Interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about BMW's new models and
BMW's approach to crash repairs.
October 19, 2005
Most E-Mailed <http://www.latimes.com/news/most-emailed.front
Front-end repair? Maybe just throw it away
# BMW's new techniques and rules restrict what repair shops can do, and
baffled insurers are junking the vehicles. Some critics think
manufacturers are beginning to make throw-away cars.
BMW 645 Ci Coupe
BMW 645 Ci Coupe
Kia, you light up my life
Front-end repair? Maybe just throw it away
Modest but so becoming
The boss as a driving force
For the Civic-minded
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By Ralph Vartabedian, Times Staff Writer
If you hear talk about things such as rivets, epoxy adhesives and
aluminum structures, you might guess the subject involves airplanes.
But in this case, we are talking about the front ends of recent BMW
Series 5 and Series 6 cars, which are constructed with many of the same
techniques you might find at the Northrop Grumman F-18 assembly plant in
BMW touts the vehicles for their remarkable handling, fuel economy and
elite engineering, but critics of the designs say they are impractical,
vulnerable to minor accidents and difficult to repair the way BMW
The technology is another step in a much broader auto industry trend
that is making collision repairs ever more costly, a kinder way of
saying manufacturers are building throw-away cars. It means that more
cars are totaled when they have relatively modest damage, particularly
if they are more than five years old.
Although BMWs can certainly be repaired, it requires a degree of
sophistication and cost that may be unprecedented.
BMW will certify auto body technicians only if they are employees of BMW
dealerships, using BMW-approved parts, tools, adhesives and rivets.
Though independent shops can buy equipment and get training, they are
not allowed to say they perform certified repairs, BMW's official seal
"It is a game," said Don Feeley, owner of three independent body shops
in Riverside. "Absolutely, they are shutting auto body shops out of
Of course, BMW does not see it like that.
The BMW system, code named the Grav 60, was introduced in the 2004 model
year. It features an aluminum firewall, which separates the engine
compartment from the interior, and frame rails that extend forward, all
riveted and glued to the rest of the car's steel structure. When the
cars come out of the factory they are built to a tolerance of 1
millimeter, about the thickness of a dime.
The entire front structure weighs just 100 pounds, meaning the vehicles
have a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution between the front and
rear wheels, said Jeff Kohut, BMW's paint and body business development
"It handles better," Kohut said. "Go drive a car with a steel nose and
you can tell the difference cornering, braking and turning."
But one important question is what happens when your prized BMW gets
kissed in the real world. With steel frame cars that are robotically
welded at the factory, a body expert can put the car on a rack and bend
it back into shape.
Under BMW's guidelines, any bending on the front end is verboten. An
accident that deforms the front end by more than 1 millimeter requires
the replacement of the main front-end structures. Because the engine,
transmission, suspension and body are all connected to those structures,
it is a labor-intensive process.
What's more, BMW specifies technicians can use only certain specialized
tools, such as rivet extractors and rivet guns. Kenneth Zion, an auto
body instructor at El Camino College and an independent collision
consultant, says a shop can spend as much as $100,000 to fully outfit
itself for BMW repairs. Zion, who has learned the system and will
introduce the technology at El Camino, said the new system is
unprecedented in how tightly the manufacturer is controlling the repair
It is so tight, in fact, that the repair and insurance industries are
going a little nuts.
A claims adjuster for AAA, who has examined damaged BMW cars with the
Grav 60 technology, says there is no question the repairs are more
costly compared to those of a steel unibody.
"Certainly, people are alarmed," said the adjuster, who asked not to be
identified because he would be handed his head if he were named. "An
identical car made with steel parts would definitely be cheaper to
repair. On one half of the BMW, you can have no straightening."
Feeley, among others, says BMW is overblowing the difficulty of
repairing the vehicles. "The manufacturers have always said they are
building things that can't be repaired, and we have figured out how to
repair them," he said.
The broader trend is alarming the auto body industry, which is composed
of thousands of mom and pop shops.
"Definitely, some of the auto makers want their certified shops or
dealers to be the only ones approved to do repairs," said David McClune,
executive director of the California Auto Body Assn. "If a shop has
properly trained technicians and equipment, our position is they should
have the opportunity to do those repairs."
Kohut said, however, that about 1,000 technicians have gone through
BMW's two-day training course for Grav 60 repairs, about two-thirds of
them from independent shops. Even though they are not certified, BMW
accepts the fact that they can perform adequate repairs.
Although he rejects the idea that repair costs are higher on the Grav 60
system, Kohut said insurers are struggling to understand the technology.
"We have found the insurers are unsure of what to do with a car, so they
declare it a total loss," he said. "They weren't sure it would be safe,
so they send it to the salvage yard."
/Ralph Vartabedian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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