Finding Flaws Before the Booth: Prep Procedures - BodyShop Business

Finding Flaws Before the Booth: Prep Procedures

Time wasted in the booth and on redos doesn't pay the bills. Save time and money by establishing proper prep procedures.

Why would you want to find flaws before the job goes into the paint booth? The question should be: Why wouldn’t you want to?

It sounds easy enough, but a lot of techs don’t do it. And these easy-to-overlook things can become huge (and costly) things when they reach the booth.

So what are some of those things, and what can we do to prevent them in the first place? Well, that’s what we’re shooting to answer here.

During the Estimate
OK, first I want to address an issue that can be a big time saver for your techs. Estimators and managers, you’re the first line of defense in finding the flaws.

When you’re writing the estimates, be sure to ask customers if there are any other areas on the vehicle that may need attention. And don’t take their word for it either.

Do a walk around and look for potential work.

If you point out an area and they don’t want to address it now, then note it on your sheet somewhere.

When that customer comes back (and he will because your closing percentage is in the high 80s), you can take your China marker and write on the car, right on the spot he refused, the word “Not Fixing.” (But before doing this, double-check that he still feels this way when he drops off the vehicle; he may have changed his mind).

This takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for the techs who are wondering if that little dent at the back of the blend panel was overlooked or is supposed to be fixed. Yes, it takes some organization, but now there’s no last-minute questioning of what should be fixed (meaning, no last-minute upsell phone calls and no waiting for the customer to call you back. You can only wait so long and then you have to make that judgment call).

This also helps to keep the techs productive. It allows them to stay where they are – making money in their work area rather than chasing you down.

Clean Is Good
“Before the paint booth” can start as early as the moment the car is dropped off. A great step if you’re not already doing it is to wash the vehicle before anyone ever works on it.

Many monsters just waiting to ruin your day are lurking in the crud on that Tahoe and in the grime all over the Taurus you’re about to put into the shop flow. Sure, occasionally a customer brings in a car nice and clean – very occasionally. Take the time and save yourself a lot of grief later.

Onto the Body Shop
Your tech now has a nice, clean vehicle to work on. It’s now so much easier to see all of the damage on it instead of just the areas where you wiped it clean when you originally estimated it. (It’s worth mentioning that as an opportunity to upsell and to write a better sheet, there’s nothing wrong with washing the vehicle before writing the estimate. Not too many customers turn down a free car washing – and it also leaves a very good impression.)

OK, so the panels are replaced, the plastic work is done and everything is in alignment. None of that, “Oh, I’ll do the final fitting after you paint it.”


  • Fit it now and fit it right. There are few things worse than having to refinish a panel again because it was chipped up by body spoons or other tools. Of course, some shops paint most parts off and install later, but they test fit, too. So, there’s no getting around it; just fit it.

  • Find imperfections now. Before leaving the body area, all the plastic work needs to be carefully looked over for imperfections. You know where I’m going with this, and I’m mainly referring to …

    PINHOLES! Get rid of the stinking pinholes before releasing the car to the paint area! Not some, not most, but all of them.

    Granted, they’re sometimes hard to see in certain lighting. Ah ha! What a perfect segue!

  • Install more (and good) lighting. Body shop area lighting in general is very, very inadequate. Save money somewhere else and put in more lights – on the wall, on stands and on the ceiling and use some color-corrective bulbs.

    People who work somewhere with color-corrective bulbs are more alert, do a much better job and experience less fatigue. The closer you can get your lights to the same spectrum as the sun, the better. Your techs will probably never walk into your office to complain that there’s just too much light in the shop. If someone does, give him a pair of tinted safety glasses and send him back to work.

Onto the Paint Shop
Alrighty, here we are in the paint shop. The car has been checked by the body tech or his assistant, and the production manager also has looked it over. It’s approved, and we’re now moving into the paint process.

  • Check all panels. Paint techs should always check all the panels, too. By looking over the panels against the estimate or work order, a painter is taking the first step in his part of the process to avoid finding missed things later on.

  • Clean, clean, clean. Mr. Clean should be the mascot for every shop, especially in the paint area. Sure, he’s bald, but he’s ripped – and he knows how to clean. Which is my point here …

    The next step in the process is to clean the areas to be worked on per your paint manufacturer’s specifications. Do this prior to putting any kind of abrasion to the panel.

    You know you’re just as guilty as I am when you grab that DA and go at it without ever even considering all the garbage that can be on the surface. Wax, plastic filler residue, salt, grease, and the beat goes on! And blowing it off doesn’t count, by the way. You have to physically wipe it down with a cleaning product and some cloths.

    Use the appropriate products, too. Degreaser is solvent-based and will not remove salt and dirt. Relocate it, yes. Remove it, no.

    Also, plastics and metals take different cleaners too, and it can be dangerous to use a regular cleaner on a part that’s static sensitive. Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

    At one time or another, we’ve all taken a bumper cover out of the packaging, put it on a stand and hit it with a scuff pad. Meanwhile, we’re grinding all sorts of crud into the surface that may or may not affect the finished product (and it may not affect it right away either; it could be months down the road). Then we can all stand around, scratch our heads and go, “Hmm … wonder why it failed?”

    Well, take the effects of surface garbage out of the equation, and it can make life somewhat simpler. Some manufacturers want you to go as far as to bake their bumper covers before you clean and prep them. Not really a bad idea if you plan ahead and throw it in with something else that’s already in the oven.

Planning is the key here.

  • Inspect before priming. It’s a great practice to look over the areas you’ll be priming for flaws of any kind. And not the bend-and-breeze method either. Get down there and really look over the panel.

    Intentionally look and expect to find something wrong with it. Be pleasantly surprised when you don’t. Until you put your Inspector No. 6 approval sticker on it, it’s not ready to prime.

  • Don’t cover other’s mistakes over and over again. We all make oversights, and it’s part of that team spirit to make the imperfection right rather than running it back through the flow.

    But take heed. If you correct someone else’s mistakes all the time to avoid what seems like a hassle, you’ll be dealing with these mistakes constantly, and other techs will never have the chance to improve upon their skills.

    Say what you will, but nothing helps to keep a person humble like a redo. We all have them, but when we work together to take steps to eliminate them, the end result is a much better product to offer to our customers. And happy customers mean job security.

  • Don’t ignore your tools. Let’s step back for just a moment and reflect on the phrase, “Use the right tool for the job.” On occasion, you can expect that tools are going to need to be serviced, parts are going to need to be replaced or the whole tool may need to be replaced.

    I see a lot of techs ignoring the pads on their sanding tools. Whether they’re pneumatic or hand tools, they’ll still wear out eventually and give you sub-par performance.

    Look at your own tools today. Inspect the pads and see what I mean. Are they out of balance from hitting a clip stud, bent from the antenna base they hit and so forth?

    I don’t make this stuff up. There are some atrocious-looking tools and pads out there being used every day. Most pads are fairly inexpensive, and a pad can give you the feel of having a brand new tool. Your paper might actually stay on it, too!

  • Rebuild your spray gun. Spray guns need to be rebuilt, on average, every couple of years if they’re a good brand and are used regularly.

    Some brands are pricey to rebuild, but considering that your guns are the most expensive tool in your arsenal, it’s just smart to keep them in tip-top shape so they’ll perform when you need them to. Your guns need to be consistent to give you the confidence needed to lay down a professional finish time and again.

  • Clean your spray gun. Keeping your guns clean is also tantamount to a successful finish.

    Ever have your gun spit crud all over your white paint job or in the clear? Ever sworn in Yiddish when you get down to the last coat of clear on a light-colored job and your gun barfs dark chunks all over it?

    Your gun needs some attention. Tear it down and do it right: Clean, clean, clean! (A piece of 36-inch paper on the wall of the booth is very handy for checking spray patterns too – very handy.)

  • Hand block your primer. Excuse me … did you say that you don’t block your primer? (Painters never do; ask any bodyman.) Are you serious?

    It’s worth noting that you cannot block consistently with any dual-action sander. Unless you’re God, it cannot be done. (Some painters, however, think they are God; ask any bodyman.)

    At any rate, nothing takes the place of good, old-fashioned elbow grease and a hand block. You know it takes more time, but not really a lot more, and your forearms look awesome!

    You know the drill – use long strokes, keep it flat and do the X pattern. When you’re done with that, then you can use your DA to get out the block marks … carefully. This is one area that having a nice top-end DA and a nice pad comes in real handy.

  • Inspect your sanding. OK, you’re done sanding, but how do you know you really are done? How do you know it’s going to look all right when you paint it?

    Blow it off, take some water (degreaser works better, but you didn’t hear that from me), pour it on the area that you blocked and look at it from an angle while it’s still wet.

    You must pour it on; spraying it on won’t have the same effect. You can get a really good look at what your finished product will be if you pour it on.

    If it still needs some attention, you’ll know. And now is the time to find out – not after the sealer is on or worse, when the job is done.

  • Check your edges. It looks awesome. Sweet! Now finish taping it and stuff it in the booth. Or maybe not. Did you check all your edges? You need to closely look over all the edges of the panels. If you attack your panels one at a time, start with the edges and work your way in, your work will be much more consistent.

Consistency Is Your Friend
Try your best to go after each job in the same manner. There will be some spaz cases that won’t fit the mold but, overall, you can become much more consistent in your work if you take your steps in the same order every time.

The point is to become consistent and to learn from what does and doesn’t work. We all get in a hurry to get to the next car, but time wasted in the booth and on redos doesn’t pay the bills.

Slow down for a minute and make certain that all is right along the way. Trust me. Once you’ve established these consistent procedures as a habit, you’ll never go back.

Contributing Editor James Rossman, 37, has been in the autobody industry since 1989 and has been employed as a painter’s helper, a painter, a wholesale area manager for a paint company, a wholesaler rep for a local jobber and a production manager. These days, he’s the production manager at Vision Collision in the Lansing, Mich., area. Rossman’s been involved in nearly every facet of the industry, short of doing his own frame work. (“Although I think as a manager, I was actually framed for a couple of things,” says Rossman.) He enjoys spending time with his family and restoring his 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

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