3D-printed chocolate? An entire 3D-printed office building and 3D-printed organs? Lately, everyone has been speaking about 3D printers and the opportunities for their use in the modern world. They have the potential to improve various industries, from the medical field to the food industry, and even the manufacturing world. The car industry, in particular, has already seen exciting innovations that could change the way cars are made.

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What Are the Facts?

Local Motors recently created a 3D-printed vehicle with a car body printed from carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. The engine, wheels and motors are then attached separately. The electric vehicle is considered a neighborhood electric vehicle, and because of that classification, the car can be driven up to 25 mph legally on the roads (or 45 mph in some states) and lasts for around 5 years. At that point, the car could potentially be recycled entirely, melted down and recreated. The purchase price for this Strati model will range from $18,000 to $30,000 while the highway ready LM3D series may cost you as much as $53,000.

Sounds crazy and futuristic, right? However, these vehicles may not be far off—the current plan is for them to hit the roads by 2017 as models are already being tested. The car has the potential to be safer than an average vehicle as 3D printing occurs layer by layer. As a result, there’s an opportunity for greater impact-absorbing crash structures below the surface, such as elastic-bonded bumpers to protect the vehicle during collisions. The car is also surprisingly solid as there is no distinction between the car’s body and chassis—it’s all printed as one whole structure.

Local Motors 3D-Printed CarAnother perk to these cars is the endless customization possibilities. These vehicles are created pixel by pixel. As far as costs, a 3D-printed car has only 50 parts compared to the thousands in a regular car model and the plastic is relatively affordable. The process takes around 40 hours to complete, which is more than an assembly line but occurs with much less manpower.

Currently, many car manufacturers are already integrating 3D technology into their manufacturing process. Many use printers for design elements and prototypes, as well as form testing. However, Local Motors plans to use these 3D-printed cars for more than just models. They want consumers to drive them and experience how 3D-printed automobiles could improve the industry with their eco-friendly design that can help reduce costs and lower pollution levels.

The Effects on Car Insurance:

So, now you’re hooked. Or you’re at least considering the fun possibility of driving around a cutting edge printed car. But what might it mean for your auto insurance premium? Here’s what we speculate.

There are many possible implications for the car insurance industry if 3D-printed vehicles filter into the consumer market. If we’re all driving around in 3D-printed electric cars, there’s the benefit of more environmental-friendly cars (hey, green vehicle discount?) and if the statements about safety ring true, then car repairs shouldn’t be required as often as there will be fewer accidents.

Strati 3D-Printed CarIn the case of serious damages, the 3D-printed car would have fewer parts than an average vehicle, and would likely cost less to repair. Ideally, these savings would be passed down to the consumer. Of course, it is important to consider 3D printing infrastructure. Not too many local mechanic shops currently have 3D printers to make parts.

However, those mechanic shop printers may likely be on their way. While 3D-printed cars in every vehicle owning household may be far off, the more realistic idea of printed car parts may be within reach. If printers can be used to create replaceable parts for cars, versus ordering from an expensive manufacturer, then repair expenses will likely drop significantly. Think of a local repair shop printing out an engine piece versus ordering directly from the car model’s manufacturer. These printed parts are exact and accurate due to the printer’s beams and lasers. In fact, the FAA recently approved a 3D-printed chrome-alloy piece for General Electric jet engines. Having similar car parts for vehicles would be beneficial and more affordable. They would also lower repair costs for insurers, meaning drivers could see lower premium rates as a result. The timeline for repairs would likely be faster as well.

There’s still a long way to go before 3D-printed cars and car parts become commonplace. But keep it on your radar, as the new vehicle tech just keeps coming and insurers may need to start offering coverage for 3D-printed cars soon.

Photo Credits: Marc Palumbo, Wikimedia