Filed Under:Risk Management, Loss Control

The Horsepower Race

You’ve heard me talk about how the Obama administration’s recent change to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) will impact the collision-repair industry. In case you need to jog your memory: In late 2009, President Obama announced an aggressive mandate requiring all new cars and trucks to achieve 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 (an average of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), cutting four years from the previous regulation timetable. Although this change will vastly affect vehicle construction—particularly vehicle size—it snuck under the radar and went unnoticed by many.

There’s another major change that also needs to be brought to the forefront, as it too will no doubt have a far-reaching effect on the industry—the cutthroat horsepower race between vehicles on U.S. roads. Horsepower has come a long way in a fairly short amount of time. When I worked at a detailing shop in high school (ok, so maybe not such a short timeframe), I had the privilege of detailing several exotic cars. I have always been a James Bond fan (what car buff isn’t), so when an Aston Martin DB5 came into the shop, I loudly raised my hand to be the first to volunteer to work on this beauty.

Secondly, these cars are light weight, with the weight savings coming from the smaller, lighter components that unfortunately tend to be destroyed in moderate impacts. Surrounding structures sacrifice themselves to protect the passenger compartment, which is great in terms of occupant safety, but it’s not such good news in terms of reparability because in most situations where this occurs, the car can’t be economically repaired.

Many vehicles in the latest car magazines fall into this category. Just scan the pages and you’ll see that they are full of what in the 1980s were called “econoboxes” but are now slippery wedges that are surprisingly quick. Look at the front end of these sleek cars, and you’ll see that these low-slung, wind-cheating cars are easily capable of driving under the back bumper of SUVs and trucks. That kind of impact will take out two xenon headlamps, an alloy hood, two fenders, the A/C condenser, radiator and the alloy core support while also deploying the two front airbags, which will destroy the dash panel and windshield. Most three-year-old small cars sustaining that type of damage are not going to end up in the shop for repair.

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