Heavy-Duty Collision Repair - BodyShop Business

Heavy-Duty Collision Repair

Views and observations from the heavy-duty truck repair side of the collision business...plus helpful advice for those thinking of adding it to their services.

etitors?” Their answer? “The independents!” (And these independent shops were typically run by their former body/ paint department managers).

I also found that the owners didn’t understand the collision side completely. Also, all of the collision parts were going to the parts department statements. (Note: It’s still that way today on the truck side).

I’ve always run my department with the mindset of a successful independent when it comes to setting up procedures, policies and business plans – and thinking and planning ahead to overcome these situations.

Outside Forces
I believe the heavy-duty collision side has been more immune to outside forces than the car side over the last 25 years – but this is changing!

For example, the insurance industry’s influence is growing in that insurers are starting to employ policies and procedures that the car side has already. Insurers that previously would only use new OEM parts are now moving toward used or aftermarket parts, although there are still some insurers that insist on OEM: Great West, Westfield and Chubb, for example. Also, many insurance adjusters on our side have changed their stance on parts and are behaving more like adjusters on the car side.

Our hourly flat rate is higher, but our line of work requires extra techs due to the size and weight of the parts as well as the height of the vehicles.
I currently work for a single-point dealer principle organization-based body and paint department, as we do not have a large fleet with Peterbilt or other makes anchored in our area. We work as required by large national fleets, but many of them also have their own body collision departments, which is becoming the norm.

Being an owner operator/small fleet repairer, we have to plan for minimum downtime, as the owners of these rigs don’t have any income coming in while their unit is being repaired. I tell my employees that we have to understand and recognize that our customer’s rig is his business and office, and thus requires our best effort every time. Plus, his driver may also not have an income coming in while the truck is being fixed. These concerns put additional daily pressure on us. Larger fleets usually have fewer time restrictions, but we treat them the same as our owner-operator units.
Unlike the car side, the heavy-duty truck side usually doesn’t have car rental allowances or loaners available due to its equipment needs, size and special set-ups (specific transmissions, rear ends, gear ratios and different required equipment for specific freight mandated by PUCO, as well as other manufacturer requirements). Due to the economy/EPA requirements, we’re seeing more owner-operators keeping their units longer or “glidering” them (putting on a new truck body, frame and front axle but keeping the original engine, transmission, drive line and rear axles with wheels from their previous truck). These all create additional repair issues.

big trucks require big equipment to repair them.Paint/Equipment
As a Peterbilt dealership, we use Imron paint and materials designed for heavy-duty trucks. These materials require special refinishing techniques due to the nature of the material and Peterbilt huck rivets. All Imron materials are much more expensive than car paint; therefore, we have to handle car adjusters carefully as they usually don’t have a full understanding of the differences in cost.

Our equipment is basically the same as the car side but there are higher expenses due to the vehicle size. We’ve repaired cars, pickups, farm equipment and boats, and offered additional services such as sandblasting, welding, Peterbilt glass installation, custom painting and hand striping. We also work for the local Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership because, in 1972, I ran the body department in that family’s Buick-Opel dealership.

a cargo box masked and ready for paint.New Business
Like many shops, we’re constantly looking for new business opportunities. Seeing an opportunity in customized parts and solutions, we developed a patent-pending lower sleeper panel corrosion system to prevent corrosion from spreading. We cover treated areas with a one-piece quality stainless cover that serves to also “dress up” these rigs. The reason we started working at solving these corrosion issues five years ago is because many Peterbilts, Kenworths and other model rigs on the road today have this problem as early as two years and up. The result is we’ve increased our business and achieved an affordable solution to our customers’ corrosion problems.

Cashing Out

Like the car side, we’re seeing an increase in owner operator/ small fleets delaying repair work and/or keeping the insurance money because they can’t afford the downtime to have their rigs repaired. Insurers have come to realize this and are reducing our proper repair figures more and more. It isn’t right, but many owner operators/small fleets need that money to pay for other repairs or expenses (mechanical, tires, higher fuel costs, etc.). In the end, both the customer and the collision shop lose, while the insurance companies win by saving money and closing the claim.

needless to say, you need a much larger spraybooth like this one to paint semis.Custom Headaches
Most owner operators/small fleets add additional parts and accessories to their rigs to dress them up, which creates issues with replacement parts because there are so many different manufacturers and suppliers. More insurers now have arrangements with these suppliers all over the U.S., thus saving money for themselves. This is causing many concerns for both the customer and collision shop as many times, the replacement parts aren’t correct or of the same quality as the original parts.

Two Values  

Back in the day, a big rig was considered “old” after three to four years on the road and needed to be replaced. Just like cars, big rigs can now run many more miles and be driven for many more years.

We’re now experiencing many challenges regarding insurance and market values. Many independents, owner-operators and small fleets don’t understand the difference until it’s too late. We run into situations where the rig’s insured value is higher than the market value, or the opposite scenario where the owner underinsured the rig to save money. We’re finding that more owners are keeping the same insured value year after year, which can cause issues when trying to repair their rigs. Plus, it can cost them money insurance-wise. Advising these customers is challenging, especially when they haven’t been keeping up with evaluating the appropriate insurance coverage.

you can’t do heavy-duty truck repair without large mobile platform ladders.Qualifying the Customer
In heavy-duty truck insurance claims, we always qualify our customers based on their objectives and needs to create a positive outcome for all parties involved. You have to ask a lot of pertinent questions, listen and analyze to determine the best course of action. This way, you’ll be able to move forward using the proper procedures to best handle and fulfill the customer’s objectives as well as the objectives of all parties involved. That includes understanding the insurance company’s procedures.

We ask, listen and explain to our customers the pros and cons to prepare them and us for a successful outcome. There are shops that lower pricing, miss damages, and use lesser parts and materials while cutting corners, but will they be there for the customer and/or be in business long? You may not close all of your deals by refusing to negotiate or cut corners, but in the long haul, your integrity and reputation will shine and outlast many of those in the business who do cut corners.

Put It on PaperA technician at Peterbilt of Northwest Ohio repairs a semi-truck hood assembly.
I’ve always believed that the pen is mightier than the sword. Your potential profits start first with putting the job down on paper. You can’t get the job and its financial benefit if it isn’t on paper first. It also pays to know the P-pages in and out and what you’re entitled to be compensated for.

We participate in factory training, continued education, paint clinics and in-house training, which allow us to repair damages correctly the first time. It never ceases to amaze us how many jobs we redo as the result of improper repair and refinishing by another shop. Cheapest isn’t best! Our policy is to create value for our customers.  

Life and business are always built on positive relationships, so you should always strive to obtain a win/win/win for your customer, yourself and the insurance company. This will put you on the true path to success when working with jobbers, parts and service departments, and towing professionals.
We, too, have found it difficult to recruit younger techs, even during these challenging economic times. But it’s up to us alone to overcome this. We can help set up programs in our high schools for those students who don’t wish to attend a four-year college but want to learn a respectable trade for which there will always be some demand. We can also start apprentice programs within our shops so that the young techs can learn from our experienced lead techs how to correctly and efficiently perform the tasks required of this real-world professional trade.

I feel that it’s harder today to succeed in this business, but it has always been hard. We’ve come this far not in vain, but determined to do our daily best for customers, employees, owners and ourselves. I remember when insurance companies required three damage estimates! (Now I’m really dating myself).  

When dealing with life, business, family and customers, you must adhere to the “The Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” By sticking together for the betterment of all, I truly believe we can and will prevail, remembering that insurance companies aren’t repairing or refinishing our customers’ vehicles big or small – we are!

So You Want to Offer Heavy-Duty Collision Repair?

Here is some of the equipment you’ll need:

1. Larger paint booth
2. Large mobile platform ladders
3. Stainless welding equipment along with heli-arc welding equipment
4. Larger frame rack or larger floor pulling system/anchors and pulling post/heavy chains
5. Larger, dedicated working stalls
6. Additional paint mixing system and stock – DuPont, Imron and supplies for Peterbilts, Kenworths and other makes/models
7. Special adhesives/supplies
8. Larger sandblasting system
9. Heavy-duty floor jacks/stands
10. Larger wash bay
11. Mitchell estimating truck system or Mitchell collision books for large or medium rigs

For Class 8 and down, I would check to see how many OEM heavy-duty truck dealers that don’t have in-house collision/paint departments exist within a 50- to 100-mile radius of your shop. They can sublet the work to you, so you win because you get additional business and they win, too, because of the advantages that subletting offers.

As you can see, it takes a large investment, but it does offer potential to expand your future business. I strongly recommend that you thoroughly research your area and suppliers, plus other competitors first!


Truck Frame Machines vs. Light Duty Frame Machines: What’s the Diff?

Light duty frame or body repairs are typically performed on a flat deck style machine. A lighter duty frame has a unitized style body versus the two frame rails that make up a heavy-duty body. The light duty vehicle is either driven on or is winched on and then mounted to the machine. Towers are used to pull the frame with chains attached. In contrast, heavy-duty correction is performed on either a press or rail system, depending on whether a truck or a trailer is being corrected. Bee Line manufactures a system using knees and beams, fastened and bolted together, to correct the frame from the inside or outside of the rails. This practice, Bee Line claims, is safer, more efficient and more successful than the chain method. Heavy-duty frame correction requires greater force to straighten frame rails than light duty correction.


A light duty deck style weighs around 4,000 to 5,000 pounds, whereas a Bee Line heavy-duty frame correction system weighs 8,000 to 10,000 pounds. The frame press is engineered out of T1 steel.

Heavy-duty correction equipment can be used for light duty correction, but only in a limited manner. The substantial size of the tools prohibits a full light duty correction.

With any trade, there is a need for supplemental training. When it comes to heavy-duty frame correction, a more skilled, highly trained technician is preferred due to the amount of pressure applied and the preciseness of the different tool setups required. An expert repair most importantly ensures that safety standards have been met before the vehicle returns to the road. Completing the repair successfully and safely is vital, but to be able to diagnosis and formulate the proper and safest way to accomplish the repair is what truly sets the professionals apart from the rest.

There have been a lot of advancements, not just in equipment but also for the technician himself. Bee Line introduced aluminum tooling, which is a lighter, easier-to-lift product that reduces the stress and fatigue imposed on the tech. These specialty tools make the job faster and easier to perform while maintaining a conscious effort to improve safe work practices.

– Information courtesy of Bee Line Company

Phil Myers is body/paint department director for Peterbilt of Northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or (419) 423-3441.

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