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You say you’re too busy to learn paintless dent repair or don’t have the patience to mess with a dent for hours. But an increasing number of you are finding that using PDR tools to get the metal not necessarily
perfect but up ‘close’ helps reduce the size of the repair, saving time and material costs.
Paintless dent repair is one of the greatest cult industries around. But where did it come from? How long has it been around? And why can only a few specially talented individuals “get it”? And why do they charge so much?
20 Years Strong
The paintless dent repair industry has been around now for at least 21 years, and I should know – I’ve been part of it for 20 of those years. The industry is strong and growing and finding its way into the body shop, albeit slowly. Why has it taken body shop technicians so long to embrace this technology and all the advantages it brings? I called it a cult industry, so let’s examine that to answer the question.
Let’s ask the guy on the street if he has heard of paintless dent repair. Depending where in the country you ask, you’ll probably find that more than half the population has either never heard of it or has some distorted idea of how it works. Some guys will tell you, “They have these little ‘popper things’ and they just ‘pop’ the dent.” Well, that’s a pretty strange description, especially for a service so badly needed by just about everyone out there who drives a car. It’s also pretty strange considering how excited they get from the results.
By the Book
For this article, I interviewed some of the seasoned veterans and old-timers out there, and as you might expect, I got conflicting stories on paintless dent repair’s origins. What I can tell you for sure is that about 15 years ago, while working at my dent shop, I employed an older detail guy who one day said to me, “Hey Domino, you know I got an old body shop book from the 1960s that shows all those ‘bent screw drivers’ you use to take out dents.”
At the time, I had never heard of nor seen any kind of paintless dent repair tools used in a body shop setting. I begged him to find the book and bring it in, and a week later he showed up with it. There, deep within the pages of this wonderful old body shop book, were black and white photos of a dozen of the tools we use to this day to remove dents using paintless dent repair techniques. I was floored!
The book explained that these tools were used by bodymen called “dingmen”, and that much of the damages could be effectively removed before the use of fillers to finish off a dent! How cool! It was my belief (and just a guess) that some old-timer gave these tools a shot under the lights of a body shop while working on one of the newer vehicles at the time and eventually kept going until he completed the dent.
So how profound is it that this art form has seemingly made its way back to the body shop all these years later? “What do you mean, ‘made its way back?’” you ask. Well, it seems the more I speak to those of you at the auto conventions looking for the advantages of newer technologies, the more I hear you say, “Although I haven’t mastered those darn PDR rods I bought 10 years ago, I’m using them to get the metal up (at least close) to reduce the materials and, even on occasion, to save the need to blend on adjacent panels.” That’s exactly what they were doing more than 30 years ago!
Over the years, it appears as though this industry fragmented into two specific offerings once a guy learns paintless dent repair: he either chooses to A) remove minor door dings at body shops and dealerships or B) chase hailstorms around the country (which is very seasonal) then revert back to option A after hail season.
An incredibly small amount of guys took my approach, which was retail. That’s right, I opened a paintless dent repair shop 20 years ago and starved. People didn’t know paintless dent repair existed, and when they did find out, they brought in dents the size of footballs or bigger. I remember working on a single dent for days.
There’s the old saying, “You either get better or die.” Well, I got better. The glue system eventually came along 12 years ago, and even though it couldn’t completely remove a dent all by itself and was rather messy, I realized that even with all of its shortcomings, it saved me a lot of time on those big dents. Combined with a mile-long list of other tricks of the trade, it helped me stay in business for a long time.
Over many years, I fine-tuned filler-free repair. Even if I couldn’t completely remove the dent, I was able to substantially reduce materials, the size of the repair (as opposed to making it larger as with today’s methods) and the need to blend onto adjacent panels. Cycle times became faster, too. It only makes good sense that the quality of the job starts with the quality of the sheet metal repair. The advantages of this concept were numerous.
Many of you, it seems, are now doing the same thing. That is, an increasing number of you are telling me you’re using your tools to get the metal up “close.” Maybe not perfect but close enough on occasion to keep from having to blend onto adjacent panels or take some of the filler work out of the repair so that you spend less time waiting on primers and fillers to dry, all the while reducing the size of the repair. It seems that a paintless dent repair resurgence is going on in the body shops…and it should be!
The use of paintless dent repair and other tools and techniques is once again allowing the bodyman the ability to work metal again like a true craftsman. No longer are we continuing down the road of being just “parts changers.”
I can’t tell you how many times I see body shops inadvertently cut perfectly good panels off vehicles because they think the metal is stretched. Today’s metal reacts more like spring steel as opposed to years ago when it reacted like soft iron. With today’s high tensile strength metal, panels have much more of a tendency to push in than stretch. You can experience this on occasion by getting behind a good dent, giving it a couple blows with your hand and watching as most of the dent pops out. Don’t misunderstand me…metal can still stretch. It just doesn’t happen nearly as much as it did 20 to 30 years ago.
You Can Do It
Think you can’t do it? I would like a buck for every time I’ve heard a bodyman say, “Yeah, I bought some PDR tools, they’re over there in the corner. I never get the chance to mess with them because I’m always too darn busy! I tried, but I couldn’t get it. I don’t have time to mess with it, so I just call our PDR guy, who happens to be the best in the business.”
The second most popular thing I hear is, “I don’t have patience to sit there and mess with that dent for hours!”
When paintless dent repair debuted in our industry more than 20 years ago, many of you will remember that it was an extremely guarded secret. Many guys wouldn’t let you watch them work, and it produced an air of mystery.
“I don’t know how that guy did it, but he took this dent out of this guy’s car, and you can’t even tell! No painting, no nothing!” guys would say.
I believe it’s that initial air of intrigue that was created so long ago that to this day makes collision repairers intimidated. Yep, I said it: intimidated. But the paintless dent repair industry is just like the body shop business: there are good and bad technicians. Don’t you dare think it’s an exceptional process that only a few incredibly gifted techs can accomplish!
Does it help to have good hand/eye coordination? Heck yeah. But given the correct lighting and practice panel set-up, I could teach a monkey to do paintless dent repair. You just have to make sure you don’t start off doing giant dents or spending hour after hour on tiny ones. That’s like saying, “Yeah, I was going to start working out, but I was afraid of getting too musclebound. I hate that! I don’t want to look like a frog like some of those guys!”
It does take practice and dedication to get really good, but that comes with time. As you get better, it gets into your blood and you get to where you want to do it. It’s kind of like shooting pool, but the good news is that it pays better.
Body shops are in a fantastic position to learn paintless dent repair. Think about it: Even if you mess a job up, you can simply fix it with conventional means. I wonder how many paintless dent repair guys who were learning their trade on customers’ vehicles left behind incomprehensible messes?
A Solid Asset
A tremendous amount of innovation has taken place in the paintless dent repair industry since its humble beginnings. Back in the day, we made our own tools from screwdrivers and tension bars used to hold up the trunks of vehicles. Today, there is an array of tools and lights to choose from: magnifiers that enable you to see like never before, roller tools to roll to the bottom of dents and glue systems that pull harder than weld-on dent pullers. There are even interactive websites where you can learn the basics of the trade after work hours.
Paintless dent repair is an incredible asset to the body shop, not only as a service offering to the customer but as a way to reduce fillers, blending and cycle times. It can also alleviate the need to repaint a panel where the painter may have missed a small ding or dent. The bottom line is that you’re in the metal-moving business, so why not learn how to move metal to the best of your ability?
As we move forward, be on the look-out for new and innovative ways to bring this learnable service into your shop. You’ll be glad you did!
Darryl Domino has been working in the collision repair industry for more than 30 years. He opened the first and largest (10,000 square feet) paintless dent repair shop in New Orleans in 1991 and has invented his own dent removal tools. He can be reached at (866) 585-6306.