Charge for What You Do: Replacing a Quarter Panel

Charge for What You Do: Replacing a Quarter Panel

What’s a quarter worth these days? No, I’m not asking the value of an American quarter dollar. I’m asking you to consider what you should be charging to replace a quarter panel. Are you charging enough for the amount of work involved in a good quality repair? A lot of shop owners and managers insist they get good time on their sheets, but the truth is that a lot of shop owners and managers are giving away more money than they’re willing to even admit to themselves.

For years, I’ve wondered why insurance companies insist that shops use certain estimating guides and software – all the while frowning upon those who actually use the guides and software according to the included instructions. And why do shop owners spend money on estimating guides at the whim of insurers, only to be told how much they’re allowed to charge for a repair? Billions of dollars worth of repair procedures are either performed free or not performed at all because such a small portion of the collision industry is willing to stand up for itself.

Let’s start remedying that. Let’s take a look at quarter panel replacement – and at what you should be charging for it.


Don’t Work For Free
Let’s talk about the free procedures many shops give away on the typical quarter panel replacement. I’ve been comparing the P-pages of three major information providers, and I’ve made a list of procedures that at least two of the three do not include in their recommended labor time for quarter panel replacement. Some are procedures that I’ve never had a problem getting paid for, while others are procedures that I’ve rarely – if ever – seen any insurer cover without a fight.

All the guides concur that their recommended labor times are for replacement with new, undamaged OEM parts on a new, undamaged vehicle. Replacement times for welded panels include the time required to grind, fill and final sand the welded areas on the replacement panel, but they don’t cover the repair of weld damage to adjacent panels. But when you weld a quarter panel to the vehicle, the welding burns the adjacent panels – and this damage must be repaired. Still, the repair of the welding damage to adjacent panels isn’t included in the quarter panel replacement time, and very few shops charge extra for the procedure. Of course, many shops don’t repair the inside of the inner panels or the inner pinch welds after welding a quarter panel either.

You also should charge additional labor for collision damage access, alignment pulls and diagnosis. For years, I never saw access time on any repair order, but it’s starting to make a comeback. When you disassemble a wrecked vehicle, the damage makes access to fasteners more difficult, so a quick pull or two may be required. Whether or not bent parts prohibit access to fasteners, vehicles may need to be anchored and pulled back to a roughly similar shape to the original OEM design. When I pull a quarter panel, I try to get the panel fairly close to where it was before the accident. Obviously, it won’t return to precisely the same place it was before the accident since it was determined that the quarter panel required replacement, but the closer I get the panel, the closer the adjacent parts will be to their original positions.


Diagnostic Time Could Be Money
What about diagnosis? Every collision technician in the country performs at least one diagnosis of every vehicle he repairs. I don’t know of anybody who just goes right down the list and performs the procedures on the repair order without checking for additional damage that may have been overlooked. Some techs even sit down and write out a list of items they need on a supplement. Is your techs’ time and effort valuable enough for you to stand up to insurers and charge for diagnosis?

Since the estimating guides are written for new OEM parts, you also should be charging for the additional labor involved with the use of non-OEM parts or used parts. Since aftermarket quarter panels aren’t widely available (to my knowledge), I won’t go into the aftermarket issue here. Salvage parts, on the other hand, always require additional preparation and are often damaged. Although there are situations when I actually do prefer a used assembly, quarter-panel replacement isn’t one of those situations. It’s not easy to remove a used quarter panel from the donor vehicle without damaging the panel. While it can be done, it’s a tedious and time-consuming task. Even minor damage consumes an employee’s time and the shop’s materials. Don’t absorb any of these costs when someone else insists upon the use of the salvage part. If more shops charged realistic rates for every procedure involved in the use of salvage parts, a lot more customers would get new parts.

What Else Are You Giving Away?


  • Vinyl roof access – If the vehicle has a vinyl roof, you should charge extra for the time required to partially or fully remove the vinyl top. This isn’t to be confused with a convertible top, the removal of which I believe is generally included in the labor to replace a quarter panel on a convertible.
  • Corrosion protection – Metals should be properly treated to protect them from corrosion. If your technicians aren’t doing this, they should be; if your techs are doing this, you should be charging for materials and for the time they spend on this procedure.
  • Broken glass cleanup – Who vacuums up any broken glass in the vehicle? Even if that person works for free, you should still make a profit on the time he spends away from other tasks.
  • Move/protect wiring – Wiring harnesses near the damage area may need to be moved out of the way or otherwise protected to avoid damage during the repair. Also remember that some car batteries and some electrical components with computer chips inside may need to be disconnected before welding. By familiarizing yourself (if you haven’t already) with OEM recommendations about these components, you can save yourself a lot of money. But your research time and your techs’ time spent on these procedures is worth money, so add enough to your estimate to cover your work.
  • Sound-deadening panels – Cars that have those rubber sound-deadening panels stuck on the inside of the quarter panels really do need to have those things replaced along with the new quarter panel. Believe it or not, they do serve a purpose and they do make a difference. But don’t install them for free.
  • Drill labor – Not included in quarter panel replacement by any of the top three information providers, drill labor is additional labor. You should charge for the time necessary to drill spot welds when removing the damaged quarter and to drill holes on the replacement part for plug welds.
  • Fuel tank – Some vehicles are designed in such a way that the fuel tank must be removed while a quarter panel is welded on. If the fuel tank must be removed, remember to charge extra to R&I the gas as well.
  • Headliner – Due to the design and construction of some vehicles, you may need to remove the headliner for access to structural parts or the upper sail panel. Cloth-type headliners can usually be moved out of the work area without removing the entire headliner, so the R&I labor is generally included in the quarter panel replacement labor. On the other hand, removal of one-piece, pre-formed headliners often requires the removal of a lot of additional interior parts and, therefore, isn’t generally included in the quarter panel replacement labor.
  • Deck lid – Vehicles with the trunk lid hinges bolted to the quarter panels need the lid to be removed, but is the recommended R&I labor sufficient in a situation such as this? The deck lid must be removed so the quarter panel can be removed, but no technician in his right mind just sets the new quarter panel on the car and starts welding. While the quarter panel is secured with clamps and/or small sheet metal screws, I always install the deck lid to ensure proper alignment of the quarter panel.
  • Test fit and/or align parts – Deck lids aren’t the only things technicians have to double-check before welding. If the outer wheel house or any other structural parts behind the quarter panel sustained damage or if the vehicle sustained unibody or frame damage, most technicians will test fit the replacement panel and check the alignment of the door and deck lid. I also set windows in place to ensure that I haven’t altered the size or shape of the window opening. I even install taillights in most cars to ensure that the housing fits in the pocket correctly and is properly aligned with the deck lid. Until I’m completely satisfied with the alignment of all parts and panels, I don’t get out the welder.

Though this test fitting and alignment of parts is time-consuming and shouldn’t be given away free, I’ve seen very few shops charge for it. Most shop owners are brainwashed into thinking that this is part of the replacement process. Since the recommended labor times are for the replacement of new, undamaged panels on new, undamaged vehicles, I’d say the time required to test fit and align parts isn’t included in the quarter panel replacement labor. With a new, undamaged quarter panel and a new, undamaged vehicle, the replacement part would practically fall into place. I wouldn’t need to test fit the panel, and alignment would be a breeze. But who replaces new, undamaged quarter panels on new, undamaged vehicles? Everything my boss assigns me has been in a wreck (or two … or three … or four).

Obviously, there are always job-specific items that require additional labor, such as moldings, emblems or a radio antenna. And then there are items that the estimating guides may overlook. One of the estimating guides doesn’t include or exclude R&I labor for the seat belts, speaker or sunroof drain tube if applicable. These items should be removed to avoid damage resulting from the cutting, grinding and welding that will take place nearby.



Re-examining Refinishing
Obviously, two-tone color, three-stage paint and gravel guard application are things that most shops charge extra for, but what about additional items that many shops are giving away free or dirt cheap?

  • Mask/R&I moldings – Refinishing times are for new, undamaged panels with no moldings, handles, windows, etc. Whether you R&I these parts or mask them, you should charge accordingly on the painted panels and the blended panels. Masking doorjambs and using additional masking to protect the vehicle’s interior also isn’t included in the refinish labor.
  • Color sand and buff – No matter how clean your paint booth is and no matter how well your painter cleans each car before putting it in the booth, it’s almost impossible to get a perfectly clean paint finish every time. Removal of imperfections in the finish isn’t included in standard paint times.
  • Blend times – Blend times in recent years have gotten completely ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous is the failure of the collision industry to stand up to insurers on this issue. Shops everywhere are spending more money on materials alone to do the blend than they’re charging for materials and labor for the procedure. How can shop owners expect to show a reasonable profit when so many procedures cost more than the shop charges?

While no insurer can justify the reduction in blend times, very few shops are refusing to blend panels for the reduced labor. Some shops aren’t putting up a fight simply because they aren’t blending adjacent panels anyway. But if your painter is blending every adjacent panel on every vehicle and you’re not getting full refinish time on those panels, you’re probably losing a lot more money than you think. After all, every step of the refinishing process is performed on the blend panels. The only difference is that a little less color coat is applied to these panels, saving only a few minutes of the paint tech’s time and only a few dollars worth of material.

When painting a quarter panel, you may have to blend the roof if there’s no break between the roof and quarters. Paint manufacturers recommend against solvent blends because they aren’t permanent and can often be easily detected. With no break between the quarter panels and roof, you need to blend into the roof and clear must be applied to the roof and opposite quarter panel. Now, just because the color is only applied about halfway across the deck lid and halfway across the roof, is this a valid reason to sand, mask, prep and shoot the entire roof rear end of the vehicle for an additional hour or two?

  • Tint to a blendable match – Even though you’re going to blend all the adjacent panels, you still need to check your color for a good match. To do this properly, you need to make spray-out cards. Charge additional labor to cover the cost of spray-out cards techs use to check color matches and charge for the tech’s time. I’ve seen the very best painters and even the local paint company specialists struggle with mismatched colors. The time they have to spend tinting a color and spraying it on a card to compare with the vehicle isn’t included in the paint time for the quarter panel.


Charge for What You Do!
I’m sure I’ve left out several items, but if you start charging for everything I’ve mentioned here, you’ll increase your profits and your commission-paid techs will be happier with their paychecks. My grandmother used to say, “You get what you settle for.” As long as we keep settling for less, we’ll keep getting less. Even if we can’t agree on anything else as an industry, let’s get together on one thing: Let’s stop settling for what insurers “allow” and start charging for what we do.

Writer Paul Bailey, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, has been a collision repairman for 17 years and is an avid photographer and writer who maintains a consumer-awareness Web page in his spare time. He resides in Florida with his wife, Cathy.

Special thanks to Martin’s Collision Center in Copley, Ohio, for letting us disrupt their workday to photograph a quarter-panel-replacement in progress.

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