Everything in the green

Repair instead of replace: In order to make a contribution to environment, Allianz is focusing on sustainability in car repairs. We visit a garage to see how this works in practice. 

The sound of sandpaper on metal can be heard and music from the radio is coming out of the speakers. A sad tune that emphasizes the sorry sight on the parking lot: there is a dent in the door of a white Golf, the rear bumper of a silver van is hanging off. The scratches on a pink Fiat look as if a lion has mistaken it for a 500-kilo roast. Automotive experts push red tool trolleys back and forth between the damaged cars. In the spray booth, which vaguely resembles an operating theater, Ernst Fritz stands in front of a covered vehicle. The 36-year-old and his sister Romy are both managing directors of Fritz’s Body shop (Karosseriebau Fritz GmbH) in Backnang, Germany.

For a long time, society has thought about mobility and sustainability together, but the focus has mainly been on CO2e emissions on our roads. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: sustainability in garages. There is huge potential here for so-called “green repair” methods to save energy, avoid waste, conserve materials and resources – and reduce costs. A study by the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) shows: Repairing a Volkswagen ID.3 windshield saves 99 percent of CO2e emissions compared with replacing it and costs significantly less too. Repairing the side panel of a Ford Fiesta is also noticeably cheaper and CO2e consumption is 60 percent lower. 

This was also the case with Mr. Meier, who hit a wall in front of the garage in his electric car. In the workshop, Mr. Fritz now examines the consequences: The bumper of the once immaculate, white Tesla has been dented and damaged, and the rim has a deep scratch. “We advised repairing the bumper instead of replacing it. That’s about 15 percent cheaper,” says Fritz. However, the rim must be replaced out of relevance to safety. Components such as radar sensors for driving assistants are also not approved for repair in Germany. 

Sustainable car repairs are becoming increasingly popular in Germany. However, other countries are one step ahead here. The UK in particular is considered a pioneer in this area. Repairing broken parts is encouraged, as well as the installation of environmentally friendly parts. Car parts can’t always be repaired. But instead of installing a new part, there is also the option of using a reconditioned part. As an insurer, it’s particularly important to work closely with the workshop networks in the individual countries and, for example, to support staff training and the development of new processes, thereby promoting environmentally friendly repair methods. If insurers increase repair rates in Europe by just two percentage points per year, Allianz experts calculate that almost 30,000 tons of CO2e emissions could be avoided. This roughly corresponds to the annual energy consumption of around 5,100 households in Germany. 

Photo credit: Niklas Niessner
Photo credit: Niklas Niessner

In the case of Mr. Meier’s car, the bumper is first dismantled and “stripped”: vehicle expert Habip Mahmutoglu removes the parking sensors, license plates and decorative grille. He then cleans the part so that no dirt or dust makes painting more difficult. While most workshops use solvents for cleaning, steam is used here, which shoots out of special high-pressure cleaners at a temperature of 100 degrees and a pressure of 10 bar. “This makes it easy to remove dirt well. It’s healthier for our employees and more sustainable for the environment. Previously, several hundred liters of solvent were delivered and processed. Since we started using water, transport emissions have been reduced,” says Fritz. 

The cleaned bumper is now selectively heated to restore shape and contour. Habip Mahmutoglu then welds all cracks and breakages. Welding is carried out using nitrogen; the generator required for this is installed under the workshop roof. A dedicated heat and power plant produces electricity and heat, for example to supply the drying cabins and to heat the hall in winter. After welding, the material hardens under a UV lamp. This makes the bumper fully functional again – just like new. The next step is to sand off the old paint. Then master painter Claudio Mauceri applies the base coat. The generator under the roof is also used here: instead of spraying the paint with air, it is applied with nitrogen. This means less paint is needed for the same result. There is a machine in the paint mixing room that can mix almost 100,000 color combinations of environmentally friendly water-based paint. The clear coat is then applied on top of the base coat. 

Photo credit: Niklas Niessner
If a part is not removed but is painted on the car, then fabrics sewn together by Grandma Fritz are used: They protect body parts from paint mist. “The cloths are used for several months and then washed. That saves plastic waste,” says Fritz. After painting, the Tesla bumper goes into the drying booth at 50 degrees for a good half hour. Habip now mounts the repaired part on the car, calibrates the driving assistants and documents that everything is working properly. Then Mr. Meier can pick up his car – at a lower price than would have been the case if a new part had been installed. For the workshop operators Ernst and Romy Fritz, that’s not the decisive factor. They are interested in the fact that their company’s carbon footprint has improved and that around 70 percent less plastic waste is produced. “For me, sustainability isn’t a means to an end to save money. We have to use the earth’s resources responsibly,” says Ernst Fritz.