How to find a Quality Autobody Shop
As someone in the business I thought I could contribute with a quick write-up on how to avoid getting burned on bad paintwork and/or collision repair. When your looking for a shop you should make sure your asking the right questions to ensure the job is getting done properly.
New Panels – in the case of replacing a body panel such as a hood, fender or any other part, a big way some shops try to cheat is by skipping on the primer/sealer. New parts come with a thin black primer called an e-coat. For a reason I’m not quite sure, many shops will skip the primer & paint directly over the e-coat. It will add about 20 minutes to the paint process but is very necessary. Skipping this step will result in excessive stone chipping, you’ve likely seen someones year old paint job covered in stone chips and usually showing the black e-coat underneath. This is because someone neglected to prime the part. In the case of aftermarket parts often they apply a poor quality primer that needs to be washed off with paint thinner before starting the process, otherwise you’ll have the same problem with stone-chipping.
New Bumpers / Plastic
This is the number 1 failed process in the business, many painters don’t know or don’t want to take the extra steps required for properly preparing plastic bumper covers.
Aftermarket covers are the worst for this, but some OEM can be bad too. There are recommended tests in place to ensure a good adhering paint job on new plastic. Many painters think any bumper that comes primed can be sanded and painted…not true. If the shop is using waterborne they don’t have as much to worry about, a quick adhesion test on the primer with a piece of 2 inch tape is all that is necessary. If no primer comes up, sand and paint. However if the shop is using a solvent system, they need to apply paint thinner to a rag and test the primer with it. If any primer wipes up, the entire bumper needs to be wiped down until the primer is removed. It is not a fun process, but necessary and many people can’t be bothered.
This is my favorite way to receive a bumper. Raw plastic greatly relies on chemical adhesion; it needs to be cleaned very thoroughly. Most paint manufacturers recommend a sanding paste (abrasive cleaner) on a scotchpad as a preferred preparation method (plus plastic cleaners, soap/water). I’m so amazed at how many people out there think it’s okay to just scuff a bumper with a dry scotchpad and paint. After it has been prepped properly it will need to have an adhesion promoter/plastic primer applied before top coating.
In either case, if the procedure is done incorrectly it will result in chipping and/or paint peeling from the bumper.
It is always best to remove as much trim as possible when painting anything. (ie. Door handles, belt moldings, mirrors…etc). It ensures no overspray on your trim, but more importantly it allows for a more thorough sanding, cleaning and paint access. When the trim is simply taped up it increases your chance for paint peeling from the edge that’s been taped. Some shops will reduce the cost and tape up the trim. If that’s what you want to do then great, hope for the best… just always be aware of what your paying for.
Blending / Color Match
The way vehicles are painted from the factory now, blending can not be an optional step. It is mandatory! There are many reasons why shops can not give you a 100% match to the next panel, here’s a few:
Manufacturers use different paint lines from plant to plant, a slight difference in flake size or equipment will change the color. The biggest reason that blending is necessary is that with metallic paints you can take a color and spray it at a low pressure and it comes out dark and spray at a high pressure it comes out light. There are many other variables, temperature & humidity can change the shade of the paint. Sounds a bit far fetched I bet. Here’s what happens, the paint hits the panel and if it dry’s quick the metallic 's are closer to the top of the paint film reflecting more light, making it brighter. The opposite when it goes on wet. Here’s a few spray out cards I’ve created of 1 color sprayed at a high pressure & the other side with a low.
Now that you have a better understanding on blending, make sure your shop blends. It is done by bringing a bit of color into the next panel, then clear coating it completely. Sometimes they will claim it is possible to butt match a panel & skip the blend. Sometimes it will look alright, sometimes it won’t. But more often then not when you get your car under a different light source….say at night under some halogens at a club meeting, the failure to blend can become very apparent.
Most of this is in reference to body panels. (ie fender to door, door to quarter..etc). When it comes to bumpers it’s a bit of a different game. Bumpers very seldom match from the factory; this is because the plastic is often painted at a separate plant, sometimes in a separate country. Even if they wanted to, the bumpers couldn’t be painted with the rest of the car given the extreme temperature it’s baked at from the factory. With that in mind, many shops will paint a bumper without blending and just try to obtain a close match and don’t blend the fenders because it didn’t match before. If that’s alright with you then great, otherwise have them bring the color into the fenders.
The rule according to the paint manufacturers & OEM is to always blend. Black is likely the only color you could skip a blend on and nobody would ever know. Some colors are better then others and when it comes to bumpers it depends on the comfort level your after.
Patch work / Handle Shaving…etc
Plain and simple, always have them welded. Some people will try gluing in patches with a structural adhesive, more often then not it results in a ghosting line around the patch. (usually most visible when it gets hot).
Be on the lookout for people not fixing structural or hidden damage. I’ve had vehicles come in where the frame rails /rad support were replaced (welded in) and not even painted! They rusted out quickly; I think I even have some pics. Let me see…
I’ve seen a car that was repaired that had a bent frame rail. The shop simply replaced the bumper cover and adjusted the gaps to create the illusion that the rail was fixed. Another thing to watch for is if you pay a shop to replace a panel, make certain they do. Some of the lower class shops will tell you their replacing the part , but just repair it. They simply fill it with bondo and it can severely compromise the quality of the repair.
Tow Truck Referral’s
This may sound like common sense but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people I see get burned by them. This is what happens: you get in a little accident on the highway & a tow truck shows up out of the blue. He’ll likely offer to bring your car back to his preferred shop, the unsuspecting will go. Now here’s where it gets fun, that tow truck driver likely has a deal in place with the shop to receive a percentage of the repair. Some I’ve heard as high as 30%! So on a $5000 job, $1500 has to go to the tow truck driver. The shop needs to recover that cost as it’s not in the budget for your repair. They will often find creative ways to make up for it at your expense. ALWAYS pick your own shop!
DRP (Insurance Direct Repair)
Often when you call your insurance company after an accident they will try to get you to go to one of their preferred shops. Primarily they are saving themselves money. Their preferred shops will provide free storage in the case that your vehicle is written off. In the case that it is repairable, the shop will sometimes do it at a better rate (nowhere near that 30%). Most DRP shops have become preferred because they’ve demonstrated quality workmanship and customer satisfaction over the years. However, this is not always the case….Do your homework!
Final Few Things to Keep in Mind:
There are a lot of good shops out there, but also an awful lot of bad ones too. Often people will make the assumption that dealer operated bodyshop’s are their best choice, make sure your not one of them! There are good and bad ones just like the independents.
A high price doesn’t guarantee you a good job and a low price doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a terrible job. Often during slower times, quality shops will take on work at lower prices to keep their employees moving. This is far and few between, but you can sometimes score a pretty sweet deal. In all honesty though, if the price sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Most good shops will offer a lifetime warranty on their paint, I’d look for that.
Hopefully this was of some benefit to some of the people out there, hopefully you’ll be able to ask the right questions when looking for a quality-minded body shop.