The aggressive push toward electric vehicles (EVs) over the last decade has left many a body shop owner wondering about the right time to start preparing these vehicles. It’s not an easy decision to make. Believe it or not, doing auto body repair work on an EV can be quite complicated. It can also be dangerous.
From an aesthetic perspective, bodywork is bodywork. But auto body repair techs don’t just fill in dents, prime, and paint. More often than not, they actually have to remove parts and components to get at the body parts that need repairing. This is the main challenge that comes with doing bodywork on EVs.
In a nutshell, here are the three things that make doing bodywork on EVs different:
An EV runs on a high-voltage electrical system. The voltage is a high enough to cause serious injury, or even death, if a repair technician isn’t careful. So right off the bat, auto body repair personnel have to be trained in safe ways to handle electric cars. Training costs time and money. Is training worth it right now?
When it comes to actually repairing an EV, technicians have to follow very specific steps before they can remove certain parts. High-voltage systems have to be disarmed. Parts have to be disconnected in a particular way. And when all of the body work is complete, it all has to be put together again — safely and correctly, by the way.
EV manufacturers have introduced a wide range of new body materials as they pursue making lighter cars with longer range. Some of these new materials don’t react the same way as traditional materials. So for auto body techs, there is a certain learning curve.
Techs have to learn about these new materials through additional training. But classroom training only goes so far. A lot of what makes an auto body tech a superior craftsman comes only from hands-on experience. That means it takes time, patience, and lots of practice to get it right.
For an auto body shop, how do you take on EV work if your techs don’t have the essential skill and experience? On the other hand, how can they gain the skill and experience without working on the actual cars? It’s a no-win situation.
One of the last steps in auto body repair is finishing. Let’s say an auto body shop replaces the two rear quarter panels on a traditional car with a combustible engine. The entire car can be pulled into the paint booth for painting, then ‘baked’ to cure the paint.
Unfortunately, most EV manufacturers warn against doing the same thing with electric cars. Their electrical systems are sensitive to the high temperatures that wouldn’t bother traditional cars. Baking and EV in the paint booth can seriously damage it. So now, other systems have to be developed.
Throw all of these things together and you create an added problem: liability. This could be the biggest issue of all for auto body shops. They face liability risks related to technician injury. They risk liability claims from customers whose cars are damaged. If there’s one thing auto body shops don’t need, it’s more liability.
As EVs and hybrids become more popular, body shops will eventually have no choice but to start servicing them. Body shop owners who get the ball rolling now will have an advantage when EVs and hybrids are the norm. Those who wait until they have no other choice are destined to find themselves playing catch-up. That’s how things normally go with new technology.