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Ending The Blending Debate

The issue isn’t about whether or not you should blend — make it a standard operating policy and just do it! The issue is about blending correctly, meeting vehicle owners expectations and getting paid by insurers.

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Since the 1980s, the issue of whether or not to blend has been kicked around the industry from so many angles you’d think it were a soccer ball — when, in fact, it really shouldn’t be an issue at all. The bottom line should always be about your customer — the vehicle owner — and not about the insurer (who some refer to as a customer), policies or prevailing practices.

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In most situations, blending is an absolute necessity on today’s vehicles. But the game of whether you can charge for blending, just tinting, or tinting and blending is still played. Why? It’s simple: The people who make those decisions often don’t understand — or care about — the refinishing process.

But because their decisions affect you and your business, we’ll examine some of the technical and management issues surrounding blending. Specifically, we’ll answer the questions:

• How do I get paid for blend time?

• What additional operations are required (R&I of trim, etc.)?

• What preparation is needed for the blend area?

• What should be done about scratches and chips in the blend panel?

• How do I get the metal department to keep the repair as small as possible?

• How can I prevent the clear from darkening the blended panel and ruining the match?

Getting Blend Time
How do you get paid for blend time? Ask for it! Don’t believe it will be automatically included on a drive-in estimate or an independent appraisal — it probably won’t. Also, don’t believe you’re the "only one" who’s asking for blend time — you probably aren’t. Unfortunately, you can’t just call your competitors and ask … or can you?

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Many insurers have their own rules regarding how you should word the request. Some may allow tinting, but no blending; others may allow blending, but no tinting; and some don’t care how it’s worded. This is where an insurance journal comes in handy (which I discussed in the article, "I Want My Money!," in the April 1999 issue of BodyShop Business). Keep track of the proper wording for each carrier, and in your estimating system, create "quick codes" for all situations. These quick codes will note the specific wording an insurer wants to see on an estimate. For example, if Insurer ABC allows for tinting, call your work tinting. If they allow for blending, refer to the task as blending. Either way, the time and money allotted will be the same.

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As to what your market will allow, let’s not get into price fixing. Just make sure to put blending in the refinishing time so you can get materials calculated. Likewise, put stripe-replacement times in the refinishing column — not the metal-labor column — so the insurance company will have to calculate paint/materials (total paint hours multiplied by a dollar amount) on it.

Even more important: When you ask to be paid for something, such as blending, make sure you do it. Don’t add tint and blend to your estimate if you don’t tint. Don’t add blend if you don’t blend. And don’t add R&I trim and handles if you’re not going to R&I them. Be consistent and have

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documentation.

One easy way to have documentation is to take that old, dust-gathering Kodak DC50 camera you may still have and ask the painter to snap a shot before he applies the color. It should clearly show the trim removed and the panels set up for blending.

The FYI on R&I
You finally get the insurer aware of the need and receive approval for R&I, and then the vehicle owner returns because there’s now a rattle in the door — or the technician comes in one hour before the vehicle is to leave and informs you the clips are broken or the trim piece is broken or, even worse, missing. This, of course, is the trade-off for the time added to the estimate for the additional operations.

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But this trade-off is often necessary because the additional operations are often necessary.

To itemize these operations accurately, it’s important that all estimators be trained to properly use your estimating systems. And if you receive estimates from insurers and don’t have "their system," your estimators need to learn that system, too (better than the insurer).

Besides increasing labor on the estimate, R&I is done to achieve proper adhesion and to meet the expectations of the vehicle owner. There’s no excuse for having rough paint edges on trim, handles, stripes, etc.

If you’re a certified provider for your paint system, you’re giving written paint warranties to your customers — so find out if your paint manufacturer has a written position on this situation and get it for documentation.

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But do you always need to replace all those moldings because you’ll distort them during removal? And do you have to remove all module glass?

Not always. You can first explore some good alternatives that may save you time, comebacks and improve relationships with insurers:

"Roping" is the process of placing a plastic cord under the item to lift it high enough to sand, refinish and tape properly, and it can be used on pieces that are somewhat flexible. Other products that wedge the item work on the same principle: If you can raise it, you can probably keep from removing it.

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Also, removing tape on adhesive moldings while the clear is still wet may assist in allowing the clear to "flow down" and not have a rough edge. This usually requires using a fine-line tape along the edge and making sure there’s a "tab" available to easily pull when the time is right.

It’s also possible to remove many of the adhesive moldings with an air/electric windshield cut-out tool with a long blade. This tool can cleanly cut along the body without causing damage so the molding can be used again.

Preparation of the Blend Area
Each paint system has a method to prepare the blend area. But many shops have changed paint systems at least once in the last five years, and many have changed more often. The problem with this is what was "the way" before is not the way today.

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It would probably be best if, along with the new system, a "forget everything about the old system" pill could be taken because the techniques, products and procedures really do differ from brand to brand. For this reason, make sure to check the technical bulletins about your paint system to know how each type of substrate must be prepared.

Once you know your system, use it. And no matter what your system, make sure all contamination is removed before preparation and spraying.

Scratches and Chips
How often when a front fender is replaced do the hood and door — the blend panels — include door dings and chips? The keys here are communication and policy. Customers don’t know the difference between blending a panel and painting a panel. You mention those panels, and they automatically believe all 27 door dings will be fixed, along with the "machine gun peppered" front edge of the hood.

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This could be bad — for you — if the situation isn’t addressed properly.

Communication here is the responsibility of the estimator who’s handling the job. During this communication process, it’s a perfect opportunity for an up-sell, which is often overlooked. What’s even worse is when the "extra" price is given to the customer, he refuses it and still doesn’t understand what it’s going to look like when "blended" over. This lack of communication often leads to a very dissatisfied customer who can’t believe you’d go ahead and "paint over" that damage!

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To stop this from happening, simply make up some panels to show what chips and dings look like blended over. Be sure to use a high metallic and a solid color to demonstrate best- and worse-case scenarios. Divide the panels in two with a piece of tape to show what they’d look like when properly sanded/repaired and refinished.

While you’re at it, make a metallic and solid-color panel with chips "touched up" instead of sanded and refinished. This, too, has a tendency to cause conflict because the customer’s expectations aren’t in line with what you’re planning to do.

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When used properly, the visuals should solve these issues.

It’s also important to have an internal company policy and a communication method so your technicians know what to do in these situations. As the vehicle moves through your shop, the technicians in each department should not have to stop to ask if they’re to fix the damage. I’ve seen shops where the vehicle comes in, the metal technician asks if the dings in the door are to be fixed, the estimator says no and everything is fine until the vehicle gets to the paint department. Now the painter stops to ask the estimator about the dings. And when the detailer is cleaning the car, he also stops to ask.

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Does this sound familiar? Does it sound productive?

Attempting to write everything on the work order often doesn’t work either because no one ever reads it! The best solution I’ve found is to examine the vehicle at the beginning of production and use a grease-type marker to circle all damages to repair and circle and mark an "X" through the circle if it’s not to be repaired. The rule is, if it isn’t "Xed" then fix it. This makes everyone aware of the expectations.

Keeping the Repair Area Small
Keeping the repair area small can greatly improve production and provide options for the refinisher. This is especially helpful with tri-coat colors and other multi-stage systems. If the area is contained to the smallest possible size, then it may be possible to keep the blend within the panel. If, however, by the time the area is repaired the primer extends all the way to the panel’s edge, options are limited.

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The question is: How do you communicate this need to the metal department and the paint preppers?

Again, grease markers can assist by outlining the parameters from the beginning — and company policy needs to address when these boundaries aren’t followed. Training will also be required for the preppers to understand that priming the panel doesn’t mean priming the whole panel.

The time you take to explain exactly what to do on each job will greatly improve the chances of getting what you expect.

A Clear Problem
Even if everything technical is done correctly, you may still pull back the paper to the adjacent panel and discover that the new cleared finish appears darker. This is especially true for some lighter metallic colors or when the technician applies at least two wet coats all the way to the adjacent panel’s edge.

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Why does this happen? Clear thickness can increase the depth of the color and cause it to appear darker.

To prevent this scenario, it may be necessary to blend the clear to the adjacent edge and not just apply full coats to the whole panel. But before you do this, you need to ask your paint manufacturer a few questions about your clear choices, such as:

• Is the clear blendable?

• How much mil thickness is required for your clearcoat?

• Does your system have a different clear for this purpose?

These are the main questions that need answered, and even though they sound basic, there’s an important reason to ask them and an important condition to be aware of: At this point, you’re putting this clear on a panel where there’s existing OEM clearcoat, so the mil thickness isn’t for ultraviolet protection of the basecoat as it would be where your blend was made. Therefore, this area may not require the full mil thickness as it would over the basecoat — and this little difference may solve your clear problem.

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Blend Away
To say you need to blend in every situation is an over-statement of the facts, but not by much. Whether or not to blend, however, isn’t really the issue. What is the issue is properly communicating to your customers so you can get paid for blending while meeting their expectations.

How do you accomplish this?

The best solution is to make blending a standard operating policy and to just do it! Your production will increase, your turn-rate will decrease and your customers will be happy. And so will you.

Contributing editor Tony Passwater is president of AEII, a consulting, training and system development company. He has been in the industry for more than 27 years; has been a collision repair facility owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international Instructor; and has taught seminars across North America, Korea and China. He can be contacted at (317) 290-0611, ext. 101, or at ([email protected]). Visit his Web site at www.aeii.net for more information.

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Don’t Make Excuses — Just Blend Already!
If you feel that since you don’t get paid for blending, you just won’t do it, maybe you should consider another profession. I don’t believe any true professional in our industry would consider mixing the paint, spraying the panel and then saying, "Oh well. That’s what came out of the can. What do you want me to do about it? Call the paint manufacturer because it’s not my problem." We have too much pride to allow this to happen, right?!

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Another reason not to blend (since we didn’t get paid for it) is because we might spend a great deal of effort and time (even hours) tinting a color so we can "paint" just that panel we were paid for.

What’s wrong with this picture? Time is money. If we set up to blend in the first place, we blend it and we’re done … bring on the next job.

If you have, in the past, decided not to blend for some reason, you may have run into this: The color looked great inside but awful outside for delivery, so the customer either refuses it on the spot or returns after everyone in his neighborhood tells him it looks like a "squad car." So now you have to waste more time, more materials and more floor space to correct the problem. Plus, the customer is unhappy because the vehicle should have been done right the first time.

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What I’m saying here is that it really shouldn’t be a question of whether or not to do it. In the long run, you’ll always come out ahead in production (which translates to dollars) to set up for a blend from the beginning and always do it.

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