Automobile body repair techniques have changed drastically since Richard Vandenberg's dad began the first auto body course at Weber State College in the 1940s.

Vandenberg is an associate professor of automotive engineering technology, a position he has held since his father, who was the first auto body instructor at the college, retired in 1964."Dad's auto-painting history dates back to when cars were painted with a camel hair brush and varnish," Vandenberg said.

Painting and body repair have evolved a great deal since the 1920s when Richard Vandenberg I opened one of Ogden's early repair shops.

"This is now a high-tech field, and we want to give our students as much training as possible. Your life depends on how we fix cars," Vandenberg said.

In the not too distant past, the skeleton of a car was a heavy metal frame that sat underneath the vehicle. The frame held the car together, but during a collision transmitted much of the force of the impact into the passenger compartment.

Now, most cars have "unibody" designs, where the exterior shell of the automobile is built as a solid piece, eliminating the need for a frame.

"Cars are designed now as a giant shock absorber," Vandenberg said.

That results in less damage to the passengers but much more damage to the vehicle. Therefore, mechanics must be technical experts in many repair methods, he said.

Students in Weber State's two-year auto body program must know how to realign the total vehicle to exact measurements. They must understand how to repair plastics that are becoming common in current vehicles, how to mix and use modern paints, new welding techniques, corrosion prevention and how to safely install glass.

"There's a great responsibility working on someone's car to ensure that the vehicle is restored to the owner as crash worthy as it was before the accident," he said.