It’s a dark stormy night. You realize that
you’ve strayed from the main paved road and are now traveling
down a gravel one.
The road is soft. Your vehicle isn’t handling
It’s raining so hard that the car’s windshield
wipers can’t keep up, and the ditches on both sides of the road
are very steep. You’re driving faster than you should because
you’re getting nervous.
To make things worse, another vehicle appears
on your rear bumper. This “nut” starts honking his horn
in an attempt to get you to go faster. Then, off in the horizon,
you see an approaching vehicle. Suddenly the rain stops, and a
dense fog settles in. The approaching vehicle is getting closer,
the nut behind you is still honking, and you can’t see the end
of your hood.
It’s probable that a serious accident is only
moments or even seconds away because you don’t know what’s coming.
You have no idea what to do or how to do it, yet you feel pressured
to get on with it.
As a shop owner/manager, do you ever feel
like this? Do you ever feel that your shop is on a crash course
because you don’t know what to expect? Do you ever feel pressured
to make repairs just to get them out the door? Do you ever think
that if you just knew this or that, you could do a better job
in less time?
In this ever-changing industry, your skills
are continuously evolving and growing (at least they should be).
And with vehicles changing as fast as they do, what you really
need is specific repair information – information that’s pertinent
to the vehicle you’re working on, not the one you repaired last
And, in most cases, you needed the information
two days ago.
Despite all this pressure, don’t forget two
important things: First, the whole premise of collision repair
is to restore a damaged vehicle to preaccident condition. Second,
for long-term existence, you must earn a repeat customer, which
can be the vehicle owner or the insurance company – hopefully
These are lofty goals in a time when rapid
change and pressure to make a profit can cloud your vision. Take
the driver in the beginning of the article, who felt so pressured
that instead of pulling over to assess the situation, rushed and
probably ended up in an accident.
Same goes for you and your business. Take
the time to think things through. And, if necessary, spend the
money to get the information you need to repair a vehicle properly.
Repair manuals and service bulletins from
vehicle manufacturers are a common source of information, but
some shop owners think they’re too expensive, especially when
the vehicle might change the next year. If you don’t plan ahead,
however, you may not have the manual when the vehicle shows up
in your shop for repairs.
For example, what if you remove the roof panel
on any one of the new vehicles, see that it was adhesive bonded
to the roof frame with just a few OEM plug welds or spot welds,
and, on your own, decide to repair it the same way the factory
built the vehicle: just adhesive and a few welds?
Would you be right or wrong? Unless you have
the correct repair manual or service bulletin, you won’t know.
And you can’t possibly predict what this mistake will cost you.
Repair manuals are more than money spent.
They’re investments because they can save you time, money, wasted
material and headaches.
Repair manuals can help with …
Repair manuals can show specifically where
sectioning can or can’t take place. Re-engineering a modern automobile
through poor sectioning procedures is not a smart thing to do;
you need to section where the manufacturer specifies.
What if you decide, on your own, where to
section a rocker, and the next thing you know, you cut through
an inner reinforcement. What now?
(The exception to the repair-manual method
would be an approved sectioning procedure developed and tested
by Tech-Cor. Another might be an approved I-CAR general sectioning
procedure for an older car where there’s no repair manual.)
Setting Up a Sectioned Joint
Repair manuals supply detailed information
on how to set up a sectioned joint. Let’s look at an imaginary,
but representative, section joint – more specifically a lap joint.
Our imaginary lap joint is for a front rail, where the service
part is overlapped by the original part. The distance of the overlap
is 2 inches. The members are joined by MIG plug welds, and the
size of the plug welds is 5/16 of an inch. The number and spacing
is also specified.
Knowing this information, what if you decided
that in addition to the plug welds, the seam part of the lap joint
must be welded, too? To do this:
- You’ll expend extra MIG wire and shielding gas;
- On today’s vehicles, you’ll destroy additional zinc coating
at the weld site;
- If the material is high-strength steel, you may overheat the
joint to the point that strength is lost;
- Because the joint is welded solid, you may not be able to
adequately restore anticorrosion protection.
- You’re also wasting valuable time or labor cost doing something
that isn’t necessary. You may even alter the crashworthiness of
the vehicle. All this because you chose not to purchase, read,
understand and follow specific instructions in a repair manual!
While you’re focusing on the lap joint portion of a sectioned
structural member, don’t forget the bigger picture. A quality
lap-joint repair is great only if the structural member falls
into the tolerances for overall vehicle dimensional accuracy.
Everything you do at the sectioned area ultimately affects the
Let’s take a closer look at the lap joint.
Why the lap joint? Why not use a butt joint or butt joint with
insert or backing? There are several good reasons to use the lap
joint. First, the butt joint is time consuming to prepare because
accurate dimensioning is difficult. The members to be joined may
be dimensionally correct with regard to OEM specifications, but
what if the gap or opening is too tight for sufficient weld penetration
or there is too much gap, resulting in too much weld penetration?
Why not use the butt joint with insert? It’s somewhat easier to
prepare, but there are more steps with preparing the insert and,
in addition to plug welds, the seam portion must be welded. Another
problem with the butt joint with insert or backer is how do you
adequately restore corrosion protection? It’s extremely difficult
to get the anticorrosion material to fully penetrate the welded
Another variation of the lap-joint theme that’s specifically intended
for sectioning square or box-type structural members uses a 1/4-inch
overlap. Typically you must notch the four corners, and bend in
the four sides slightly to allow the other member to fit up properly.
This joint is relatively easy to set up, easy to weld and, most
importantly, easy to restore corrosion protection.
Talk about improving productivity and meeting the goal of preaccident
condition in a timely manner. Everybody is happy.
Happy, that is, as long as you know which makes or models can
make use of this type of joint.
Repair manuals furnish information about plug-weld size, spacing
and number. Why is this important? Plug welds that are larger
than necessary create a larger heat-affected zone and may be stronger
than necessary; plug welds that are too small may cause a weak
repair; plug welds that are too few or too far apart mean potential
structural deficiencies; and too many plug welds mean wasted preparation
and material – and also may make the repair stronger than necessary.
Think about it. If preparing, welding and finishing a plug weld
takes three minutes, what if you do a thousand plug welds per
year and 100 of them weren’t necessary? That’s 300 minutes divided
by 60, equaling five hours of labor wasted per year.
But, the only way to know for sure is to refer to the appropriate
Plastic, Air Bags and ECUs
Repair manuals identify plastic components, which make it easier
to determine repair methods and techniques.
They also identify air bag sensors, which can be sensitive to
extreme heat, say from a welding operation nearby. But what if
you didn’t know that? You could successfully replace an air bag
and yet damage a sensor.
Repair manuals also pinpoint the exact location of all the Electrical
Control Units. Modern vehicles don’t work very well if one or
more is malfunctioning. To prevent damage to an ECU from welding,
did you know that the vehicle’s negative – and sometimes positive
– battery terminal needs to be disconnected? Check the repair
To Foam or Not
Repair manuals help to determine whether to add foam or to leave
What if you replaced the rear-rail and cross-member section on
a vehicle and saw that the original part was filled with foam?
Would you fill the replacement part with foam or would you skip
over that step?
The purpose of most foam-filled structural components is to reduce
noise and vibration. On some vehicles, the purpose of foam may
also be to enhance vehicle crash performance. The appropriate
repair manual would help make this determination.
If you decide to forget the foam designed to reduce noise and
vibration, you might get by. Some customers will notice the difference,
some may not. Those who do will either come back, or maybe they’ll
just tell seven (or is it 10?) people about the crummy job you
Even worse, if you decide to leave out foam that’s designed to
enhance crashworthiness, serious legal problems could crop up
because people could get hurt.
Again, a repair manual supplies the answers you need.
Note: Likely locations for foam are “A” and “B”
pillars, rockers and enclosed rails. Make sure you remove the
foam prior to welding, and use existing access holes to apply
foam. And make sure you use the correct foam. The most common
foam for collision repair is a two-part epoxy material. Also,
don’t forget to apply anticorrosion material at the weld site
or sectioned site prior to applying the foam.
Repair manuals help with decisions regarding sound-deadening panels.
What if you removed the roof panel from a vehicle to find sound-deadening
panels? Would you replace them or skip over that step?
When you work on a door, do you throw away the sound-deadening
material? Doors can be very noisy without them. Check the repair
UPCR: An Alternative
If you aren’t completely satisfied with repair manuals, is there
an alternative? Yes.
I-CAR’s Uniform Procedures for Collision Repair (UPCR) is a one-stop
source for industry-accepted collision repair procedural information.
Each UPCR procedure contains the minimum requirements for a satisfactory
repair – agreed upon by representatives from all segments of the
UPCR contains procedural information, equipment and material requirements,
safety and hazardous material information, and salvage-part requirements
for every job a collision repair facility will face.
Two key words here are uniform and procedure. The word uniform
means not varying or variable, conforming to one rule or mode.
The word procedure means a particular way of accomplishing something,
a series of steps followed in a regular definite order.
What if you had at your disposal I-CAR’s UPCR the next time a
damaged vehicle is pushed, pulled or dragged into your work bay?
Most importantly, you have a procedural list that can help you
prepare and perform said repairs in a logical sequence, without
forgetting or leaving out any important steps. You can focus on
the skill component of repairing the vehicle, knowing that you’re
doing it right. Wouldn’t it feel good to know that you aren’t
responsible for sectioning decisions? You don’t have to re-engineer
the vehicle. If there are potential safety concerns, they’ll be
identified, along with equipment and material needs.
UPCR can also put your shop on an even playing field with the
competition. How so? Go back to the definition of uniform and
procedure. If you make an attempt to perform quality repairs,
but the shop across town is cutting costs by cutting out important
steps, then you can’t compete. However, if the insurance industry
knows that your shop is following an accepted industry procedure,
that shop across town may eventually go out of business or will
be forced to begin doing things the right way. Now you can compete
based on quality repairs, not on price alone.
Note: UPCR is offered as a one-year CD-ROM subscription, with
quarterly issues of new, updated procedures. The annual subscription
fee is less than $300. You need an IBM-compatible computer with
these minimum requirements: 486 or higher processor; Microsoft
Windows 3.1 or Windows 95; 10-16MB of RAM, depending on the operating
system; 5MB hard disk space, plus MB temporary space available
during installation; 2X or faster CD-ROM drive; and 256 or more
color display. If you’d like to know more about UPCR, call I-CAR
Customer Service at (800) 422-7872 in the United States or (800)
565-4227 in Canada. Free demonstration discs are available while
Operator’s Manuals: Read ‘Em!
Another way to ensure you’re properly repairing vehicles is to
read, understand and follow operator’s or owner’s manuals for
all shop equipment and power tools. Sometimes just taking the
time to read can save you expensive repair bills.
Also, don’t forget to read and understand product information.
The manufacturers go to great lengths to make reliable products
that are easier to use, but you still have some responsibility
as the end user. Make sure you also read all applicable MSDS sheets,
in addition to product label warnings.
To Lead, You Must Read
Not everyone likes to read or wants to take the time to read.
But take the time you must.
Hurrying to get something done won’t serve you well anymore –
there are just too many details from one vehicle to the next.
Information is the key to quality, cost-effective repairs these
days. And while information can’t replace your technical skills
– skills that it’s taken a lifetime to develop and that can’t
be replaced by a computer disk – information can tell you how
to use your skills to create the best possible repair.
Writer Fred Kjeld is a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.