Unbelievable Repair Cost on Ford 1/2 ton!
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported this week that, after a crash test, it cost 26 percent more to repair the new aluminum Ford F-150 pickup than it did the truck's steel-bodied predecessor.
But that doesn't necessarily mean insurance premiums for the aluminum truck will rise above those for the outgoing steel model. Insurers say they need more time to study costs before deciding whether to change premiums. They add that factors other than repair costs influence rates. The aluminum-bodied F-150 went on sale in the fourth quarter last year.
"Rates for the aluminum version of the new F-150 won't change unless enough actual claims data indicates a need for an adjustment," a State Farm Insurance spokeswoman said.
In its response to IIHS' report, Ford pointed to stable insurance premiums as a sign that insurers agree with Ford's assertion that repair costs won't increase.
But insurers were noncommittal on the possibility of future rate increases.
The State Farm spokeswoman said the company will determine whether F-150 premiums will change after it has collected "a sufficient amount of claims data" for the 2015 model.
An Allstate Insurance Co. spokesman said its premiums for the 2015 F-150 are still in line with those for the year-earlier model as the company awaits more data.
"We're currently looking at early loss results to see how the performance is relative to earlier model years at a similar point in time," he said. "Admittedly, the data will be a little thin given the fact that the vehicle count and accident volume is just beginning to mature."
IIHS also said that, in addition to the repairs on the 2015 F-150 costing 26 percent more than those on the 2014 model, the aluminum-bodied F-150's repairs also took longer than the steel model's.
Ford: No cost increase
Ford disputed those conclusions.
"Ford's view is based on real-world accident repair data," the company said in a statement. "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."
The IIHS report, released last week, came shortly after Chevrolet's July launch of an Internet marketing campaign that portrays 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 institute's report.
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.)
The State Farm spokeswoman said that over the past several years, whenever automakers began building a vehicle with a different material, repair costs "initially increased but not necessarily because of the uniqueness of the material itself."
The increase in overall repair costs typically stems from new equipment, repair training techniques and repair processes, she said. "As the use of the different materials become more common, the costs tend to level out and are more competitive."
A rubberized curtain is intended to keep aluminum dust from settling on steel parts and corroding them.
Ford battles critics
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.
IIHS said it crashed a 2014 F-150 and a 2015 aluminum-bodied F-150 into each other at low speeds to simulate offset rear-end accidents. It said the tests caused more damage to the aluminum truck in both the front and the rear.
The cost to repair the front of the aluminum F-150 was $4,147, compared with $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 needed only 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 trucks, 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."
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, a Chevy pitchman for a number of years, questioning the Silverado's chief engineer about the cost to own and the 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 enthusiast website Jalopnik detailed an actual customer's 2015 F-150 repair that took a month and cost $17,000.