New cars come with all sorts of advanced technology designed to keep drivers safe, but all those safety-increasing gadgets come with a price—and it’s not just the initial cost of the technology that’s hitting car owners hard.
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Take, for example, the Kia K900. You probably don’t think about Kia’s $49,900, V6 or V8-powered luxury sedan that shares a lot of guts with the Genesis G80 and Kia Stinger. But it’s a solid deal, coming with a suite of modern safety tech. What happens when those things need repairs?
John Van Alstyne, the CEO and president of I-Car, a non-profit organization dedicated to automotive repair education, appeared on Autoline to discuss the astronomical repair bills drivers of the latest tech are starting to face. Alstyne pointed out that the K900 comes with a ton of sensors and cameras all around its front and corners. That means even a minor “left front corner hit” could result in a jaw-dropping $34,000 repair bill. That’s compared to a current industry average of $8,000.
“So what happens there? Insurance costs go up, total lifecycle costs goes up— driven by cost of repair,” Alstyne said.
Collision mechanics also often don’t have the space in their shops needed to execute repairs on such advanced electronics. Sensors need to be calibrated and aligned within the car just so to keep them working. Often cars will require 300 square feet of clear space for mechanics to get sensors properly calibrated again.
But clearance requirements are different from manufacturer to manufacturer and even, sometimes, model to model. The Toyota Camry, Alstyne points out, requires 1,500 square feet to repair in some cases. That may be all well and good on a factory floor, but there aren’t many repair shops outfitted to handle such space needs.
And it’s not just fancy sensors that are adding to the cost of repairing new cars, the variety of materials used in cars are a problem as well. Now vehicles are made with steel, high-strength steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and a whole host of plastics, fiberglasses and resins.
Alstyne told the panel that the best way manufacturers can keep costs low for both consumers and mechanics is for manufacturers to design cars’ safety systems with collisions—and collision shops—in mind.
“Design for repair is a big deal,” Alstyne told the panel. “You see OEMs having different strategies on the location of these components. Like, getting it off the bumper is probably a good idea since bumpers see damage all the time.”
Moving sensors from the easily damaged bumper area would be a good start, as well as providing more intensive training to technicians who repair the vehicles. But as vehicles only get more and more advanced, and there are fewer and fewer master mechanics to take on the job, this problem is likely not going away anytime soon.