Dear Car Talk: When Ford introduced its new F-150 with aluminum body parts, I heard some complaints that some body shops might not be able to repair them, and those that did might charge more than if the truck were a normal steel body version. What's the evidence so far? Anybody have any cost or other problems getting their aluminum-body F-150's dents and body damage repaired? -- George
Ford's "Reynolds Wrap Edition" aluminum-heavy F-150 arrived in 2015 with a lot of promise. The use of aluminum body panels instead of steel made the new truck much lighter, which improved mileage, and promised "No rust. Ever." But a big concern was the cost of repairs, particularly the cost of replacing body panels.
If you have a little dent, pretty much any body shop can bang it out, fill it with Bondo and repaint it for you. But when you have to replace full panels, welding aluminum is a lot different than welding steel. To weld aluminum, body shops need to purchase expensive, new equipment, and get special training to use it. And based on Father Guido Sarducci's "law of supply-a and-a demand-a," you'd figure that fewer competing body shops would lead to higher prices, right?
So here we are, a few years later, and how much have F-150 body repair costs gone up? Zero. We checked with IIHS (the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), which, as you might guess, carefully tracks insurance payouts. The organization's latest report on the F-150, from April 2017, found that the cost of body repairs, compared to the 2014 F-150, has stayed the same.
How could this be, you ask? Well, a lot of it has to do with Ford. They were rightfully concerned that stories about higher repair costs could lead people to avoid F-150s and buy Chevys instead. So they took a bunch of proactive steps to make sure repair costs didn't go up.
They offered discounted repair equipment to their dealerships, along with training. They lowered the price of the aluminum body parts, making many of them cheaper than comparable steel parts. And, they made the truck more modular. So if you bash the front-right corner of your new F-150 into a concrete pole in a parking garage, you might be able to replace just the affected section, rather than the whole front fender (which is how you'd fix the older, steel F-150).
Since some of this cost control is dependent on Ford keeping the prices of their aluminum parts low, keep in mind that this story could change over time. Although Ford does have a huge and continuing interest in avoiding headlines like "F-150 costs more to repair than competitors." The F-150 is Ford's best-selling vehicle, and any meaningful drop in sales would be a disaster for them.
So as long as there's heavy competition to sell pickup trucks, and as long as the world's supply of aluminum remains plentiful, there should be no major issues repairing F-150s. When you see a can of beer go up to $23, that'll be your clue to start worrying, George.