Automakers' growing use of aluminum body parts to save weight and fuel could create an opportunity for dealership F&I departments to sell more paintless dent removal policies, some F&I experts say.
Aluminum is not new. Import brands such as Audi, Jaguar and Land Rover have relied on aluminum body panels for years. But the redesigned, all-aluminum Ford F-150 pickup puts aluminum on the mainstream F&I agenda because there's a perception that it's susceptible to dents and dings.
"Can't sell dent-and-ding? Ford built the new F-150 out of aluminum," said Rick McCormick of F&I training firm Reahard & Associates at a conference in September. He said some imports' aluminum decklids need to be closed just right every time to avoid dings.
Ford Motor Co. insists the notion that aluminum is fragile is urban myth. Spokesman Mike Levine said last week the new F-150's "high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body is more dent and ding resistant than the outgoing F-150."
Cliff Eller, executive vice president of F&I provider EFG Cos., says experience with a limited number of aluminum body panels shows that fixing them using traditional paintless dent removal techniques is more labor-intensive and time-consuming than fixing typical sheet metal.
Paintless dent removal involves inserting tools behind a dent and pushing and pulling until the dent is eliminated. Whether aluminum is vulnerable to dents or not, Eller said, higher aluminum use likely will cause upward pressure on the cost of the average claim and, therefore, the retail cost of coverage. He speculated that if they were priced separately, standard dent-and-ding coverage might be $125 versus $175 for an all-aluminum body.
Added EFG CEO John Pappanastos: "At the end of day it comes down to what people will pay for the product. It's clear there will be pressure on the upside."