June 9, 2017 by Jack Rozint, Vice President of Sales and Service, Mitchell Auto Physical Damage Solutions
Vehicle complexity has significantly increased over the last decade, with sophisticated electronics, safety features and the type of materials used in car manufacturing continuing to evolve. Gone are the days when collision repair was simply about sheet metal, headlamp and bumper replacements.
Instead, adaptive front lighting, front and rear back-up systems, 360-degree cameras and automatic braking have all contributed to the complexity of vehicles as they have improved safety. A few years ago, many of these advanced safety systems could only be found in high-end vehicles, but are now being built into the manufacturing process on mid-level sedans, cross-overs, pick-ups and mini-vans.
As the cost of safety components continues to decrease and consumer demand increases, more and more vehicles will be built with advanced safety features in the coming years. While these new features will have a direct impact on bodily injuries and collision severity, they will also present new challenges for collision repair facilities.
Over the last few years, many of the new vehicle safety features that have been developed were built to help with accident avoidance. From automatic braking to blind spot detection systems, vehicles are becoming smarter to keep drivers and passengers safe and avoid collisions altogether.
But accidents continue to occur, and as such, advances in technology, design and special materials are helping to reduce the risk of severe injuries when a collision takes place. For example, the number of air bags installed in some vehicles has increased from two to 10 or more, providing added protection to passengers. In addition, the increased use of special materials in car manufacturing, such as high-strength steel and aluminum, has also helped create passenger compartments that are crush-resistant and safer.
An article posted to the website of the United States Department of Energy reports that at the equivalent weight, aluminum can absorb twice the crash energy of mild steel. This permits the design of larger crush zones without weight penalties.
On top of that, it is anticipated there will be a continued expansion of special materials used in vehicles, with projections of 90 % growth in the use of high-strength steel by 2025. But while these advancements are making vehicles safer, injury severity is being offset with distracted drivers.
Distracted driving continues to play a bigger role in the traffic accidents and fatalities that occur each year. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that during daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving. Advances in technology and a mobile workforce have allowed people to be “always on” and connected 24/7, only increasing the amount of distraction drivers face.
Now people are no longer just talking on their phones while driving, but texting, emailing and watching and posting videos. As a result, while vehicles become safer, drivers become more dangerous, offsetting progress made to reduce accidents. In turn, new technology and features have made the vehicle repair process even more complex.
Fixing a car as little as five years ago was drastically different than what the repair process looks like today. A repair that used to be a simple replacement of a bumper cover and headlamp now includes everything from a bumper cover, headlamp, camera in the grille, sensors used for assisted parking and airbag deployment sensors. With each new added feature, it becomes another step, another part and another skill that manufacturers and collision repair facilities need to consider.
Similarly, the repair of a side mirror used to just mean getting a new mirror and attaching it. Now, the mirror might be heated for defrosting, include a blind spot-detection sensor and require a scan tool for recalibration of the blind spot-monitoring system, all adding to the complexity of the repair.
These new features present a number of challenges in the repair process, including more equipment to repair and more expensive parts, leading to higher repair costs. On top of that, a higher level of training is required for technicians doing the repairs. As technology continues to evolve, so do the skills and knowledge of the people tasked with fixing a bumper that has multiple components.
In order to most effectively service customers, collision repair facilities need to devote extra time studying new parts, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) repair procedures and how to correctly execute repairs on late-model vehicles. This presents a challenge in and of itself given the rapid level of change that occurs each year with technological advancements. In fact, as advanced technology continues to be built into vehicles, claims and repair organizations face challenges in keeping up with the rapidly evolving industry.
Carriers have a plethora of data on vehicles and repairs available today, but it is not typically categorized to split out repair costs for high-tech safety systems, such as advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). Therefore, being able to pinpoint and analyze how much of repair severity is attributed to these systems is not easy.
On top of that, many OEMs who developed these technology features did not consider how the technology would impact vehicle repairs until after it was introduced. Because technology has changed so rapidly and has been adopted so quickly, car manufacturers did not account for how the after-market would need to become better versed in repairs, or that they would need deeper insights and data on how to fix these new systems.
As consumers continue to request the latest technology in their vehicles, advancements in safety features will only continue to grow. But while this trend toward improved vehicle safety continues, distracted driving seems to be on a path to keep collision rates high.
These more complex vehicle systems will continue to add to the complexity of vehicle repairs. In the past few years, the repair costs related to advanced safety systems and special materials have increased dramatically on late-model year vehicles. This trend can be expected to continue in the future, as manufacturers, collision repair facilities and carriers need to work together to keep up with the latest developments.
—Jack Rozint, Vice President of Sales and Service, Mitchell Auto Physical Damage Solutions