Lightweight Cars May Have Bigger Repair Bills

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Lighter and newer car materials can improve fuel efficiency, but there’s a trade-off: They’re harder to fix.

Carmakers want better mileage and crash-test results, but having both is increasing costs elsewhere for consumers, USA Today says. “The sometimes exotic materials needed to meet those goals mean replacement parts not only cost more, but often require elaborate repair techniques that are taxing skills in some body shops,” it says.

The paper highlights three materials automakers are moving toward to meet fuel and safety standards:

  • Aluminum. In 2009, the average car used 327 pounds of aluminum. By 2025, the estimate is 550 pounds, but the steel it’s replacing is far heavier.
  • Carbon fiber. This composite material is currently preferred in high-end sports cars, but it’s getting cheaper and appearing in more parts.
  • High-strength steel. It’s as strong as traditional steel, but lighter. It’s increasingly being used for car bodies.

These materials are saving consumers at the pump and meeting stricter regulatory requirements, but could cost everyone at the repair shop.

Businesses have to invest in the new tools and methods to repair them, USA Today says, and that cost could be passed on to consumers. New materials such as high-strength steel sometimes remove the option of repair, too. Steel parts that once could have been repaired by welding in a small new piece have to be replaced instead, because the new material can’t handle the heat of welding.

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