Smashing a brand new aluminum Ford F-150 with a sledgehammer is crazy, but what’s even crazier is the price tag to repair it. Editors at a consumer advice website smash aluminum-bodied pickup truck to investigate repair costs.
Ever since Ford Motor launched the industry’s first aluminum-bodied pickup truck, skeptics have wondered what it would cost to repair damage to the F-150′s “military grade aluminum” panels after a crash.
Now, thanks to a clever stunt by the folks at Edmunds.com, we have a good idea. And it’s not pretty.
Editors at the consumer advice website bought a $52,000 F-150 4X4 Super Crew for their long-term test fleet, then promptly took a sledgehammer to the rear quarter panel — twice — intentionally denting it so they could investigate the repair costs. (My first thought was, “Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?!”)
Edmunds’ goal, in the name of consumer awareness, was to test the theory that it’s more expensive to repair an aluminum truck than a steel one. Their answer? Way, way more. (There are a few flaws in their approach, however, which we’ll get to later.)
Here’s what Edmunds found: It wasn’t just the two fist-sized dents behind the rear wheel that needed repairing. The energy from the blows also left at least four creases in the aluminum panel. And, it turns out, that energy was enough to crack the rear tail light as well, which drove up the repair costs (way more, in fact, than you might imagine).
Even so, Edmunds Editor-in-Chief Scott Oldham says his team was surprised at how strong the F-150 was. “We were impressed with the resilience of the aluminum panel. We hit it and thought it would have far more damage than it did. So we hit it again. That was eye opening.”
Still, the real purpose of the stunt was to see how expensive it would be for major collision work. Ford helpfully pointed out that the price for a replacement right rear-quarter panel is exactly the same on a steel-bodied 2014 F-150 as it is on the aluminum-bodied 2015 model: $967.48. But Edmunds deliberately chose to smash the rear quarter panel because it’s a body part that is less likely to be swapped out like a damaged door, hood or front fender. Instead, it needed meticulous body work.
The problem is that the work has to be done in a segregated clean room — away from other metal particles that could cause contamination or paint adhesion problems — by trained experts in “aluminum-capable” body shops or dealerships using special tools. This isn’t that rare; after all, lots of cars have aluminum body panels so there are plenty of experts around. But the equipment is expensive. Ford pegs the cost at $30,000-$50,000 for a single service bay. Some dealers gripe they’ve spent closer to $70,000, which could take years to pay off.
The other issue, according to Edmunds, is that the dealer and an independent body shop told them the labor rate for aluminum repairs can be up to $120 an hour — twice the rate for traditional collision work — and aluminum is more difficult to work with, so the job takes longer.