Advanced Auto Body Training: An Intro to Frame Repair

Frame repair is a big part of an auto body technician’s work
Frame repair is a big part of an auto body technician’s work

A vehicle’s frame is vital to its structural integrity, acting like a skeleton on which every other component is built. As a result, many auto body customers often believe that a damaged vehicle frame is a death sentence for their car. Fortunately, that’s not always the case.

Modern car frames are specifically designed to make repairs easier. And, on top of that, advances in technology have led to the development of sophisticated frame straightening machines, which are now commonplace in most auto body shops.

With vehicle frame damage occurring in roughly 50% of auto accidents, it’s no wonder that frame straightening is now a huge part of an auto body repair technician’s job. That’s why students pursuing careers in the sector learn how to properly assess frame damage, and fully understand how the frame straightening process works.

Auto Body Training Anatomy: Vehicle Frames Explained

There are two types of auto body frame. Before the 1960s, most vehicles were built using the body-on-frame method, in which the body is separate from the vehicle’s chassis. Nowadays, however, the majority of cars have unibody frames, which incorporate the cabin of the vehicle into the frame to provide more structural integrity.

Early cars like the Ford Model T used a body-on-frame design
Early cars like the Ford Model T used a body-on-frame design

However, students completing their auto body training today will likely still encounter body-on-frame designs, which remain common on SUVS and heavy duty trucks. Body-on-frame structures are typically tougher and heavier than unibody frames, and are also easier to modify and repair. However, they are more expensive to produce, and are also less safe for passengers, as the cabin will absorb the full impact of a collision.

How Auto Body Technicians Can Identify Frame Damage

One of the reasons that unibody frames are safer is because car manufacturers include areas known as ‘crumple zones’ in their design. Crumple zones are parts of the frame which crumple during a collision in order to absorb some of the impact. Unfortunately, this also makes them more fragile, leading to more damage even in low speed collisions.

Minor frame damage can be difficult to spot, but an experienced auto body technician should be able to determine whether a frame is bent by measuring strategic points along the chassis, which body shops use as baseline measurements for frame alignment.

Frame Repair Machines: A Guide for Auto Body Training Students

A frame straightening machine consists of a large platform for the vehicle, together with two or three rotatable towers which move along the platform to work on different areas of the frame. Modern machines use laser technology to scan the frame and diagnose any damage, and even help technicians provide accurate estimates for customers.

Frame repair machines are used to straighten out bent frames
Frame repair machines are used to straighten out bent frames

To straighten a frame, technicians use clamps to bolt the vehicle in place on the platform, and chains to attach the damaged areas of the frame to the towers. The towers then use hydraulics and torque to pull the frame back into shape. Frame machines also have electronic measurement systems, so that technicians can ensure that the adjustments are exactly in line with manufacturer specifications.

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