When Ford announced that it would be switching the body of the F-150 pickup over to aluminum from steel, one of the major concerns was that the new alloy would lead to higher repair costs. A new study shows that this isn't the case.
The data comes from the Highway Loss Data Institute, the numbers crunching department of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Instead of analyzing crash tests, HLDI looks at statistics from insurance claims. When the aluminum F-150 first arrived, crash testing and subsequent repair estimates from the IIHS suggested that it would be more expensive to repair than steel. But now they have four years of actual claims data to review, the results show that "the change in material hasn't resulted in more costly insurance claims."
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Analysts at HLDI compared the average payment per claim for collision claims, called claim severity, for the 2015-2016 F-150 in comparison to the steel-bodied 2014 model. They also compared the 2015-2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, and Ram 1500, along with their 2014 counterparts - all steel trucks.
They found that all 2015-2016 models had a higher claim severity than the 2014 trucks, but that the F-150's increase was the smallest - less than one percent compared to 5-7 percent related to 2015 models and four percent versus 12-21 percent for 2016 models.
Why do the results differ from those expected? HLDI says it's likely because Ford is holding down the price of aluminum replacement parts, but raising the price of steel panels for older models.
The aluminum bodies are not without their issues, however. HLDI says that repairs of the aluminum F-150 trucks are taking longer, which increases rental vehicle costs and adds an element of inconvenience for the owner. It says those delays are deceasing for 2016 and 2017 model years, but are still higher than for steel trucks. They also found that collision claim frequency is seven percent higher for the aluminum F-150s, saying that may be that the trucks are more easily damaged than steel.
HLDI Senior VP Matt Moore said that the Ford repair costs may not hold for other vehicles making the material switch. Ford has worked to keep repair costs down for its aluminum-body truck," he said, "But unless other manufacturers take the same steps, there's no guarantee that these results will hold true for future aluminum-body vehicles from other manufacturers. In addition, the higher claim rates are concerning."
A previous HLDI study of aluminum luxury cars found the metal to be associated with higher claim severity.