2015 Ford F-150: Aluminum Body Repairs Part 3 (With Video)
January 27, 2015
"The normal aluminum labor rate is $120 an hour, but since you're paying out of pocket I'm going to cut you a deal," the service advisor said, holding back the computer print-out. "I'm only going to charge you our normal rate of $60 an hour but it's over 20 hours of labor."
When I dropped off our long-term 2015 Ford F-150 a week ago, I couldn't tell if the advisor was trying to soften the blow of a costly repair or if he was really taking pity on me. There was no "Aluminum Body Rate" on their posted list of prices in the waiting room, just the "Body Rate per Hour" of $60. Whether this was an exaggeration or not, it was a nice sentiment. I lied to the service advisor, so in his mind, I was the victim of a hit-and-run accident and I deserved a bit of leeway.
The damage was actually a result of two blows from a sledgehammer. We were testing the theory that aluminum is more expensive to repair than steel and I had lied about the damage to get the most realistic customer experience possible. So far, it seemed to be working. The repair would take "twice as long as steel" but I'd be paying half the standard rate. It was time to break out the calculator and do some funky math.
He handed over the sheet and explained each item. After straightening the panel as best they could, they'd apply a specialized aluminum paint filler, then primer, paint, color sand and buff the panel, replace the taillight and put on a new "Sport 4x4" sticker.
For "seven to 10 business days" worth of work, the price of labor and parts totaled $2,082.73. My eyes went wide, but I signed the estimate, declined a rental car and handed over the keys.
As I mentioned in Part 2 of the story, the price went up quickly when the taillight turned out to be more expensive than previously thought. Instead of the $106.28 for a standard taillight, our Lariat's LED light with the blind-spot sensor cost $887.25. With the subsequent increase in sales tax, the repair bill totaled $2,938.44. Ouch.
True to their word, the body shop finished the work a week after I dropped the truck off. And to my eye, they did an almost-perfect job.
The panel is straight, it retains all the original character lines and the paint is matched perfectly. The only real flaw is the placement of that "Sport 4x4" sticker. It's about two inches too far to the left of where it should be. Dan Edmunds came with me to check on the repairs and neither of us noticed at first, but it certainly stands out now that our more eagle-eyed co-workers have pointed it out.
Side note: We've contacted the dealer and they've ordered a new sticker. An outside vendor does the sticker placement and they'll come to us to fix it, free of charge.
I should note that repairing aluminum differs from repairing steel in several ways. It requires special tools (re-read Part 2 if you missed those details) and it stretches in different ways than steel. As a result it can require a more experienced hand. It seems like the staff at Santa Monica Ford has that part covered.
But what about replacing body panels all together? If we had been in a more serious accident, with another vehicle involved for instance, and we needed a panel replaced, could it take a shop longer to get that panel in stock?
According to Ford, the body panels aren't any more expensive now that they're made out of aluminum. The price for a replacement right rear-quarter panel on a steel-bodied 2014 F-150 is $967.48. And for the same panel on an aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150? $967.48. That's nice to hear, but what would it have cost to fix a steel panel rather than replace it?
As you'll notice in the above photo of the estimate, there are 24.4 hours of billed labor. Of that, 20 hours are listed for the repair of the aluminum body panel. The other 4.4 hours are things like removing the molding, taking off the bumper and uninstalling the tailgate. Clearly, that labor wouldn't take any more or less time regardless of what the parts are made of.
If we go with the theory that our service advisor presented though, and assume fixing a steel panel would take half the time, it works out to just 14.4 hours of labor. Work that in to the above estimate and you'll get a total of $2,338.44.
That's $600 less.
Let's take that a step further, though. Assuming that the labor rate for aluminum was the $120 an hour the service advisor told us, and going with our quoted time of 20 hours or body labor to pound that panel out, we're looking at $4,138.44. That's a difference of $1,800, a price increase of nearly 77 percent versus the cost of repairing a steel panel for 10 hours at $60 per hour.
To be sure we called our regular body shop, Golden Hammer in Santa Monica. The shop has fixed dozens of dented, dinged and damaged Edmunds long-term test vehicles. That shop charges $50 an hour to fix a steel panel and $105 an hour for aluminum. Take it a little further down the rabbit hole and there's insurance to think about. If we had gone through insurance to pay for this repair, my out-of-pocket cost for the repair might not have changed so much, but that's probably not where it would end.
Imagine you've got a $500 or even $1,000 deductible on your insurance policy. You hit a tree, tell the body shop guy you have no idea what happened, but insurance is paying to fix it. Your insurance premiums may go up, but the remainder of the cost is passed along to your insurance company. In this scenario, the associated insurance cost for owning an aluminum-bodied vehicle likely goes up too. Maybe it already has.
There's plenty to speculate about when it comes to the new 2015 Ford F-150, and we've got a year to keep testing out our theories, but there are a few things we know for sure. One: It takes more time, unique tools and specialized training to fix aluminum body panels. Two: Those repairs, whether through higher labor rates or longer service times, cost more money than repairing steel. And three: It's really fun to smash things with a sledgehammer.
Travis Langness, Associate Editor
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