Tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that repairing body damage on the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 took longer and cost 26 percent more than on the 2014 F-150 made of steel.
Ford Motor Co. disagreed with the conclusions.
The institute’s findings are the latest round of evidence that it could cost more to own a vehicle made with significant amounts of aluminum, a perception that Ford has been fighting since it began rolling out the redesigned pickup.
The report comes shortly after Chevrolet began an Internet marketing campaign this month portraying its Silverado pickup as superior to the F-150 because the Silverado is made of high-strength steel. In January, Edmunds.com took a sledgehammer to an F-150 and found that fixing the dent took longer and cost more than it would have on a steel pickup.
“From a simple bolt-on parts replacement to a more-involved removal and installation of entire body panels, fixing the aluminum F-150 is more expensive than repairing a steel-body F-150,” David Zuby, chief research officer for IIHS, said in the report released today.
Ford designed the aluminum F-150 with a modular structure that it says can be easier to repair than its predecessor. But the change in material also required that most dealerships and body shops spend tens of thousands of dollars creating separate spaces for working on aluminum and buying specialized repair tools and equipment. (Aluminum dust can ignite and explode if cross-contaminated with steel dust.)
"Ford does not agree with the reparability costs and findings by IIHS and other stunts," the company said in a statement today. "Ford’s view is based on real-world accident repair data. In fact, real-world repair costs on the new 2015 Ford F-150 average $869 less than last year’s F-150 model, according to Assured Performance, an independent body shop certification company that works with leading automakers.
"Insurance companies also agree with the new F-150’s repair costs -- with both Allstate and State Farm saying insurance costs for the new F-150 will remain comparable with 2014 models."
IIHS said it crashed a 2014 and 2015 F-150 into each other at low speeds to simulate offset rear-end accidents. It said the tests caused more damage to the aluminum-bodied truck in both the front and the rear.
The cost to repair the front of the aluminum truck was $4,147, vs. $3,759 for the front of the steel truck. Fixing the rear of the aluminum truck was $4,738, vs. $3,275 for the steel truck.
Repair costs for the aluminum truck were 42 percent higher for parts and 22 percent higher for labor, IIHS said. In addition, one side of the aluminum truck’s bed had to be replaced, while the steel truck’s bed only needed a repair.
Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at TrueCar, said evaluating repair costs will be difficult until such jobs become more common. He said Ford likely has some sort of plan to help ensure customers won’t have to pay significantly more to fix their truck, such as a goodwill fund to quietly cover some of the dealerships’ costs.
“Ford had to have done their due diligence,” Lyman said. “This is the goose that lays the golden egg, their bread-and-butter vehicle, the key to their profitability. I would expect that they were not foolish to bring this vehicle to market without fully understanding what those repair costs would be and how that would affect residual values and ownership costs.”
Beside costing more for customers paying out of pocket, higher repair costs could result in higher insurance premiums for the aluminum truck.
Ford’s biggest rival, Chevy, has begun trying to use the uncertainty over aluminum as a marketing tool. In one new ad, people are put in a room and told to choose between a cage made of aluminum and another made of steel to protect them as a bear is released.
Another video features former pro football player Howie Long, who has been a Chevy pitchman for a number of years, questioning the Silverado’s chief engineer about the cost to own and durability of the aluminum F-150. The spot cites a Chevy-commissioned experiment that found that fixing F-150s cost an average of $1,755 more and took nearly 34 days longer than fixing Silverados.
“If I’m a guy who uses my truck for work, every day I don’t have that truck, that costs me money. In addition you’ve got higher repair bills,” Long says in the video. “All that certainly makes me think twice about an aluminum-body truck. Seems like you’d be taking a risk.”
Meanwhile, a report last week by Jalopnik.com detailed an actual customer’s F-150 repair that took a month and cost $17,000.
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