Most of us never would want to see the inside of an auto body repair shop. At the most we can often smell the solvents being emitted by automotive body vehicle repair shop as we drive by and wonder how those people can make it through a work day never being precise and accurate in both matching the color of car panels and repairing auto, truck and S.U.V bodies after vehicle collisions.
It is only by accident – car accidents that most of us end up inside the premises of our local, dealer or a chain auto body shop.
Most shops now bear little relation to the establishments you may remember as a child – dark and dusty surrounded by both piles of used and new car parts as well as a mean guard dog in the yard. There may be a few of those still around but they are a dying breed. Repairing cars now, especially with the electronics in today’s vehicles, requires both skill, education and training, sophisticated tools and an ultra clean, modern shop.
Modern body shops now seem to be uniformly clean, well laid out and well lit. As well many body shops are laid out in several distinct separate staging areas. Vehicles are estimated in one area, body work done in another, electronic repairs in yet another area, painted in a very separate area, and finally detailed and presented to the customer in a display area.
If the vehicle has major damage, then it is moved to a disassembly area and onto a frame machine. Unibody construction is utilized by most autos today. Unibody is a an automotive and mechanical body term which describes how sheet metal is stamped, formed and welded together to form the structural portion of the car or truck body.
The purpose of the “frame machine” is not to straighten the car frame now – rather it is to straighten the unibody construction of the vehicle.
Measuring the vehicle body for correct unibody alignment is more than critical. As little as one millimeter error is all that is allowed by most car, truck and S.U.V. manufacturers. Laser measuring systems are used by many body shops along with the frame machine to ensure that everything is straightened accurately to the decimal point.
With the unibody of the vehicle straight, the car, truck or S.U.V. moves to the metal work area where new sheet metal is mounted and damages area straightened. This work is still done by skilled technicians and tradesmen using hammers and dollies, but even the work done by body shop technicians has been changed by modern technologies. Overhead vacuum lines are connected to the grinders and sanders to pull dust and dirt away from this part of the shop. Modern body shops can remain very clean and dust free- indeed modern electronics , and even the most modern hi tech electronics of hybrid vehicles demand this.
With the entire metal straight, it’s on to the paint preparation area, commonly referred to as “paint prep”. Quality shops will use dust extraction systems to remove the dust when sanding and spraying the paint primers. Infrared lighting systems may be used to cure primer paint quickly and properly. These infrared lights can shorten the cure time from 24 hours remarkably to as little as 20 minutes. All of these procedures both help you to get a higher quality assured job and get you back on the road in a minimal time span.
Painting the final colors and clear coats is done in a paint booth. There are many types and brands of paint booths, however it is generally accepted the best are the “downdraft” units where fresh filtered air enters the top of the booth and any underspray is pulled downward and out through grates in the floor. The downdraft procedure of paint booths can produce the best and most consistent of paint finishes. In addition a well trained operator can make a great difference in final paint and appearance quality and consistency. A dust free paint booth of any design is better than a dirty and dusty paint booth of the highest end. Before spending your money or committing yourself to the job or repairs it is always best to ask to examine several examples of the shops work on several vehicles. In addition ask to see finished examples of several different body types – cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. Look for smooth finishes with minimal dust specs and colors that match from panel to panel. These are the signs of a quality paint job done by a skilled and professional painter.
It goes without saying that a professional paint shop will be proud of their faculties- the layout, equipment, training of their staff – and most of all their people.
Such a shop should have no trouble, barring practical logistics, of allowing you a tour of their facilities. Indeed after all of their careful efforts they should be most proud to give you a tour and point out their strong points and capabilities as well as examples of their finished product.
After all it’s your vehicle that is being repaired – whether it is your new S.U.V, car, truck, van or bus.