High-tech cars mean higher re­pair bills

Av­er­age re­pair costs have seen steady trend up be­gin­ning in 2010.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - TECH SUNDAY - By Eric Lawrence

Many new ve­hi­cles these days come loaded with all kinds of ex­tras, in­clud­ing safety fea­tures that should help you avoid a crash.

Au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, blind-spot de­tec­tion, for­ward-col­li­sion warn­ing — the list goes on.

Ad­vanced safety fea­tures have helped re­duce fa­tal­i­ties for those be­hind the wheel and their pas­sen­gers, and fea­tures that help ve­hi­cles avoid pedes­tri­ans have the po­ten­tial to cut into the dra­matic in­crease in pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties in re­cent years.

But what hap­pens when these ever-more tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced ve­hi­cles crash? Ex­perts say the cost to re­pair all that tech­nol­ogy could be hefty.

John Van Al­styne, CEO and pres­i­dent of I-Car, a non­profit fo­cused on ve­hi­cle re­pair ed­u­ca­tion, re­cently pro­vided a jaw-drop­ping fig­ure dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on Au­to­line, an in­dus­try-fo­cused pro­gram, to re­pair a “left front cor­ner hit” on a Kia K900: $34,000.

“The Kia K900, for ex­am­ple, has a ton of tech­nol­ogy around the front and the cor­ners of that ve­hi­cle,” Van Al­styne told host John McEl­roy, who sounded, not sur­pris­ingly, stunned by the fig­ure to re­pair a lux­ury sedan, which lists for about $51,000.

A Kia spokesman did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the re­pair fig­ure.

While other ex­perts cau­tioned to be care­ful of fo­cus­ing too much on that par­tic­u­lar fig­ure be­cause of the wide ar­ray of vari­ables in­volved in a ve­hi­cle col­li­sion and re­pair, it’s clear more tech­nol­ogy can add to the cost of re­pair.

In its 2018 “Crash Course” in­dus­try trends pub­li­ca­tion, CCC, which pro­vides ve­hi­cle re­pair cost es­ti­mate ser­vices, made that case, not­ing a 2 per­cent in­crease in av­er­age re­pair costs from 2016 to 2017 to $2,927 on top of a steady trend of yearly in­creases be­gin­ning in 2010.

“Growth in elec­tronic ve­hi­cle con­tent — items added to ad­dress ve­hi­cle safety or con­ve­nience — also add to the over­all cost and com­plex­ity of re­pair and the need to un­der­stand (au­tomaker) rec­om­mended re­pair pro­ce­dures,” ac­cord­ing to the pub­li­ca­tion.

Not only are more parts needed, but ad­di­tional la­bor is re­quired for re­set­ting, cal­i­brat­ing and scan­ning oper­a­tions, it said.

“The av­er­age it takes to fix a car is go­ing up,” said Dan Young, vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing for AsTech, a Plano, Texas-based com­pany that pro­vides ve­hi­cle scan­ning and di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices. “There’s just so many sys­tems that are be­ing in­stalled on these ve­hi­cles that op­er­ate in the mod­ules and sen­sors.”

Ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance sys­tems, for in­stance, may em­ploy radar, cam­eras and other tech­nolo­gies. With most au­tomak­ers pledg­ing to make au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing sys­tems stan­dard on new cars by 2022, the com­plex­ity in­side most ve­hi­cles will ex­pand.

“Mi­nor fender ben­ders now dam­age sen­si­tive safety com­po­nents lo­cated in bumpers, side mir­rors and fend­ers, in­creas­ing the num­ber of ve­hi­cles need­ing sen­sor cal­i­bra­tion and re­pair,” ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion supplied by Young.

He noted that the tech­nol­ogy is ex­pand­ing beyond lux­ury ve­hi­cles.

“It’s a dra­matic shift change in the speed with which this ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance sys­tem tech­nol­ogy is be­ing placed on high-pro­duc­tion, low-cost ve­hi­cles,” Young said. “This type of tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to help some­one avoid ac­ci­dents, (which) is great, and it’s go­ing to re­duce the fre­quency once enough of these cars get into the main­stream, but at the same time, once these cars do get in­volved in a col­li­sion, that’s where, I think, the chal­lenge is from a sever­ity stand­point.”

Dean Fisher, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Carstar, which op­er­ates a fran­chise net­work of in­de­pen­dent col­li­sion re­pair shops, said fix­ing col­li­sion dam­age is a mul­ti­lay­ered process, pro­vid­ing as an ex­am­ple the case of a side mir­ror with blindspot mon­i­tor­ing that must be re­moved.

“When you re­move the mir­ror from the door to paint the door han­dles and every­thing, you may have to re­cal­i­brate the se­cu­rity sys­tem, the in­ter­lock­ing sys­tem in the ve­hi­cle and the blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing,” Fisher said. Sim­ple re­pairs, such as paint­ing a bumper, might need ad­di­tional work to en­sure safety sys­tems are func­tion­ing prop­erly be­fore the ve­hi­cle is re­leased.

“If you paint over the sen­sors, you have just changed the tra­jec­tory of that sen­sor,” Fisher said.

Re­pairs that might have cost a cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars in years past can now cost sub­stan­tially more. Fisher ref­er­enced the once rel­a­tively mod­est cost of re­plac­ing a head­light.

“With LED and xenon and then adap­tive head­lights, where it ac­tu­ally turns a cor­ner with you as you’re turn­ing ... those head­lights can move in the range of $800 to frankly $2,000,” Fisher said.

Ex­pand­ing use of ma­te­ri­als such as high-strength steel, mag­ne­sium, alu­minum and car­bon fiber in ve­hi­cles, as well as de­sign changes to bet­ter safe­guard oc­cu­pants dur­ing a crash, such as crum­ple zones, can also com­pli­cate the re­pair process or re­quire full re­place­ment of ve­hi­cle sec­tions to meet au­tomaker rec­om­men­da­tions.

BRUCE BENE­DICT / DETROIT FREE PRESS

Fix­ing a “left front cor­ner hit” on a Kia K900 can cost $34,000, says an ex­pert. The car lists for about $51,000.

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