A Metal Movement: Tips and Tricks for Working with Aluminum

Aluminum is quickly gaining in popularity in automotive manufacturing as it makes vehicles lighter, stronger and more durable, contributing to overall fuel efficiency. Ford Motor Company was the first manufacturer to jump in to the high volume vehicle production arena with the aluminum alloy body structure for the 2015 F-150. By doing so, they pioneered the production methods and must now address the repair infrastructure in place to handle aluminum body frames.

There are however significant differences from the traditional steel vehicles. Here are some tips for repairing and refinishing aluminum body frames.

How Aluminum Corrodes:

  • Aluminum is naturally corrosion resistant due to an oxidation barrier, which is formed immediately after contact with air. This barrier must be removed before any filing or painting can be done.
  • Galvanic corrosion occurs when two different metals are in contact with each other in the  presence of an electrolyte, a non-metallic conductor of electricity. Coated fasteners, washers or gaskets can be placed between the dissimilar metals to prevent galvanic corrosion.
  • Filliform corrosion can develop under a paint film. This usually occurs when bare aluminum is not cleaned properly and the paint film is damaged. Moisture will get beneath the paint film and corrode the metal.

Tools Used on Aluminum:

Many of the hand tools used to handle aluminum repairs are identical to the ones used for steel repairs...But please note: Do not use the same tools for both aluminum and steel though, because contamination will occur.

Some of these tools include:

  • Hammer - Do not use shrinking or serrated-faced hammers as those may damage or thin the aluminum. Also, note that there should not be nicks or gouges in the hammer face!
  • Dollies - Polished steel, lead shot, wood and rubber dollies are all acceptable.
  • Slappers and spoons - May be used to remove high and low areas on the panel.
  • Picks - Can be used to push up low areas when there is limited access to the back of the panel. Picks should have polished rounded tips to prevent damage.

Workplace Considerations:

  • There needs to be separate work areas for aluminum repair and steel repair to avoid cross contamination.
  • Be aware that even airborne steel particles from sanding and grinding can lead to contamination when dealing with aluminum.  This should be avoided!

While these are helpful guidelines, remember to always follow the OE manufacturer's instructions for repairing their vehicles since bonding, welding and riveting can be different for each OEM. If you have questions, contact BASF technical assistance by calling 1-800-758-BASF (2273) or visiting www.BASFrefinish.com.