DETROIT -- By the time the 2015 aluminum-body Ford F-150 hits dealerships in the fourth quarter, thousands of collision repair technicians, insurance estimators, Ford field staffers and others will have gone to school in one of the biggest industry training programs ever.
The F-150 is the biggest-selling vehicle in the United States, and Ford wants to be sure there are collision repair specialists who know what they're doing the first time a wrecked one rolls into a shop.
When aluminum is bent or broken, it behaves differently than steel. Repair shops need to have different tools to perform some aluminum structural repairs, and Ford strongly recommends they set up separate areas for working on aluminum because of steel-aluminum contamination issues.
I-CAR, (the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) in Hoffman Estates, Ill., a nonprofit organization that trains and certifies repair technicians, will administer the training in conjunction with Ford. The automaker will cover the cost of training for one technician per dealership. Dealerships that want to have more than one trained technician will pay the additional training expense.
I-CAR is mobilizing a staff of at least 200 instructors, who went through a training program of their own.
"It's definitely a big undertaking, but it will not stress our capability," said Jason Bartanen, I-CAR's director of industry technical relations, "We've been preparing for this a couple of years"
He added that I-CAR has done training for Jaguar and Audi, both of which offer aluminum-body models, albeit in low volumes. I-CAR also prepared a program for about 2,000 Chevrolet dealers for the 2006 Corvette Z06.
Training costs will vary depending on the experience of a technician, but I-CAR says the two-day course will cost a little less than $1,000 per individual. The course will be taught in two parts: a general session on aluminum repair techniques and a session specific to the F-150.
Bartanen said Ford's effort to get technicians trained before the vehi- cle's launch is unprecedented.
"The Corvette training was released [between] 6 and 12 months after the release of Z06, is when we finally had a course available," he said. "For the F-150, we're going to have thousands of technicians available when that first vehicle pulls off the lot. That's a first for I-CAR, and I'm pretty proud of that."
Among the training requirements will be a weld test in which technicians will be asked to perform six welds from two different positions. I-CAR welding experts will travel to dealerships and repair shops to be sure that they have acquired the proper aluminum-handling equipment, and that it is installed properly, Bartanen said. The equipment will include such items as metal inert gas welders, rivet guns and vacuums to pick up aluminum dust.
Ford has said dealership collision repair technicians can start classes in May, and independent repair shops can start in June. Roughly 20 percent of all Ford dealerships have body shops; the rest outsource the work.
Technicians aren't the only ones who need a better understanding of the aluminum repair process. Insurance adjustors need education, too. Said Bartanen: "This training will be open to the insurance industry so insurance adjusters will know what to do and can write more accurate damage assessments in the field."