When we’re shopping for a car, safety is often one of the top considerations. The safety features offered by an automobile to prevent a crash in the first place, as well as its ability to keep us safe if a crash actually happens, play a big role in our decision making. Green vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles, have to meet the same crash test standards as all conventional gasoline vehicles. And thanks to their sophisticated technical architectures, EVs also offer more active safety features than the average gasoline car such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and multiple camera systems.
If you are in a crash, a hybrid or electric vehicle will protect you and your family as well as a conventional vehicle. But, when it comes to repairing a highly-electrified vehicle, there are some additional considerations you should be aware of when choosing a repair facility to ensure your vehicle is returned to you as safe as when it was new.
In regular use, your hybrid or electric vehicle’s high-voltage systems operate in the background seamlessly, without bringing notice to themselves. In some accidents, the high-voltage (HV) cables connecting your car’s systems may become severed, and can cause serious harm to anyone handling them without proper protective equipment. These high-voltage systems are all identified very clearly on your vehicle in bright orange.
Not all collision repair facilities have received training, or have the necessary infrastructure and equipment, to properly handle the high-voltage systems of EVs and plug-in hybrids. This training and equipment is not only necessary to ensure your vehicle is repaired properly, but also to keep the technicians working on your car safe.
Procedures that are unique to repairing electric vehicles that are involved in a crash, include proper quarantining of the high voltage battery, which can cause a fire if handled improperly. Not only must the battery be removed from your vehicle using specific procedures, but its level of charge must be maintained to ensure it still performs properly when replaced in the vehicle.
These procedures require proper equipment as well; everything from charging and maintenance equipment to, in some cases, battery quarantine rooms.
In order to offset the substantial weight of the batteries and still deliver acceptable electric driving range, many hybrids and EVs have multi-material structures that are far more sophisticated than the conventional steel structures used in gasoline-powered cars. For instance, Tesla’s model S uses a full-aluminum structure, and BMW’s i series cars use a combination of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber; a technology they call the “carbon core.”
Exotic materials require special tools, equipment, and techniques to repair properly, and each manufacturer will provide specific training to their certified body shops, to ensure your vehicle is repaired properly.
Bringing Your EV Back to Life
The complex electronic systems in a hybrid or electric vehicle need to be put on the automotive version of life support while being repaired after a collision. This includes properly maintaining the high-voltage battery, which could be rendered inoperable if not properly handled, as well as all of the vehicle’s many control modules to ensure they work together properly. A manufacturer-certified, and EV-friendly, body shop will not only have the necessary equipment to properly handle these devices, but through their manufacturer certification, will also have access to document outlining the proper procedures to bring your vehicle back to life once it has been repaired.
According to Body Shop Business, “Removing and installing an EV battery is no small feat. Regardless of type, they are large and heavy. There is typically special equipment to support the battery and assist with this process. A scissor-lift platform or mobile battery table fixture is typically used. Depending on the procedure, the battery or the vehicle is raised or lowered to join the two. Either way, precision is the key and special tools such as alignment dowels are often used. For fixed connectors, the use of a borescope may prove essential to visually verify the proper alignment of the connectors before mating the battery to the vehicle body.”
Recalibrating Safety Systems
Finally, the many active safety systems in any modern vehicle, particularly in EVs, will need to be recalibrated in order to function properly. For instance, a lane departure warning system relies on side-view cameras that read the markings on the road, and will need to be re-aimed and re-focused, using specific patterns and tools provided by the automaker.
Some systems, such as active cruise control that uses radar in combination with cameras, may require a special room to be outfitted with test patterns for proper calibration. Ensure that the body shop you choose is properly equipped to calibrate these systems. The lesson that crosses all of these themes is that modern vehicles, and particularly highly-electrified vehicles, are complex devices, often made of higher-grade materials and containing many systems that require care and knowledge to bring your EV back to factory specs.
For the best peace-of-mind, it’s best for you to seek out a repair facility that is certified by the manufacturer of your vehicle. Almost all manufacturers of electric vehicles have body shop certification programs, which provide specific training and require proper equipment to be present. Their certification is your assurance that your vehicle will be prepared properly, and will keep you safe for years to come.