My grandmother always told me, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." As a collision repairman, I’ve often thought that cleanliness is next to impossible.
Collision repairmen generate and work in such a tremendous amount of dirt and filth that many pay little attention to it. Customers, on the other hand, immediately notice left-behind dirt.
Below are a few tips I’ve found effective in reducing the amount of repair-related dirt left in my customers’ cars:
• Always keep the windows rolled up while the vehicle is in the shop. This will allow less dust to find its way into the vehicle, reducing the amount of time and effort necessary to clean the interior. If a door, window or windshield is removed, mask off the opening to help keep shop dust out. Every technician should also have his own vacuum cleaner. Instead of blowing filler dust off cars and your clothes with an airline, use a vacuum to remove the dust. Vacuuming reduces the amount of dust being scattered all over the shop and, better yet, it reduces the amount of dust floating in the air you breathe.
• Cover vehicle interiors. Ordinary, flat bed sheets, often found cheap at flea markets or thrift stores, make great low-budget dust covers to protect a vehicle’s interior while doors or windows are removed. Sheets can also cover upholstery and interior parts that have been removed from a vehicle, protecting them from shop dust while the vehicle is repaired. Dashboards can also be covered to keep dust away from components and from entering air-conditioner ducts. The worst thing you can give your customer is a face full of sanding dust the first time he turns on the air conditioner after a repair.
• Cover seats with aprons. Much of the dirt left inside a repaired car comes directly from the technicians who worked on it. Plain aprons purchased at craft stores or some home-improvement centers can be used to protect seats, but they must be long enough to cover the average seat. The strap that would go around a person’s neck can be hung over the headrest of most car seats, while the strings are tied around the back of the seat. One side of the apron should be labeled, indicating which way to place it so that one side always faces the seat to keep it clean, while the other side always faces out to catch the dirt.
• Wash your hands. After assembling doors — installing handles, window regulators or channels, and other greasy parts — clean your hands before proceeding with the interior panels. To reduce smudges and smears left by dirty hands, always keep shop towels handy. Keep one small shop rag soaking in a can half full of hand cleaner. In an instant, you can wipe your hands with the moistened rag and then wipe them clean with a dry shop towel before handling interior parts.
• Wear gloves. When you need to move a vehicle temporarily, you may not want to stop to wash up. A pair of plain white cotton gloves, such as those found in department-store garden centers, can be a quick substitute for clean hands. Keep the gloves handy, but only wear them when moving cars to keep steering wheels and interiors free of hand prints. Also, before entering any vehicle, you should always use a vacuum to remove as much dust as possible from your clothes and use a wire brush to scrape the bottoms of your shoes to remove any debris you may have picked up from the shop floor.
Additional Car Care
In addition to keeping customers’ cars clean, you should protect them from additional damage while they’re in your care. Don’t leave items such as keys, coffee cups, soda cans, parts, boxes, etc., on the top surfaces of vehicles. Even if you don’t scratch the paint, it doesn’t look good to customers and may be enough to lose their business.
When you take breaks, lean on the water cooler, your work bench or your tool box — not your customer’s car. The thin metal of modern vehicles is often surprisingly easy to dent, so it’s better not to take chances on creating additional work for yourself.
Though few techs ever consider it, the purchase of your own fireproof welding blanket can save you the time spent looking for or waiting for the shop’s blankets. Like on the seat covers, paint your name in large letters on one side of the blanket, enabling you to keep track of which side should face the car. Always lay the same side of the blanket on the car while the other side always faces out to catch sparks and metal fragments. This keeps all the metal fragments on one side of the blanket, while the other side remains clean and less likely to scratch the vehicle’s surface.
Technicians should also have several wheel covers to protect wheels from grinder grit. While you can’t always control what direction your grinder throws its scarring debris, you can protect things in its path from potential damage.
I also highly recommend the use of spark-resistant papers. Manufacturers offer them in rolls with a reusable adhesive back that can be placed on windows to protect them from welding and grinding damage. These papers are also well-suited to protect dashboards and other interior parts that are easily scarred by welding or grinding debris.
Striving for Some Sparkle
Protection of vehicles we work on should be a high priority in every body shop, and a large part of that protection should include keeping cars clean. We can’t completely eliminate dirt and dust from our work environment, but with minimal effort, we can control where the dirt goes.
Writer Paul Bailey, a contributing editor to BodyShop Business, has been a collision repairman for 16 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.