Sledgehammers and Golf Balls and Aluminum, Oh My!

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Aluminum. It’s used to make cans in which you drink beer out of. It’s the key material in a wrap you use to preserve food. It’s also a lightweight material that is used in cars and trucks. Most recently, it’s made headlines by being the main component in the body of the 2015 Ford F-150.

Ever since Ford announced they were using the material, people began asking questions. Is it safe? How much will it cost to repair? Is it as tough as steel?

Early on, Ford began touting the process the went through to ensure the new truck is as tough as the old one. They showed the truck being tested in a variety of harsh situations, showing the world the greatness of the alloy. But it seems people still weren’t entirely convinced.

Then, they employed a Tough Science video series to show the strength and resiliency of aluminum over steel. But even then, it didn’t answer the repair cost question.

http://youtu.be/K8gbEfeVGhw

Most recently, the folks at Edmunds.com smashed a brand new F-150 with a sledgehammer and took it to the body shop to be repaired. They learned that aluminum repair is more expensive, per hour of labor, than steel. Also, the body shop said it would take them longer to repair the aluminum than it would to repair steel.

Clearly aluminum is more expensive and it was a stupid idea for Ford to use it, right? Wrong. We still don’t have the fully story.

Yes, aluminum repair, by the hour, is more expensive than steel repair. It also takes longer to repair the aluminum than it would steel. But the aluminum that Ford is using on their trucks is stronger than the steel it’s replacing.

If you were driving along the street and hit a parked car in a steel F-150, you’d cause a certain amount of damage to your truck. If you hit that same parked car, at the same speed and trajectory, with an aluminum F-150 you’d cause a different amount of damage to the truck. Based on the Tough Science video, and Ford’s claims, the damage would be less on the aluminum truck than the steel.

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Less damage means it would take less time to fix, which would lower the repair costs of the aluminum. So if it costs twice as much to repair aluminum, but aluminum only suffers half as much damage, the repair costs for the 2015 F-150 should be similar to the 2014 and older F-150.

What I want to see is two trucks receive the same type of damage and see which one holds up better. Maybe when the IIHS crash tests a new truck we can compare how it holds up against the steel truck?

I imagine that repair costs will end up being a wash over of the old truck. It’s more expensive to fix, but the truck will see less damage. I don’t think Ford would’ve invested so highly in the material if that didn’t end up being the case.

Tell us what you think in the forum.>>

Chad Kirchner is a regular contributor to Corvette Forum and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other auto sites.

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