cost of aluminum being more expensive than steel, most cars and SUVs with this type of material are manufactured by high-end brands. Mainstream makes and models sometimes use aluminum for part of their vehicles.
Though aluminum has many benefits, it is also more difficult and time-consuming to fix than other materials.
Different types of aluminum used in cars
There are many types of aluminum being used in the auto industry.
The 1000 series is made up of pure aluminum, while the 2000 and 3000 have a small amount (less than 0.1%) of copper or manganese based alloys.
4000 has silicon in its composition to give it more strength for molding compared with other grades – the most popular industry standard being 4043 and 5356, which provide very good performance.
6000 and 7000 contain silicon or ZINC and can be heat treated.
It’s crucial for your auto repair shop to understand what material your car’s panels are made of, so they know how to treat it and what tools to use.
Aluminum repair – Not complicated, but different
Aluminum repair itself isn’t necessarily complicated, but it requires special tools, equipment and training.
We always use separate sets of tools for aluminum because traditional car repair tools may contain steel shavings which can cause corrosion when the two metals come into contact and be exposed to water – a chemical reaction known as galvanic corrosion.
Galganites Corrosion occurs most commonly on vehicle parts such as bodies or frames made from alloys containing zinc instead of iron.
It goes without saying that if you want to do any kind of aluminum frame repair, it’s not a DIY project. Every part requires professional service and tools!
Aluminum doesn’t have “metal memory”
Aluminum panels are more durable than steel so when something (like a hailstone) hits it, the impact affects only that specific area instead of spreading through-out.
The difference between steel and aluminum for paintless dent repair is like night and day.
When steel panels have dents, we can fix them by applying pressures behind to massage out the dents because steel has “metal memory” and wants to spring back.
When an aluminum panel is dented, it will not remember its previous shape. We have to reshape the panel, which makes the repair difficult and requires special skill to fix without damaging nearby areas.
Aluminum gets stiffer when worked on
When aluminum gets worked, it becomes harder and stiffer – this is called work hardening. This means that in one area you can only straighten or pull so much before the metal starts to resist further instead of bending easily as before.
The more damage an aluminum panel has, the harder it gets, and the more difficult it is to work on.
That’s why we may need to apply heat to an aluminum panel before it can be smoothed.
Any time when you apply heat, it’s always tricky. For example, if the panel contains adhesive, we never apply heat as it could create more damage.
Remember what we said at the beginning about the different types of aluminum? The allowable heat range for dent repair is different depending on the actual material.
Additionally, when working with aluminum, it is important to keep in mind that the metal can conduct heat quickly.
This means you must plan your repairs carefully and do them quickly but gently so as not damage any other parts of this sensitive material – or yourself for that matter!
How do experts repair aluminum panels?
It is important to have the right tools for specific aluminum panel repair needs and it’s best not to use them on anything else – cross contamination and galvanic corrosion cost further damage as described above.
A specialty auto repair shop should store these away from other items so they don’t get mixed up from tools for steel panel repairs.
When approaching an aluminum panel, we always try going around the most dented area – to work our way in since it’s never worth trying straight scrapes because they could create more damage than necessary.
Unless we’re dealing with body line edges – in this case, we work on direct damage right away to avoid work hardening issues.
If the dent is big, depending on the depth, we may need to reduce the size of a dent by heating it up.
Heating will relieve stress on your vehicle, raise low areas and make overall corrections less invasive than if no treatment was applied at all.
The difficulty is to make sure not to heat it up too much as paint may start bubbling or peel away from its surface due high temperatures (this includes clear coat). To avoid any mistakes, always refer to the original manufacturers for the series of aluminum you are working with.
Then we start the pulling process while the panel is still hot.
When it comes to aluminum dent repair, there is no shortcut we can take.
Should we replace a panel?
With steel panels, we can repair hundreds of dents and still end up cheaper than repairing the entire panel.
Aluminum on the other hand, does not have the same capabilities as steel.
So if your car’s damage is too extensive for repair on an individual panel then replacement may be necessary. Because repairs could lead to other complications down the line.
The size and location of the dents are crucial factors when deciding whether to repair or replace.
If we come to the conclusion that replacement is a better option than repairing the original panel, we will be transparent with you about the reasons and options.
One last thing, as car enthusiasts ourselves, we always try to get your insurance to pay for OEM parts so that your cars maintain the best value for the repair/replacement it goes through.