Trade Secrets - BodyShop Business

Trade Secrets

Unusual, everyday tools commonly used in the collision repair industry.

Tin foil. Telephone line. Toilet paper tubes.

These may not sound like tools commonly used in the collision repair industry – but they are.

And how they’re being used is exactly the kind of trade secrets we were hoping to receive when we started asking you – our readers – to submit shop tips of the trade.

In mid-2002, we launched the contest: Send or e-mail us your best tips, and you’ll automatically be entered into our drawing for a chance to win $200. (Let me clarify. When I say “tips,” I don’t mean advice like “Buy U.S. savings bonds.” The tips had to somehow make body shop life easier or add a little thickness to your wallet.)

Regardless of what motivated you to submit the tips – the chance to share advice with fellow repairers or maybe you just really needed 200 bucks – the response to our contest was overwhelming (so overwhelming that we couldn’t possibly reprint all of the tips we received). We received tips from all over the country covering just as wide a range of topics. In fact, a few of our readers, John Hayduk and Don Buerkle, sent us enough good tips that we gave them their own category. (See “The Don & John Show,” page 34.)

Besides the Don and John category, our other tip categories are:

  • Smart Business – everything from tax tips to front-office advice;
  • Finger Tips – technical advice for body, paint and mechanical work;
  • Tipping the Sales Scales – everything from customer service to marketing to insurers.

Some of the tips may sound simple to you, but don’t overlook their potential to boost your bottom line. Little things do mean a lot – and they add up to substantial amounts of money over time.

Speaking of substantial amounts of money, $200 is on its way to our lucky winner – Glenn Vogt, owner of Vogt’s Body Shop in Rolla, Mo.

“I won? Well I’ll be darned!” exclaimed an excited Vogt. “That makes me feel pretty cool. I might have to start entering these things more often.

“Normally I never bother to enter these things, but I thought, “Doggonnitt, this is important!’ ”

Because we couldn’t stop at just one winner, we also bestowed painter James Rossman with the Funniest Entry award, worth $50.

“That’s awesome,” said Rossman when we told him the good news. “Is the funniest entry a normal category for you guys?”

Nope. We invented it just for you James.

Rossman’s advice can be found under the “Finger Tips” category.

The fact is, many entries were deserving of an award. Another fact is, our money ran out so we couldn’t give out any more awards. The thought was there, just not the cash.

For Vogt and Rossman, however, it paid to share their ideas with BodyShop Business. And who knows? Next time, the cash recipient could be you.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
How much money does your shop spend on paper to write estimates, supplements, etc.? In our shop, all the faxes, repair order papers, extra estimates, anything … we use the back side to write estimates on. I’ve worked here two years, and we’ve never bought a single sheet of paper to write an estimate on. It’s [a good way to recycle] because we save a ton on paper that would just be thrown away!

Michael Loehr, estimator
Performance Dodge Collision Center
Phoenix, Ariz.

Pay What You Owe
It’s always good to have good workers, tools and machines for your business, to keep customers happy and to keep business coming in, but I think the most important thing behind all the work is to keep your books balanced and organized and to make sure all your bills and taxes are paid on time.

Crystal Sanchez, office manager
American Collision & Towing Services, Inc.
Albuquerque, N.M.

Uncle Sam’s Secret
Here’s a tax tip. Body shop owners who gross less than $1 million per year can build-on to their shop and take a $20,000 tax deduction (i.e., Sec. 190 IRS for ADA = $5,000 tax credit and a deduction of the remaining $15,000; see “Tax Incentives Packet” issued by John Ashcroft on July 6, 2001. Also, they can get credit for upgrade/retrofit to their walkways and comply with the “detectable warnings at hazardous vehicular areas” (OSHA Sec. 4.29.5).

Steven E. Schillinger,
REA, president
Robert W. Morris,
Esq., v.p. legal affairs
PIRK RecordKeeping, Inc.

Supplement Smarts
My helpful hint is for any body shop that’s had to wait for lazy insurance companies to send out their supplements, which they don’t want to pay: If you don’t hear from them after faxing a copy and mailing a copy, then “blow up” their fax machine by faxing the same supplement over and over. I’ve found that when I do this, they just get tired of seeing the same thing and it tends to get paid a whole lot more quickly.

Shelley Stine, office manager
Michael’s Performance-Collision
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Digital Proof

When the customer shows up to drop a car off and it has prior damage, take some digital pictures, add them to the file and give the owner copies. That way, there should be no discrepancies when you deliver the car to the owner, especially if he picks it up on a busy Friday. All it takes is a 25-cent floppy disk, and you’d be amazed how much money you can save.

David Puente, estimator
Long Beach Honda Body Shop
Long Beach, Calif.

Pay Up!
Any shop can easily make an extra $1,000 per week by posting and following a sign that reads: “WE DO NOT COVER DEDUCTIBLES. PLEASE DO NOT ASK.” It works for us.

Charlie Corwith, president
Corwith’s Auto Body Inc.
Water Mill, N.Y.


One of the tools that I find to be invaluable is none other than a roll of tin foil. When you’re cutting in a core support on a car and you want to cover-up the wire looms or A/C lines, there’s nothing better. It also shines when you’re spotting in a section of a motorcycle frame while the engine is still in it. It also conforms to the engine and wires. It works great on outside mirrors when they’re left on the car. I use the commercial tin foil which is 24 inches wide. The paint doesn’t blow off it either, which is a bonus.

For those real hard-core painters, you can save it and use it on your grill at home afterward to give your steak that special reducer flavor … just in case you didn’t get enough isocyanates at work!

James D. Rossman, auto refinisher
Vision Collision LLC
Lansing, Mich.

Spreading Joy
When I’m through spreading body filler, I clean the spreader using a red Scotchbrite pad (a gray pad also works, but not as well) and thinner. You don’t have to use a lot of thinner – I pour maybe a tablespoon into a pan and wet the pad. Then I scrub the spreader with the wet Scotchbrite pad. Don’t forget to use gloves to protect your hands. The spreader is easily cleaned and ready for reuse over and over, and you don’t have to wait for the filler to dry in order to “pop” the filler off the spreader.

Rodney W. Hessler, owner
Al’s Body Shop
Billings, Mont.

Primed for Action?

If you’re not sure if a new dark-colored bumper from the factory has been primed, take a white 1,500-grit DA sanding disc and sand a bit of the bumper. Then look at the disc. If it has some color on it, it’s primed; if the bumper is a light color, take some 1,500 wet or dry and repeat the process.

Richard Turley, painter
Crabtree Buick Pontiac
Bristol, Va.

Alcohol in the Shop
If painters or detailers take isopropyl alcohol and blend it with water at about one part alcohol to three parts water, it works great for three different applications:

  • Wipe down in-between compounding and glazing – this really removes the compound and gives you a great look at what you’re about to glaze. (Caution: Using a soft detail cloth is a must.) This can also help you avoid being embarrassed at delivery by finding wet sand marks that didn’t quite get wheeled out.
  • Overall wipe before you ever put a mechanical scratch of any kind on a surface to be abraded. This in conjunction with a top-shelf degreaser is sure to remove waterborne and solvent-based contaminants from your area to be worked on. (Hint: Here comes the salt if you live in the North; it won’t help with high blood pressure though!)
  • Final wipe to see what your finished product looks like before you send it to the bodyman or the detailer. Use this with a detail cloth and you’ll be surprised how your defects (if there are any) will jump right out at you – mainly in the darker colors, of course.

James D. Rossman, auto refinisher
Vision Collision LLC
Lansing, Mich.

Air Is Important
You want tips? How about a book. I’m a paint jobber who’s seen it all. Let’s start with the most common problem. I’ll sight a true story.

One day a tech at a shop I had called said that something was wrong with our clear. It wasn’t winter so I knew it wasn’t a drying problem. I asked what was happening, and he told me that our clear worked fine in the morning but sprayed badly in the afternoon.

He was serious – he thought the clear took the afternoon off and refused to work. The painter and the owner were convinced something was wrong with the product.

I gathered facts and discovered that the shop had doubled in size and, despite my warnings, extended their 1/2-inch air line to the new booth. I had provided them with an “Air Pressure Over Distance Drop Chart,” but they ignored it, telling me they knew the correct air hose sizes. The painter did two small jobs in the morning and saved the big jobs for the afternoon.

So I brought down a spray gun with the digital gauge. The gauge on this painter’s gun just bounced around as he tried to prove to me he had plenty of air pressure. My spray gun told a different story. After one minute, the pressure dropped to 19 pounds.

Needless to say, the owner reluctantly agreed that he needed a new compressor, got a rotary screw and tells me it’s the best investment he ever made. Of course, he takes all the credit. It’s my belief that only 25 percent of my shops have adequate air pressure.

Leon Bousquet, jobber
Central Paint Supply Inc.
Shrewsbury, Mass.

When drilling holes for roof rack anchors, place a length of rubber hose over the bit – expose only enough bit to drill the roof skin. It’ll save costly headliner repair. This same method can be applied to spoiler installations.

William Banaszynski, owner
Elite Collision Repair Inc.
Lewisville, Texas

The Rule of 15
For every 15 degrees you add, you cut the dry time in half. Metallics mottled? Clear solvent popped? Choose the right solvent to match the air flow and temperature. Yes, air flow is a contributing factor. If it’s 70 degrees and you have good air flow in the booth, use an 85 degree reducer. Look at your clear dry times on your product bulletins. A common example would be 16 hours at 70 percent or 40 minutes at 140 percent. Here’s how it works:

  • 16 hours at 70 percent, add 15 degrees;
  • 8 hours at 85 percent, add 15 degrees;
  • 4 hours at 100 percent, add 15 degrees;
  • 2 hours at 115 percent, add 15 degrees;
  • 1 hour at 130 percent, add 15 degrees;
  • 30 minutes at 145 percent.

See how it works? My favorite is the reverse of this equation. The call always comes in the winter: “Something is wrong with the clear. It won’t dry.” We do a reading with our infrared gun and find that the hood is 70 percent and the rocker panel is 56 percent. This is an actual example from a shop call I made. Let’s check those numbers:

  • 70 percent = 16-hour dry time minus 15 degrees;
  • 55 percent = 32-hour dry time.

Yee-Ha! Tell the customer you painted his car, and it’ll be dry in two days.

Leon Bousquet
Central Paint Supply Inc.

Shrewsbury, Mass.

Desiccant Discontent
A better compressor can be a bad thing. I’ve taken this call three times so far.

The customer upgrades to a rotary screw compressor. He no longer has any water in the lines. The “eye” on his desiccant dryer tells him that there’s no moisture in the desiccant. In fact, the compressor works so well that there’s never any water in the lines.

After about a year, the eye tells you there’s still no need to change the desiccant, so you don’t. Do you know how beat-up those desiccant beads are after a year with no moisture to hold them


A strange white contaminant starts to appear in the paint jobs. The filters get changed; it gets worse. All the guns are rebuilt; it gets worse. The filters are changed to a different brand; it gets worse. The strainers are upgraded; it gets worse.

The desiccant is turning to dust and coming in the line. You can either eliminate the desiccant from your old water separator system or place a 5-micron filter after the desiccant drier.

Leon Bousquet
Central Paint Supply Inc.
Shrewsbury, Mass.

Code Red!

When working on medium or heavy-duty trucks, keep a log of all the paint codes and the parts of the truck that were painted with that code. That way, when or if the truck ever returns, you know what was done before and if you encountered any tinting or other problems.

Rusty Rothgeb, bodyman/painter
Truck Enterprises Inc.

Harrisonburg, Va.

Don’t Use Your Head
When working on cars with worn out or damaged hydraulic struts on the hood or trunk, you want to avoid having the panel come down on your head. To remedy this problem, lightly clamp a pair of vise grip-type locking pliers on the shaft where it goes into the cylinder. This way, the panel won’t be able to be lowered until you remove the pliers.

Barry J. Kline, manager
Kline Brothers Auto Body & Paint Shop
Pottsville, Pa.

Something Fishy

With today’s brands of paint, the least little bit of chemical can and will cause fisheye in the paint – where mists of oil-based chemicals or any tire dressing (or even motor oil as far as that goes) gets on panels, causing paint to separate in the shape of a fisheye around the spot of oil-base substance. [Having a fisheye problem can] double the time on the job because you may have to redo the complete job. To solve this problem, keep all cleaners and sprays in a different room of the shop and away from damaged parts getting repaired. A body shop’s not made for clean-up – it’s made for body work.

Todd Jolly, painter
Jolly’s Body Shop
Ewing, Ky.

Call Me Clever
Instead of paying quite a bit of money for lifting tape or something else to lift up window moldings so you can paint underneath them, just buy a box of telephone line like you would use in your house. It works just as well and it’s cheaper.

Sidney Booher, sales rep
Paducah Auto Color
Paducah, Ky.

Dealing with Deductibles
When a customer asks to save his deductible, we ask him what part of the repair he wants left off. Then we show him what he’s getting, line by line. Once he sees what the estimate and repair process consist of, he better understands where the money is used. We show him that it’s part of the repair process and not just a loophole for profit.

Mark Oates, body shop manager
Specialty Body & Paint
Lincolnton, N.C.

Treat Me Right

I’m the manager of a productive and caring shop, and one thing I’ve always received great praise for is my customer relations, both in person and on the phone. My tip is to always be very informative and always take the time you need to make sure a customer’s questions are fully answered so he understands. Don’t use too much body shop lingo.

Also, it’s a known fact that we get multiple phone calls every day and a lot of times, those calls overlap each other, making some people have to wait on hold while listening to advertising or bunk music. I make every attempt to reassure the customer waiting that I haven’t forgotten about him and that I’m very sorry for having to make him wait too long. I’ll generally pick up the phone and thank the person for his patience before I ask how I can help him.

My parents taught me good manners, and I try and use them every day to their fullest extent.

Big “Ed” Wucher, manager
Advanced Auto Collision
Temecula, Calif.

Under-Promise, Over-Deliver
Basic, common sense – always give the customers more than they expect. That can include something as simple as a wash job, an interior vacuum or cleaning the white walls. It’s a good reflection on your shop!

Drew D’Alessandro, owner
D’Alessandro Auto Body
Matthews, N.C.

Be Nice

A great ice-breaker and a good customer service tip is to compliment the customer and/or the car in question. Example: “That car looks well-cared for and is in pretty good shape.”

J. S. Cohen, owner
Metro Collision
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sell the Job
Like my father before me, I come from the old school of auto collision repair, and I’m astounded by how complex today’s shops have become. The collision repair industry today is dominated by high-tech equipment and procedures, but one thing remains constant from the old days – you still have to sell the job.

My son and daughter-in-law operate [our shop], and I’m impressed with the way they handle their clients and have created a strong reputation.

When customers come into the main office, they’re greeted with a smile from my daughter-in-law, offered coffee and doughnuts and always have a nice place to sit. Her office is always immaculate, and she’s available to help customers process their claims, determine if they have rental coverage and reassure them that their vehicle is in the best of hands.

Next, my son greets the customer and reviews the damage. He lets him know how he intends to proceed with repairs and what parts will be changed or repaired. He also explains the painting process and shows why most of the time additional parts on adjacent panels must be removed in order to blend the color to get a perfect match. He explains that removing these parts will eliminate any telltale signs of overspray on belt moldings, door handles, door moldings, glass, etc. He describes the entire paint process including primer and paint drying time, fine sand scuffing and detailing prior to delivery.

He’s up front about how much time it’ll take, and he invites each customer to look at any car on his lot in any stage of repair and to take note of how clean and organized the shop is. As he puts it, “Our reputation is what’s most important.” He remembers my father saying: “Do it right or don’t do it at all.”

He’ll spend as much time as the customer needs to assure him that he’s chosen the right facility to repair his vehicle. Customers are especially impressed with the shop’s measuring computer system. My son and his wife know that to compete in business today, you have to have the technology to back it up. They also realize that today’s car owners have invested so much in their vehicles that they can be quite demanding at times. That’s why both of them take the time to make each customer feel special. This attitude carries on throughout the entire process.

My son usually writes all estimates on his computer, pumping in data and loading digital pictures (insurance companies like a lot of pictures). When he’s finished, he reviews the estimate with the customers explaining each line item, along with any notes attached to the estimate. He explains how long they can expect their car to be tied up and finally assures them that they’ll receive a quality repair.

I’m very proud of the way my son and daughter-in-law have developed their business. They’ve discovered that paying attention to the needs of each and every customer and appreciating their business really pays off.

Richard Girouard Sr.
Pro Auto Collision
Temecula, Calif.

Market to Insurers
To increase business, send a salesperson to make calls at insurance agencies, law offices and doctor’s offices.

To help keep the customers you get, give a ride to any customer who drops off a car and needs one. Be as nice as possible and helpful, and customers will also refer others.

Sally Huezo, secretary
Arrow Collision Center
Montclair, Calif.

Woman Woes
A customer who was an engineer once asked me, “How do you know what parts are needed to repair my Jeep Cherokee?” (I know he was bewildered because I’m a woman, and a woman was writing his estimate.) Instead of feeling insulted by his comment, I simply said, “I love to make clothes, so just like making a new suit, there are specific pieces needed to get it to all come together and fit well. Therefore, fixing your car is just like making a new suit. The right pieces go in their respective places and as a result, you end up with a fine product.”

He left the shop with a smile on his face and a feeling of security that there would be no shortcuts taken on the repair of his vehicle. The moral of the story is, don’t judge a book by its cover – treat each other with dignity and respect.

Mary H. Fernimos, estimator
Livonia Collision of Michigan
Livonia, Mich.

We’re Here to Help
A sales tip I use to help my customers is I tell them that even if they don’t choose our repair facility, please let me know if I can help or advise them on their claim. The customers see that we really are interested in repairing their vehicle and this usually helps them to choose us.

Mark Oates, body shop manager
Specialty Body & Paint
Lincolnton, N.C.

She Told Two Friends, and So On and So On
I work for my father in a little shop. I’ve been here for five years, and my sister has been here for 10 years. The best advice I can give to people who work in smaller shops is to stay organized, work as a team, try to learn every aspect of the shop (not just what you were hired for) and focus on quality. I was hired in as a detailer, and I know how to do everything but the actual painting, which my sister does. Many bigger shops have to get a certain number of jobs out a week. We do also, but our main priority is making the job perfect, even if it means working more hours. My father has owned his shop for 17 years and just recently put up a sign outside. Before that, all of our customers were by word-of-mouth. My father is very proud of the business he’s built because it’s not something that happens overnight.

Good luck to all the small shops out there. Remember to make everyone feel welcome, even the sweet, little old lady who just needs a headlight adjusted.

Karri Grice, detailer
Smith’s Auto Body
Mecosta, Mich.

Show Off Your Achievements
I like to display all of our technicians’ certifications and any certificates of achievement in my office. Customers really seem to notice them, and they like to see that the technicians are experienced in the latest autobody techniques.

Cheryl Laming, receptionist
Graff Body Shop
Sandusky, Mich.

Writer Bob Bissler is senior editor of BodyShop Business.

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