Changing the Perception of Auto Body 101

“Shop class”, such as Auto Body or Automotive has had a reputation of changing its meaning through the years in the eyes of the public. It has gone through the transition of cool hot rods, racing, restoration or hobby class to easy “A” for the slackers or even a holding place for students that the high school counselors don’t know what else to do with. There are many reasons that contribute to the lack of qualified students entering technical education courses, but we may be in for a rude awakening if we don’t pay attention and change our thinking. In order for us to protect ourselves from unskilled technicians, who will lead to unsafe vehicles on the road, our educational system must put the same emphasis on technical education (auto body, welding, etc.) as they do academic skills (math English, etc.).

Part of the reason schools are giving the technical programs less attention is due to bill that was passed by the Bush administration called “No Child Left Behind.” Bush has constantly pushed to stop all funding to technical education programs, in order to increase funds to the NCLB act. With this action, the mentality is that all students can learn. Therefore, all students should attend a four-year school after graduating high school. However, according to the National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) “two-thirds of young people do not obtain a four-year degree and 25% of them go directly to work after high school ” (NAVE 6). According to this study, our perception of all students attending a four-year degree is incorrect. What are we doing with the two-thirds of students not attending a four-year college? Shouldn’t we focus more on these students?

The NCLB bill has forced schools to focus on academic skills, which improve students’ math, English, etc in order to secure their funding. Therefore, schools are using every student who is competent of performing well academically to comply with the (NCLB) standard for better test scores. This leaves less room for technical education, which does not directly prepare students for the state assessment tests. In some cases, programs such as Auto Body are receiving students that the school does not know what else to do with. Many of these students are at-risk of dropping out of school, low performing and low motivated.

With the quality of students’ shop classes are receiving in mind, let’s discuss modern day vehicles. Since there have been cars, there has been pride. Many people feel like their car is part of the family. If it’s involved in an accident, they are concerned and want it repaired back to the perfect condition that it was in before the collision. If the vehicle was not returned back to the owner in its pre-accidental condition, they are crushed and their pride is destroyed. However, there is more than pride that will be crushed if modern day vehicles are not repaired back to their pre-accidental condition. Now, if a modern-day sophisticated vehicle is improperly repaired, it will result in unnecessary injuries or deaths to you or you whole your family.

According to the US Federal Government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as stated on caraccidents.com in 2005 there were nearly 6,440,000 auto accidents with a financial cost of more than 230 billion dollars. More importantly, 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people were killed. That averages 115 people who die per day, which is one every 13 minutes.

How many of these wrecked vehicles are repaired and back on the road? Of those repaired how many of them were repaired correctly? There are organizations, like I-CAR, available to educate technicians in the collision industry, but it takes a competent technician to be able to absorb and apply what they learned. If they are unable to comprehend the content, this will jeopardize the repairs made to the vehicle, which could result in one of the unnecessary injury or death as mentioned above. Therefore, Auto Body 101 is more critical to society then you may have realized. It’s crucial to focus on these types of programs to eliminate some of those injuries and deaths.

Why are improperly repaired vehicles a bigger threat now than they used to be? The reason is the fast-paced technology modern day cars have. Our cars have all of these cool features that make our lives easier. However, relying on some of these features will create a death trap if they are not working properly.

If you visit the official Chevrolet Malibu website you will see that it comes equipped with OnStar, turn-by-turn navigation, hands-free calling, stabilitrak, and six air bags. This car sounds to be safe, and it is. It was named 2008 car of North America car of the year. It has 5 star frontal and side crash test rating. OnStar now allows the vehicle to give you turn-by-turn direction. The Malibu will even diagnose itself and e-mail the results to you. Another safety feature is the hands-free calling. I know I have came close to an accident due to answering a cell phone call or dialing a number while driving. The stabilitrak sends messages to the computer and automatically adjusts your suspension depending on the road conditions and will help prevent you from having an accident. These features are great; however, when involved in an accident, it can become complicated to assure everything is repaired correctly. In addition to the traditional body and paint work, we must focus on all of the safety and electrical work as well. I think we are already starting to understand that we need properly trained and highly skilled automotive and collision repair technicians to work on our vehicles.

In addition to airbags, car makers are looking at other ways to increase safety as John Quain writes in New York Times. Everyone knows airbags provide safety, but car makers are starting to look at other issues. John writes that over 100 children are backed over and killed every year. To prevent this, the car makers are putting camera in vehicles allowing the driver to see behind them better. This is just a start of what we are seeing in modern day vehicles. However, the features that keep us safer are all vulnerable to damage during a collision. The technician must be much more knowledgeable about electronics to properly repair a vehicle back to its pre-accidental condition.

If you pick up an auto body textbook by James Duffy, you will learn about vehicle construction. The first frames, ladder frames, were designed to hold a car body on the top of it. However, the frame did not provide safety when involved in an accident. Imaging for a minute that you are strapped down to a heavy duty extension ladder. Now imaging that you hit a brick wall traveling at 50 MPH. When you hit the wall you will come to a sudden stop and the impact would be deadly. Now imaging taking the extension ladder and placing some weaker points to the front of the ladder, which will collapse if involved in an accident. While these point collapse, it slows the ladder down before the sudden stop. This would cushion your collision. That is what car designers have done through the years to improve safety. The points that collapse are called crush zones. This can be indentions in the metal, which allows the frame and body panels to crush or collapse in a predictable manner.

At the same time, car designers are making the passenger compartment stronger to prevent the impact from injuring the passengers. This is done with different types of metals and materials. Some of the materials used in car structures and panels include: Mild steel, high strength steel, ultra high strength steel, boron steel, aluminum, magnesium, sheet molded compound, plastic, and carbon fiber. Laser rolled steel allows the manufacture to provide parts with different thicknesses. For example, a pillar may be thicker is certain areas and thinner in other areas. With this technology, the crush zones may not even be visible. This is significant because if a technician does not to know where the crush zones are may result in an improper section procedure. For example, let imaging a hood panel. We know that if you are involved in a front-end collision, the hood is going to buckle up. However, let’s say that the hood had some additional supports welded underneath to strengthen it. If this vehicle is now involved in a front-end collision the additional braces will prevent the hood from buckling. This would result in the hood coming through the windshield, which may result in a death. A hood is one example, but the whole vehicle is designed with crush zone throughout the vehicle. If the technician can’t see the crush zone, he or she may not know that a repair should not be performed in that area. They must be able to find the proper repair procedures. The traditional methods will not work for modern day vehicles. This will require excellent reading and comprehension skills locate and perform the needed repair procedure.

Earlier we discussed the high-tech technology an average priced car has today. Now let’s look at one of the feature of a higher priced car like BMW. On their official website you can learn about the car’s steering capabilities. The car’s steering range changes depending on the speed you’re going. For instance, at slow speed you don’t have to turn the steering wheel much to make sharp turns. At higher speed it takes more movement of the steering wheel to make turns. This is a really cool feature, but the steering components are bolted directly to today’s unibody structures. Therefore, if the car is involved in an accident, the structure is vulnerable to damage. In the past, technicians could pull the structure back to its correct dimensions give or take a little. Then the front end could be aligned to assure the car will drive properly. However, today’s cars allow very little tolerance. The structure must be pulled almost exactly back to its factor dimensions. If not, the front end may never align properly, as there are not any adjustments to adjust on newer vehicles. There is not much adjustment on body panel today either. If the structure is slightly off, this will result in door, hood, and fender gaps misaligned. This requires a technician to be accurate, skilled, and the ability to use mathematical skills.

The consumer is not the only one at risk; an incompetent technician is at risk as well. In an article by I-CAR, the topic of multiple-stage airbags is discussed. Depending on the impact one or two bursts may inflate the airbag. In a light impact the first stage may only fire. This allows the airbag to be inflated long enough to protect the passenger. However, in a hard impact, the impact force is greater and the takes longer before completely stopped. Therefore the second charge fires immediately after the first charge to keep the air bag inflated longer for added protection. The added protection is great for the safety protection to the passengers; however, it can be deadly to the untrained technician. If a technician physically sees that the air bag has deployed. This may have them believe that there is no risk of accidentally deploying it. However, if it is a two-stage system, it could deploy again during repairs, which could result in injury or death to the technician. Its little things like this that may take the un-trained technician out of this business permanently. Another example is the magnesium used in some vehicle parts today. If an unskilled technician determines that he or she needs to make a weld repair on or too close to a radiator support, this could result in severe burns to them, as the radiator support of newer model Ford pick-ups are made out of magnesium. There have been reports of vehicles being burned to the ground in body shops for this reason. If a technician can read and comprehend proper repair procedures, they should not have any problems with safety. However, steering students who are unmotivated that will not perform well in any of their classes to this profession is putting them at risk. We need highly motivated students with academic and technical skills to enter this career pathway.

I think we have conveyed the significance of the safety issues of repairing vehicles back to their pre-accidental condition. Now let’s look at what the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) say about required competencies in the book titled Overview of Career and Technical Education by John Scott. Following are the seven skill groups compromising the workplace basics identified in the ASTD report: Foundational-Learning to Learn, Competence-Reading, Writing, and Computation, Communication-Listening and Oral Communications, Adaptability-Creative Thinking and Problem Solving, Personal Management-Self Esteem, Goal Setting/Motivation, and personal/Career Career Development, Group Effectiveness-Interpersonal Skills, Negotiating, and Teamwork, Influence-Organizational Effectiveness and Leadership (Scott 9-10). This sums up the fact that technical careers need highly qualified students entering these professions. For example, a collision repair technician must be able to communicate well with the managers and customers. Miscommunication is one of the biggest problems business managers face. A technician must be able to read the repair order to determine what repairs are needed to the vehicle and what may not be included in the repair process. The technician will also need good reading and comprehension skills to locate and determine the manufacture repair procedures. Mathematical skills are essential to proper measure a damaged frame or unibody structure. It also takes mathematical skills to measure paints and insure proper mixing ratios. However, if you talk to body shop managers, one of the common things they are looking for is good work ethics and a good attitude. As you can see, it takes a rounded set of technical, academic and professional skills to succeed in technical careers.

Allowing students to explore career opportunities to find their interests and talents is an important role for education to play. In fact, there are many students that are bored in academic classes. Some of these students are gifted and intelligent; however, they lose interest and sight and find them-self dropping out of high school. California Governor Schwarzenegger is a big advocate of technical education and discusses it as being a solution to keeping student in school. In an article by Time Magazine he states “I have talked to many kids who tell me they don’t want to go to college, so why graduate?” They don’t see an end goal. They can’t visualize it.” The Governor strives to attain additional funding for vocational programs in California. He understands the value and role it plays in society. While technical careers may not be for everyone, but I believe education needs to do a better job of promoting and allowing students to explore all career opportunities allowing them to find their niche.

Would you rather go to an incompetent heart or brain surgeon or an incompetent collision repair technician? You may be quick to say an incompetent technician, but if you think about for a little bit you may realize that the doctor could jeopardize your life. However, a collision repair technician could jeopardize your life, in addition to your family’s life and others. As mentioned earlier 115 people die every day in the US due to auto accidents. I don’t think that many people die going to the doctor. This puts it in a different perspective, doesn’t it? We better keep the slackers out of the health industry and the collision repair industry. Our educational system needs to put the same emphasis on technical education as they do academic skills in order to assure we have properly trained technicians for our future. If we don’t expose the different professions to students, then we will pay the consequences for it later.