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Too many body shops work under poor lighting. But good lighting is absolutely
crucial if a shop wants to do quality work
in an efficient manner.
I got my start in this glorious trade as many young men do as the all-
important quality control guy: the detailer. The shop I worked for took detailing seriously and wanted the car sparkling inside and out. No quickie cleanups for this shop. I was taught early on that you can’t clean what you can’t see. My boss would check over my work by spreading seat cushions and crouching down to look at the bottom of rocker panels in search of dirt and grime, so I learned quickly that good lighting was imperative for me to do my job properly.
The importance of good lighting is evident not just in the detail shop, though. It’s one of the most important tools there is. Good lighting is absolutely crucial if a shop wants to do quality work in an efficient manner.
The most important part of any repair begins with the estimate. A sloppy
estimate that misses a lot of extra damage doesn’t help anyone. It slows down the whole repair process, which results in unhappy customers. It also delays the shop getting paid as work stops while supplements are written. Obviously, everybody misses some things while examining damages, and some damages aren’t evident until the repair process
actually begins. But how many times has a body tech come to your office to tell you about the obvious dent you missed in your write-up, or the fender liner that’s broken in two and needs to be replaced. A typical response from management is, “Wow, I never saw that.”
Maybe you didn’t see the damage because you were being lazy and really weren’t looking. Or maybe you were looking and just didn’t see it. That’s where good lighting comes into play. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen estimators try to write a train wreck in the darkest hole of the shop. It’s no wonder they miss things. Take a tour of any successful shop and you’ll see an area designated for estimates. It’ll be the brightest part of the shop. These shops make it possible for the estimator to be as thorough as possible. So paint the walls white and get some lights out there already. You just can’t afford not to.
How many techs out there work in a dungeon complete with a dark, gloomy atmosphere? It probably has too few lights that are too high and covered with dust. Come on guys, let’s get with the program. This is a huge problem. I wouldn’t think I’d have to even write about this, but apparently I do, because I’ve never worked in a shop that didn’t have disgraceful lighting in the body shop.
Here’s a fictional conversation with a body shop owner:
ME: “Why is it so dark in the shop?”
OWNER: “Because I’m too cheap to install more and better lights.”
ME: “Don’t you think the shop’s quality will suffer because of how dark it is?”
OWNER: “I like to ignore those types of thoughts and instead put all blame of bad quality on insurance companies.”
ME: “But don’t you think that if it were brighter in here, everybody would be happier?”
OWNER: “This is work, I don’t care if anybody’s happy. They’re supposed to be working, not having a good time.”
ME: “But wouldn’t they get more work done in a brighter atmosphere and be in better moods?”
OWNER: “Once again, I don’t care about their mood, it’s work. Besides, I like to blame insurance companies for us not getting work done.”
Working in a body shop is tough, dangerous work. Don’t make your technicians’ lives tougher and more dangerous by putting them in a hole
Fixing cars is also very detail-oriented work that requires a good light source to achieve quality results. Does your shop send cars to paint with pinholes in the filler or with unfixed
damages? Get some lights in there
and watch some of those problems
The Paint Shop
Arguably, the most important area for good lighting in any shop is the paint department. Painters truly rely on their eyes in order to produce quality paint jobs. You show me a paint shop that’s dark, and I’ll show you a paint shop that’s not living up to its potential. Paint preparation requires tons of attention to detail. All the nooks and crannies need to be scuffed up well to avoid a peeler. Masking needs to be precise, or the job has a good chance of turning
The paint booth itself needs to be as bright as possible. It’s virtually impossible for a painter to produce good work in a dim booth. A painter needs to watch the way the paint flows out on a panel. How many painters have pulled a job out of the booth and noticed mottling on the hood or a noticeable blend on a door, but you couldn’t see the problem in the booth? Paint booths are usually made to provide good lighting during the refinish process. It’s important to maintain a clean booth, though. Over time, the walls and lights of the paint booth become covered with overspray. Make sure your shop has a
scheduled time to completely clean out the booth. Utilize booth wall coatings to make this job easier. Clear plastic cutouts are also available to place over the lights in the booth so you don’t have to spend half a day scraping light fixtures with a razor blade.
The type of light bulbs in the booth are also important. You’ll want the kind of lights that are commonly advertised as “full spectrum.” These lights are supposed to reproduce sunlight more accurately than normal (cheaper) fluorescent lights. You don’t want to match a color under these lights, though, unless you’re interested in having color match issues. While these full spectrum lights are good for enabling you to see what you’re doing and
what you’re spraying, the art of the color match requires a more precise
It can be argued that color
matching is the most important part of the entire repair process. Customers won’t notice a lot of things, but a bad color is certainly not one of them. Make sure you match the color of the car before you get it into the booth.
An important aspect of color matching is matching the flakes in metallic paints. It’s hard to blend a color if the flake is wrong, and you really need the metallics to glitter in order to match it. Most shops rely on checking the color outside in the sun. Undoubtedly, this is the best way to do it. If the color looks good outside, it’s a good match. It’s that simple.
Of course, there are those days when the sun isn’t shining or it’s raining outside. Fortunately, there are products available now that are very good at truly duplicating the sun’s light.
Several companies make handheld lights that painters utilize to check color matches inside. Some are bulky and inconvenient, and others are really handy and light. A popular one is even cordless. What they all do well is enable a shop to do paint jobs faster and better, which should be everyone’s goal. No doubt these lights are a bit pricey, but before you write them off because of cost, think about what they offer: the ability to match a color anywhere. Gone are the days of shuffling cars around outside to find a good spot in the sun to check your test panel. They also work well if you’re having trouble in the paint booth. I’ve taken my trusty light into the paint booth countless times to check my blends and to check for mottling before I apply my clearcoat. If buying one of these lights saves you from doing one redo, which it definitely will, then it will absolutely pay for itself. Every shop, after reading this, should ask their jobber for a demo of a color matching light. After you get one, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.
Don’t Be a Cheapskate
Good lighting is important no
matter what business you’re in. It’s even more crucial in collision repair. Unlike mechanics, we’re fixing the parts of a car that customers can see. Customers want their vehicles returned to them with the right color and looking straight. I can guarantee you that if your shop is in the dark, it isn’t living up to its full potential. If you want to increase your employees’ motivation, improve the quality of your work or speed up the amount of time it takes to fix cars, improving your lighting is a step in the right direction. Don’t tell yourself how you can’t afford to get better lights. Don’t be a cheapskate, you can’t afford to be one.
Writer Nathan Tarr has been working in and around the collision repair industry for the last 12 years and admits to being “thoroughly addicted to auto body work. It’s my hobby as well as my job.” Sikkens certified and PPG certified, Tarr has been working as a painter for the past five years. Tarr is also a member of the Coalition for Collision Repair Excellence (CCRE) because “it was one of the only ways I could find for a technician to help make a difference.” He has been married for nine years to his lovely wife Wency – “I’ve had my eye on her ever since she moved up the street from me in the seventh grade.” They have a 2-year-old son, Hank, who likes to hunt for worms in the backyard and hide the remote control. Tarr can be reached at [email protected].