5 Futuristic Auto Repair Technologies


3-D Printing

The Urbee is a full-size, street-legal car -- and its entire body is 3-D printed. (Courtesy of KOR Ecologic Inc.)
The Urbee is a full-size, street-legal car -- and its entire body is 3-D printed. (Courtesy of KOR Ecologic Inc.)

True, 3-D printing already exists, but a lot of its potential is still untapped. In short, 3-D printing uses computers and other computerized components to recreate an existing object, or create an all-new custom object of the user's design. This could be especially useful to repair older cars with hard-to-find or nonexistent parts supply -- just take out the thing that broke, scan it and spit out a new one. Though classic car enthusiast Jay Leno talked about using such techniques back in 2009, it's still out of reach for most people. Most high-quality 3-D systems are still very expensive, large and tricky to use. In other words, industrial-strength 3-D printing has come a long way, with car manufacturers using the technology to create prototype parts, and insurance companies considering ways to recreate entire classic cars; however, average consumers and hobbyists still have a while to wait until reliable systems are affordable, and affordable systems are reliable. Making toys and trinkets with an at-home 3-D printer is one thing, but the stakes are a bit higher if you're printing a set of brake calipers.

Author's Note: 5 Futuristic Auto Repair Technologies

I get positively giddy whenever I spot a new article by Seth Stevenson. I'd reproduce him if I could, and keep a copy for myself, but the technology isn't ready yet. So when I saw his Slate piece this winter, about his experiments in 3-D printing, I was pretty sure it would be good. "Wired" magazine has been pushing the 3-D printing agenda pretty hard, and although Seth's as good a storyteller as anyone who writes for "Wired," that seems (at least in part) because his exploits usually don't go that smoothly. For example, molten plastic, like the kind that flows from the consumer-grade Solidoodle 3-D desktop printer, is supposed to be smooth, but not in Seth's hands. After three failed attempts, he gave up. The article is worth a read, though, because these are the scenarios I envision playing out in the hands of amateurs, no matter what "Wired" wants me to believe. I know plastic thread, like the kind used for the printer in the article, won't ever be capable of heavy-duty car parts. But I think the technology, in general, is a little behind what we're told.

Related Articles


  • Bullis, Kevin. "Why Your Car Won't Get Remote Software Updates Anytime Soon." MIT Technology Review. Feb. 20, 2014. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.technologyreview.com/news/524791/why-your-car-wont-get-remote-software-updates-anytime-soon/
  • Carney, Dan. "3D Printing Can Now Re-create An Entire Classic Car." Popular Mechanics. June 10, 2013. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/vintage-speed/3d-printing-can-now-re-create-an-entire-classic-car-15566080
  • Dearborn Group Technology. "Dearborn Group Technology's Wireless Diagnostics System." (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.dgtech.com/aboutus/success_stories/dg_wireless_diagnostics.html
  • Halzack, Sarah. "How innovation has changed the job of an auto repair technician." The Washington Post. May 26, 2013. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/how-innovation-has-changed-the-job-of-an-auto-repair-technician/2013/05/24/17863e20-c181-11e2-ab60-67bba7be7813_story.html
  • Okulski, Travis. "Augmented Reality App Will Help VW Techs Fix Your Car Correctly." Jalopnik. Oct. 1, 2013. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://jalopnik.com/augmented-reality-app-will-help-vw-techs-fix-your-car-c-1435794037
  • Sorokanich, Robert. "Raspberry Pi on Wheels: The $35 Computer in the Car." Popular Mechanics. April 25, 2013. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/maintenance/raspberry-pi-on-wheels-the-35-computer-in-the-car-?click=main_sr
  • Stevenson, Seth. "A Factory in Every Foyer." Slate. March 9, 2014. (Aug. 14, 2014) http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/03/solidoodle_4_testing_the_home_3_d_printer.html
  • Stewart, Jack. "How to fix a car -- without a mechanic." BBC. Jan. 20, 2014. (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140120-fix-a-car-without-a-mechanic
  • Stratasys. "3D Printing for Automotive Parts Manufacturing." (Aug. 8, 2014) http://www.stratasys.com/industries/automotive
  • Yahoo Finance. "Connected Cars, New Materials To Radically Change Collision Repair, Auto Leaders Tell I-CAR Conference." July 30, 2014. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://finance.yahoo.com/news/connected-cars-materials-radically-change-190000070.html
  • Wernle, Bradford. "Group 1 body shops prep for the age of aluminum." Automotive News. Dec. 2, 2013. (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.autonews.com/article/20131202/RETAIL/312029996/group-1-body-shops-prep-for-the-age-of-aluminum


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