The Future of Cars
New vehicle designs have environmental benefits, but may prove challenging for automotive recyclers.
Vehicle manufacturers make changes to their vehicles for one reason only: To sell more cars.

There are two main instigators driving these changes – what the customer wants and what manufacturers are forced to do by legislation.

One thing in vehicle design that has remained constant over the years is the crash tests that are completed on new car designs – driving 40 mph into a deformable barrier that is offset towards the driver – to ensure safety.

The last 12 years have seen major improvements in occupant protection. In some cases, drivers of vehicles designed and built after 2010 have been able to walk away from accidents that may have killed or seriously injured drivers in vehicles tested in the late 90s. In many cases, these newer cars are stronger, bigger, and only marginally heavier than their predecessors.

How have vehicle manufacturers done this?

A lot of vehicles are now designed and built using advanced materials including Aluminum and Ultra High Strength Steel (UHSS), and vehicle designers understand how collision energy can be dissipated through the vehicle, keeping the occupant safety cell intact. Audi has used 5 different types of metal in the 2012 A6, including Aluminum and Ultra High Strength Steel.

The new Porsche 911, again with 5 different types of metal, is bigger than the previous model, while being lighter and stronger.

UHSS requires specialist work – heat (i.e. when welding) makes the metal brittle, it loses strength, and will not perform as designed to in the event of another incident posing risks to the occupants of the vehicle. (See UHSS box at the end of this article.)

Put into Perspective

You only need to read the latest car magazine to realize the immense amount of work that vehicle designers and manufacturers are putting into their vehicles. Why are they doing this?

Customers want stronger cars, but they also ask for better fuel consumption. The only way they can have both is advanced lightweight design. Lighter vehicles use less fuel. Lighter vehicles can also have lighter/smaller brakes and suspension components, and they don’t require big wheels and tires. They perform better and customer satisfaction is greater because they are getting better fuel economy.

This structural revolution will impact auto recyclers because the more advanced repair techniques required will result in less body sections being purchased by our current customers who are not prepared to invest in the training and equipment required for the latest structural technology.

And it is not just car manufacturers who are looking to reduce weight – truck and trailer manufacturers are exploring many alternatives, including plastic tipper bodies, as well as UHSS and aluminum, reducing the weight of chassis, axles, wheels, tires, and bodies – contributing to greater carrying capacity at a lower overall weight, thus achieving better fuel economy.

It’s Not Just About the Driver’s Safety

From structural revolution, we now take a look at pedestrian protection and manufacturers being forced to change vehicles to suit new legislation. The world is getting smaller; what one country implements can affect what other countries do.

The EU has some strict legislation in place that focuses on pedestrian protection in an attempt to limit injuries to any pedestrian that is hit by a car.

European manufacturers have been developing active bumpers, active bonnets, and bonnet airbags.

In one recently developed prototype, when the vehicle detects an impact with a pedestrian the bumper pops out to cushion the impact and the airbag deploys to protect the pedestrian from the vehicle’s hard points. Volvo has just put their new V40 into production equipped with a bonnet airbag.

EU legislation states that there must be a certain distance between the external panels that a pedestrian will hit and any “hard” points, like the engine, that sit below the bonnet. To get a lower bonnet line, Mercedes and Jaguar have designed pop-up bonnets that lift and give the space for the pedestrian to be cushioned as they land on the bonnet.

Mercedes used to have a manual system that could be easily reset; they have now followed Jaguar and fitted a pyrotechnic system that will cost over $375 if it should deploy.

Both of these manufacturers have sensors in the front bumper for the pop-up bonnet system, which raises a number of issues for auto recycling. First, you need to be certain that you are selling the correct bumper for the model – a bumper without a sensor in a vehicle with a pop-up bonnet is no good. You also need to be certain that the sensor is undamaged, and the bumpers cannot be repaired or painted because this could impact the performance of the sensor when it is most needed.

Scary stuff – you sell a bumper, it is fitted to the vehicle that is then involved in an incident with a pedestrian, the pop-up bonnet fails to deploy and the pedestrian is killed or seriously injured – who is liable?

Inspector Gadget

Electronics now play a very big role in vehicles, in terms of both safety and convenience.

Many cars now have a camera beside the rearview mirror that monitors road markings and sends data to the vehicle computer. The system then feeds torque into the steering system to keep the car in the center of the lane. Radar sensors behind the grille badge monitor distance from the car in front, and the car automatically keeps a safe distance from the car in front even if that car slows down.

The radar is also used for Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and when a collision is imminent, it warns the driver to take action via an audio and visual warning. If the collision is still imminent, the seatbelt tensioners will lightly tug the driver for a physical warning, and the last resort is full emergency braking.

At low speeds, this can avoid an impact completely. At higher speeds the severity of the impact will be significantly reduced, which will result in decreased vehicle damage and personal injury. That is fine for this car, but what about the car behind him? As with the bumpers for vehicles fitted with pop-up bonnets, if you sell any of these components and they fail to operate correctly and cause an accident, again the question to as is, who is liable?


Thatcham, the UK’s Motor Insurance Repair and Research Center, has predicted that if every vehicle in the UK had AEB there would be a reduction of up to 30% in the number of accidents. This would include a 40% reduction in whiplash injuries and a 45% reduction in pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured. These last 2 figures are what insurers want to see because this will significantly reduce personal injury costs.

Thatcham’s research indicates that in urban areas, 38% of drivers involved in the type of accident that AEB would eradicate or minimize didn’t even brake!

AEB does not completely prevent all accidents but will minimize the vast majority. Emergency brake assist (BAS) is another electronic system that was developed because research indicated that on many occasions drivers did not apply full braking in emergency situations, or the BAS pulse through the pedal forced them to lift off the brakes instead of keeping the foot firmly on the pedal. BAS reacts to sudden brake activation and applies full emergency braking.

In other areas of development, new electronic systems are designed to reduce emissions. These include Integrated Road Memory – a satellite navigation system that remembers your regular routes, such as your route to work, and adapts the vehicle systems to suit. For example, your regular route to work could include a period of heavy acceleration as you join a fast moving road, so the system can prepare the engine for that type of use by switching on the electric water pump, switching out the AC compressor etc. Alternatively, there may be a long downhill stretch that could be used to re-charge the battery minimizing alternator use that puts load on the engine.

Also increasing in volume are Stop Start systems, which stop the engine when the vehicle is stationary. This system in the Chevy Malibu improves average fuel consumption by three mpg.

Volvo has just concluded a successful live test on Swedish roads of their road train. This was a five vehicle convoy; all the vehicles were talking to each other and were being led by the lead vehicle. The benefits of these smart cars include better fuel consumption as the convoy vehicles are slipstreaming; fewer accidents as vehicles are being controlled autonomously from the first vehicle; less congestion as the vehicles are closer together; and less strain on the drivers of the convoy vehicles as they do not have to drive.

This is undergoing testing now, and it will only be a few years before it will be available in new vehicles.

It seems that the electronic revolution will mean fewer accidents and those that do happen will result in less damage, thus fewer vehicles being written off, fewer vehicles being repaired, and fewer parts required.

Furthermore, how vehicles are fuelled will make a difference to our industry as well. Hybrid and electric vehicles (EV), as well as Hydrogen, Bio Fuels, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are all becoming more readily available and acceptable to the consumer.

EV’s When They Become End of Life?

There are many different opinions on battery life for EV’s, some saying less than 5 years, others guaranteeing them for 8, others saying a minimum of 10. Whatever happens, the cost of batteries is very high.

The Nissan Leaf batteries are about 50% of the cost of the vehicle. Renault requires you lease the batteries, making for a much lower purchase price and a guaranteed replacement if the batteries fail. But what happens if the vehicle is written off in an accident? The insurers own the vehicle, but do they have to remove the batteries and return them to the lease company?

So will the replacement cost of EV batteries make cars obsolete quicker? Your Nissan leaf is 7 years old and needs a new battery pack – is it worth it?

The debate about recycling of EV and Hybrid batteries is still ongoing: Is there a second life application for the batteries? Will they be worth anything when they are recycled? Answers to these questions will have a serious impact on our businesses and how we serve our potential future customers.

Looking forward 10 years, I predict automotive power will be electric, hydrogen, bio fuel, and fossil fuel. Fuel economy and emission regulations will call for smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles. Vehicles could become obsolete much faster as advances in electronics and construction overtake current models.

Your average vehicle owner could purchase their brand new vehicle, run it for the duration of the warranty (5/7 years for Hyundai/Kia) and then trade it in for a brand new model. The advances during that 5 to 7 year period could mean that the trade-in will have such a limited value that it would be better to recycle it then. Or, the manufacturer will decide that recycling is the better option for their brand, vehicles could become “white goods” and be treated like your fridge, TV, or computer.

There will be a reduced volume of accidents, less damage to vehicles, with less vehicles being repaired or written off. Vehicles will be more difficult to repair due to construction techniques and advanced electronics that require main dealer intervention.

Overall, the increased cost of motoring will reduce the volume of vehicles in use and the amount of miles driven, which will result in less green parts being used. This will drive change into the industry with more vehicles stripped for recycling rather than re-use.

This will be a challenge for many in the auto recycling industry, and I believe that there will be some casualties as the market changes. But those businesses who are actively involved in ARA and their local association will have opportunities to increase their knowledge to improve their business. I believe that these operations will be able to make those important changes that will keep their business sustainable, profitable, and successful.

Andy Latham is the Managing Director of Salvage Wire, a unique Auto Recycling and Motor Salvage Consultancy that helps businesses be safe, ethical, and profitable. Visit

The Dilemma of High Strength Steels

Ultra High Strength Steel (UHSS) is increasingly being utilized in vehicle bodies to give added strength without increasing vehicle weight. Its use works well until the vehicle gets damaged in an accident.

Once damaged, UHSS cannot be repaired – the whole panel must be replaced. Welding generates heat, and too much heat destroys the strength of the metal, so there are specific welding requirements that must be adhered to when the replacement panel is fitted so that the built-in strength is not compromised.

UHSS is used in selected areas of a vehicle to protect the passenger safety cell, so any repairs in this area must ensure that the vehicle performs as designed in the event of another accident. Potential implications for auto recycling companies are serious, especially if they are repairing the vehicle or they supply one of these panels to a customer. A worst case scenario could potentially be a repaired vehicle involved in another accident where a vehicle occupant is killed or seriously injured as a result of the failure of the vehicle structure. In the U.K., the repairer and supplier of the part used could be accused of corporate manslaughter and face prison, fines, and compensation that could cripple their business.

My advice is to never cut an UHSS panel out of a vehicle structure for use in the repair of another vehicle, never try to repair UHSS panels, and if you are replacing one of these panels purchase new from the manufacturer and follow manufacturer or I-CAR standards when fitting.

Future of UHSS

The next phase in increasing miles per gallons is in light-weighting the vehicles through high-strength steels. The average car right now will contain five different types of steel. The evolution of advanced high strength steels in autos since 2007 has vehicle makers tinkering with all kinds of metal for every part. The goal for sales and engineering is trying to find the right balance between cost, weight, durability, and federal mileage demands.

The impact to auto recyclers is the collision decision to repair or replace structural parts with high strength steel. Collision repairers determine repair by whether a part is kinked or bent.

Heat weakens high-strength and most ultra-high steels. For this reason cold straightening is the procedure during repair unless steel identification and heating guidelines are available from vehicle makers.

A knowledge gap is a concern for auto recyclers. It is clear that vehicles cannot be sectioned using the methods that were acceptable just a few years ago.

Understanding proper cutting tools and cutting techniques will require tools upgrades and training. Recyclers need to know and practice workaround techniques for cutting advanced steel.

New best practices for high strength steel sectioning are in the works by the ARA Technical Advisory Committee and a new training course at the ARA University will premiere in February, 2014.

Important Notes on UHSS

• Repair of this type of steel is not recommended.
• This type of steel should be replaced only, at factory joints. Sectioning or partial replacement is not recommended.
• The use of heat to repair damage is not recommended for this type of steel.
• Stitch Welding is not recommended for this type of steel.
• This type of steel cannot be used as a backing reinforcement or a sleeve for a sectioning joint.

Recommended Repairs:
• Squeeze Resistance Spot Welding can be used to replace factory spot welds, where applicable.
• MIG plug welding can be used to replace factory spot welds.
• MIG Brazing can be used to replace factory spot welds.

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