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In the last few years there have been major improvements in the area of autonomy of the car: Mercedes, Google, etc.

Driverless cars are less prone to accidents and such but the car repair industry depends on drivers making mistakes (collisions/accidents). What would happen to all these body shop workers, mechanics, and painters.

I know they can work in factories but there are only so many people you need in a factory. And would some body shop owners have to close in the near-future or migrate to other jobs? And in the event there is an accident would these driverless cars go to privately owned shops or the dealer?

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    $\begingroup$ As we get into the answers, I feel I should point out that the transportation and traffic planning world no longer uses the word, "accidents," but "wrecks." There is no such thing as an automobile accident. Just pointing out some nomenclature. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ I would challenge the ideas that everyone would have driverless cars, and that driverless cars would be completely immune to accidents, or even, at the current state of the art, less prone. The auto-driving feature would be an option, useful for e.g. long trips on divided highways. Auto-driving doesn't prevent e.g. a deer jumping out in front of the car. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I agree that most of the repair costs of a car come from accidents. I think regular servicing and repair for normal wear-and-tear is far larger $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ We're already making driverless cars; it won't be long until we automate repair shops too. There are a lot of jobs that won't be around pretty soon. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ThoughtfulCat There's a video by CGP Grey on Youtube about this. I think it's called 'Humans need not Apply'; it basically talks about how bad the job market is going to get for humans soon, just like the job market for horses a century ago. There's a small chance everything will work out; more likely, society will collapse :D $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 19:30

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They will flex. This is true for any industry whose market moves (which is any industry since no market ever holds still). As the driverless cars move in, they will adapt to be less dependent on accidents. Perhaps they instead make their money off the increased maintenance cost of all of the new hardware required for driverless cars. Or perhaps they leave the business entirely.

Personally, I think the bigger enemy of repair companies is America's love of disposable items. If we reach the point where consumers would rather buy the new model than repair the old model, repair suffer.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is highly unlikely that cars will become cheaper to replace than repair barring some truly fantastic changes in manufacturing technologies. $\endgroup$
    – Saidoro
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Saidoro I didn't say they'd be cheaper, I merely said that consumers would rather buy the new model. In 2002, the average holding of a car was 38 months (the data I found said we've since returned to 71.4 months, but for a while we just replaced things when they broke). I know I can personally say my family bought a new car when the warranty failed because that particular car was too expensive to maintain outside of waranty. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon: Of course this is an average, so many people will be holding on to their vehicles longer. Also, new cars aren't simply trashed by the initial buyer (excluding a few wrecks), they go into the used market. Maintenance costs also depend on the make. I currently own a '00 Honda and '88 Toyota pickup, neither of which have required much beyond normal maintenance. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf It is an average, but that's exactly what the repair industry depends on, the average * number of car owners. And it does depend on make, but I don't expect autonomous vehicles of any make to have cheap repair costs. So much will be "throw out this large computer and put a new one in" $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget how expensive battery replacement is... or maybe cars will even go the way of the iPhone and have unreplacable batteries so you have to buy a new one every five years. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 1:20
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An important point to consider is that sometimes cars just break down. Wear and tear on suspension, sand clogging intake valves, leaky radiators. All of these things would still need fixing even if there's less in the way of bodywork or chassis work to be done. Cars will still need MOT (or equivalent) checks, and it's conceivable that the safety requirements for automated cars would have to be even more stringent than they are for current cars, as an automated car won't be able to correct for drift caused by a bolt in the steering column coming loose.

Lets imagine for a second that each year a car needs to be checked out, and might have an average of 1 'repair' needed (in reality this will depend on the operation lifetime of the vehicle). Now if we take a rough guess at 1% of the cars getting into accidents per year, requiring an average of 10 'repairs' each, then we can see that we'll have 110 repairs that need to happen per 100 cars per year (the cars still need checking even if they've been in an accident).

Automated cars remove the accident repairs. That still leaves us with 90.9% of the 'repairs' that need to happen. I've guesstimated these numbers. I think that the % of accident repairs is lower than the number I've used, and the cost of accident repair is higher than I've estimated, but you can see my point. Feel free to add actual numbers to this if you have them.

I don't imagine for a second that the car repair/mechanic profession will see exactly the same amount of work coming in, but they will certainly still have things to do!

A fun corollary to this is that the automated car will know when things are starting to go wrong. Cars already have onboard computers for monitoring things like this, but if your automated car's 'check engine' light comes on it will be able to take itself off to the garage or call roadside assistance if it's badly broken enough. There are even some proponents for giving automated taxis their own bank balance so they can deal with things like fuel and repairs entirely autonomously. Just imagine not having to worry about taking the car to the garage because it can do it itself. I imagine car mechanics would start working night shifts to fit in with people's schedules better!

All in all, I think the biggest impact of automated cars will be that the people who make automotive paint and body panels will lose that income, but these are the same people who are charging more for their AI driven cars in the first place, so...

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    $\begingroup$ I find your corollary really interesting. A taxi could one day drive indefinitely; getting gas and repairs when it needs it and sending cab fare to the company electronically. Imagine buying a taxi, then setting it loose and never seeing it again, and getting paid for it forever. Or until it gains sentience and keeps the money for itself. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ How does it work the gas pump? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ It's an electric car, which we can charge, theoretically, entirely wirelessly. $\endgroup$
    – Rowanas
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: Not at all hard to design a robotic gas pump that would stick the fuel nozzle in automatically. Or charging connector - I think Tesla actually has something of the sort. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ So you need more infrastructure to make the system autonomous. Maybe there will be station attendants again, or the cab will offer a discount to a passenger who helps out. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 2:26
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There are a lot of reasons beyond accidents for 'body work', such as trees falling in storms, damage from hail, tornados, sink holes, floods, road defects, construction debris, and vandalism. A vehicle does not actually have to be moving to be damaged. There might be fewer body shops after a while, but they'll still be around.

Personally, I think the notion that driverless cars will be the end of accidents is wishful thinking. Not even counting bugs in the code, there are a lot of situations when driving when there is not 100% complete knowledge of whats going on around you, such as around sharp turns and backing out of garages. Barring a 100% real time command and control infrastructure that drives all vehicles at 5 mph, collisions will still occur.

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    $\begingroup$ Even a 100% C&C system isn't going to do much to prevent things like deer running out in front of the car. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Clearly we need driverless deer, too! $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 4:36
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Self-driving cars are a prime example of a Disruptive Technology.

The repair industry most assuredly is going to take a massive hit when autonomous cars become mainstream.

But wait, there's more!

Insurance companies are going to see autonomous cars as fantastic inventions. Less accidents means less insurance payouts, which means greater profits. There'll be a big push for the everyday motorist to get one of these.

The freight/transport industry is going to shed loads of jobs. Truck drivers will be a thing of the past as robots can drive all day, and all night. They don't require rest breaks. They don't require pay. They don't get sick, or take annual leave.

Couriers will remain safe until autonomous cars can deliver goods to people, and collect their signatures. It's just a matter of time.

Taxis. Taxis are already fitted with GPS, and satellite navigation. Taxi drivers don't require knowledge of local roads any more - they have a step-by-step guide in front of them. The only thing they do is collect fares and drive the car - both mechanical processes.

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  • $\begingroup$ So what happens to the people who lose their jobs? (other than the couriers) $\endgroup$
    – Kit
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ They go on unemployment benefits. The younger ones retrain into different careers. The older ones remain unemployed. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think car insurance companies will be too happy about a big drop in accidents. In many areas, the insurance industry is regulated and rates are set to allow a reasonable profit while not gouging consumers. If there's a huge drop in claims, regulators will force a drop in rates -- it's much better for a company to have a 1% share of a billion dollars in claims than a 1% share of 100 million dollars in claims. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 3:27
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    $\begingroup$ @thoughtfulcat They'll get new jobs as has been the case for millenia. Our society is thousands of times more automated today than in the middle ages and yet unemployment doesn't sit at 99.9%. No, we decided that we wanted more than we had in the middle ages. Automation leaves more human effort available to achieve even more $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Johnny Regulation isn't even required any market with healthy competition will ensure that. Automated cars will be a bloodbath for insurers $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2015 at 14:28
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A lot of things will change. Because driverless cars don't require a driver, they will be operated continuously.

Instead of buying a car, most people will subscribe to a car service, probably for a number of miles a month, just like a cell phone plan. This will be much cheaper month-to-month than owning or having a car payment, although obviously it never gets paid off like a car loan. There will be upgraded tiers of luxury that can be purchased if you want to roll in a Benz instead of a Ford. Yes, we'll pay a premium for use during "peak" (rush) hours. We'll order a car using an app, similar to Uber but without the driver. Ride sharing will be common, but private rides will be available for a premium.

Edit: I wasn't clear as to why people would subscribe to a ride service rather than own their own cars. The reason is cost.

Driverless cars operated by a service will allow you to effectively split the cost of the car with everyone else who uses it when you aren't. Most cars now spend 95% of the time parked in a spot or driveway. There's no reason for a driverless car that can go to new passengers to ever not be in use, provided it isn't recharging or being serviced and there is someone close enough to be worth the trip who could be using it . Each passenger only needs to pay for his utilization of the car rather than for the whole thing if the car is shared. If you only spend 4% of your month in the car and could only pay for the 4% of the car that you actually use, that would be way cheaper than paying for 100% and only using it 4% of the time. Obviously demand for cars at peak commuting hours will complicate this, but sharing cars will dramatically reduce the cost of access to transportation.

Even people who spend their entire workday in a vehicle don't use them 24 hours a day. And, don't forget, most of those people are delivering something, and once driverless cars/trucks become the norm, those jobs won't be done by people anymore.

If you could pay $50-$100 a month--instead of a full car payment plus gas plus maintenance and repairs--for access to the same class of vehicle whenever you wanted, you would, even if it meant having to wait a few extra minutes for a pickup or scheduling the pickup in advance--which will be as hard as unlocking your phone and saying "Ok, Uber, I'm running eight minutes late this morning" and having a car pick you up at 7:38am instead of the usual M-F 7:30am pickup.

And driverless cars will be expensive to own. I seem to recall reading that Google's autonomous cars have about $250k worth of equipment in them. Obviously those are prototypes, and the cost will go down considerably. But a driverless car will remain much more expensive than a comparable dumbcar. Even if the cost of the computer and sensor hardware becomes negligible, the software still costs a lot to develop and maintain. And, don't forget, there will still be a huge liability assumed by the maker: if the car gets hacked or malfunctions and kills someone, they're getting sued. They will charge enough to make assuming that liability worth their while.

We'll pay that premium, though. We'll pay it to get our commute time back. We'll pay it to reduce accident risk to basically zero. We'll pay it to make sure nobody else ever dies because a drunk driver fell asleep at the wheel. And we'll make it a law that anybody else who wants to use public roads to go anywhere has to pay it, too. But it won't be much of a price to pay if we split it. Thus ride services.

/end edit

Car makers will focus on making longer lasting cars engineered for continuous use. Except for the very high end, their market will shift from consumers to fleet models sold to car services.

Most auto body and repair shops will eventually close. A few larger chains will form by buying up other shops and compete for contracts to handle repairs for the large car services. The mechanics/body repair people who stay in those careers will end up working for them or directly for the car services in regional repair depots.

Gas stations will disappear, as the fleets will be electric, but that will happen even without driverless cars.

Driveways and garages will be conspicuously absent from newly constructed neighborhoods. Parking lots will mostly disappear, except for the few on which the car services will erect garages with inductive supercharging pads in the parking spaces. The cars will go there to recharge when necessary.

There will be more extensive drop-off/pickup areas at the entrances of shopping malls and office buildings for cars to pick up and drop off riders, though.

In general, we'll see the same things we've seen with disruptive technologies in the past. Entire industries, including auto repair, will be transformed, forced to pivot hard or be left behind. Many small businesses like auto shops will be eliminated or agglomerated into fewer, larger ones. Some, perhaps many, people will fail to adapt quickly enough and will be left behind. The trend has been toward a few huge national players emerging and using lobbying and regulation to entrench themselves, and, unfortunately, I expect that to happen here, too.

There's still the possibility of smaller car services, though. Car services will be capital-intensive businesses, naturally, but they won't necessarily require or have the massive infrastructure requirements, geographic monopolies, or regulatory barriers-to-entry (and resulting economic moats) which oligarchic cable, ISP, cellular, telecom, and power companies use to stifle competition.

It's very possible that we could see small entrepreneurs buying a few autonomous cars and offering their services through a ride brokering app/system. Smaller car services could also survive by targeting niche markets or providing boutique-style services. We might see serviced that specialize in cars equipped as a mobile office, or optimized for hi-def entertainment or gaming, or audiophile-aimed services with cars with really nice sound systems, or cars with built-in car seats for small children, or even specialized cars outfitted and targeted toward families taking long trips.

Smaller, local auto shops may be able to survive by catering to these smaller car services.

There will still likely be a small percentage of hobbyist car owners with privately-owned, old-fashioned driver-controlled cars, although they will eventually all be confined by law to closed tracks or private roads to protect the rest of us. (Both public opinion and the law will come to see drivers who insist on manual control, with its potential for human error, the same way they view those who insist on driving drunk.) Those hobbyists could also provide local auto shops with some business.

So yes, lots of people will lose their jobs. New jobs will be created. Life and progress will march on.

I think it's the small-town speedtrap-manning cops I'll enjoy seeing lose their jobs the most, though.

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    $\begingroup$ You seem to think that everyone in your world lives in suburbia, and seldom if ever leaves it. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ The changes will be more noticeable in suburban life. In cities already dominated by taxis, with smaller percentages of private car ownership, like NYC, the taxi drivers will just be replaced by computers. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ I was actually thinking of the other direction. Not suburban vs urban, but (sub)urban vs rural. In a future where telecommuting becomes widely accepted, many more people will have that option. (As I do today.) Physical commuting, whether by driving, driverless car, or mass transit, is a thing of the past. Instead, people travel to trailheads, beaches, sporting events, and so on. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of driverless cars. But car ownership isn't going anywhere. People who are used to an ever increasingly 'get it right now' economy aren't going to put up with waiting even 15 minutes for a car to show up to take them someplace. And there's a lot of professions and businesses (delivery, repair, real estate, etc) where a vehicle is needed all day long. They will still own or lease vehicles for private use. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2015 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Like GrandmasterB said, I still think there will be quite a few cars on the side of the road since people aren't going to wait for long. But anyway +1 for the incredibly detailed answer. $\endgroup$
    – Kit
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 23:18
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Not unless they start doing underhanded things like hiring "car hackers" to put glitches into systems, mess up external control signals (so called V2V communications) and otherwise make driving in these cars just a little less "safe".

During the transitional period, there will also be lots of collisions between driverless cars and traditional cars driven by human beings. And of course, while there will be industry standards, one can always imagine that one of the automakers will try to pull a Microsoft and "enhance and extend" the various protocols that self driving cars need to communicate with each other in order to work. When one brand of car can clearly no longer "talk" to the other cars on the road, then there will be accidents (much like many web pages don't load properly on IE, because IE uses different versions of Internet protocols).

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  • $\begingroup$ I could see that making cars get in accidents would be a viable way to generate business. But that would be small scale and only big shops that are shady could be able to do that on a large scale. But in the question I was saying once all cars become autonomous what would happen. And let's assume the cars can "socialize" with each other perfectly. $\endgroup$
    – Kit
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder how cars could "socialize" perfectly when people themselves cannot, and people, of course, write the code for cars...Think of Microsoft "extending and enhancing" the various internet standards to the point that some websites cannot load properly onto IE, and you will see what I mean. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ The cars will have black boxes that log the car's decisions in order to determine liability in the event of an accident. They will also be firewalled against outside input by default, the same as any competently administrated computer is today. Hackers, at least the most successful ones, will be tracked and caught, and prosecuted for attempted murder. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2015 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think you mean the "least successful ones". Considering that hackers just recently made off with data from 100's of thousands of US taxpayers from the IRS computers, suggesting that GM would successfully firewall their black boxes is mostly wishful thinking. And once the Black Box is physically out of the car, it can also be tampered with by unscrupulous investigators (maybe being bribed or blackmailed). $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 19:20
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First the vast majority of car repair is for cars breaking down, not auto collisions. Though collisions do tend to create large repair bills and are often lucrative for the auto shops.

second until all autos are self driving, there will still be plenty of collisions.

3rd self driving autos will not be fool proof, deer, cows and other items both animate and inanimate will cause damage to the vehicles.

What might be a larger affect to shops (and parts manufacturers) is 3-D printing. Someone is experimenting with printing out the full body of a car, currently it takes quit a while but...

As costs and time come down it will be more common, and actual car parts could be downloaded to a machine and printed out, no more waiting until next week...

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