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What Kind of Repairs Do You Want to Do?

The only way to achieve consistent, quality repairs is to establish clearly defined goals and communicate them to your staff

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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.

I’m busy as can be painting cars and have more work than I know what to do with dollar signs in my eyes. Then, BAM, I’m attacked by shoddy bodywork sent over to the paint shop. Pinholes, bad featheredging, wavy bodywork, you name it.


I’ve got to stop and analyze the problem. Should I send it back to the body tech? Should I attempt to keep the repair moving forward and fix it myself? No matter the solution, I’ve been slowed down, the body tech has been slowed down, the repair has been slowed down and everybody loses.

Worse yet, if I’m busy enough, I’m on autopilot, so I may miss something that’s unacceptable and paint the car only to then be saddled with a nasty redo. In this instance, I’m going to lose money, the shop’s going to lose money and the customer is going to become irritated when she wonders why her car isn’t done. All this happens because good quality control methods weren’t in place.

‘A’ is for Accountability
Everybody has the ability to make each
person’s job easier or harder. Each person in a body shop is accountable to another.

The office is accountable to the body techs. Every car that comes into the shop needs to have a thorough estimate written. All too often, a weak, incomplete estimate is passed off to the body techs. Now is as good a time as ever to let your managers know that it’s the body tech’s job to fix cars. Writing a supplement shouldn’t take a technician several hours. That’s called a body tech making up for your laziness. It’s a poor procedure to just pass off an insurer- generated estimate to the techs and hope for the best. Write your own estimate and make sure the one you pass off to your techs is as thorough as you can get it.

Body techs are accountable to the paint department. Does that repair feel wavy? Don’t assume the primer will take care of it. Are there gargantuan pinholes in your repair? Sorry, primer doesn’t take care of it. Do you like to finish your bodywork in 80 grit? Primer actually does take care of that, until a month down the road when all those scratches come back to haunt you.

Have you ever asked a body tech what he uses to finish his repairs? They all say 180 grit every time. I guess now is as good a time as any to fully explain what “finished in 180” means. It means finished in 180. It doesn’t mean finished in 80 and scuffed over with 120. And it certainly doesn’t mean finished in 40 and scuffed over with 80. It means that the only scratches I’m putting primer on are 180-grit scratches. Come on, you know how to do it, get it done. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that if you start truly finishing your body repairs in 180 grit, the pinhole problem that you’ve been blaming on the filler will go away – most likely because you won’t want to put your mud on an inch thick and sand it off
with 180.

As far as disassembly goes, stop guessing what you do and don’t have to take off. If it’s written on the estimate, take it off (note to office personnel: make sure it’s on that sheet). Just because you don’t need it off to do your job doesn’t mean the painter doesn’t need it off for his job.

Of equal importance, close the windows in the car you’re working on and cover up any big openings so the car’s interior doesn’t get loaded to the gills with dust and slop. It’s not fair to the person who’ll be cleaning up after you when the repair’s done.

Respect for Others
Like body techs, paint techs have their own procedures that they need to follow to consistently deliver a quality product. And they also need to be considerate of others. Do you think the body tech likes to be the one removing your masking after you’re done with the paint job? I doubt it. How about color match? Don’t just paint a bumper and hand it to the body tech without checking the color first. It’s not his job to let you know the color doesn’t match. How about dirt in the paint? Don’t take the attitude that the detailer doesn’t mind buffing out your crap just because that’s his job. Keep your dirt to a respectable level so the detailer can do his job rather than make up for your shortcomings. And for goodness sake, close the windows on the car and cover up the openings when you’re sanding. Show some respect for the guy cleaning up after you, not to mention the owner of the car.

Painters fall into the same bad habits as body techs when it comes to sandpaper grits. Sure, I can finish-sand my primer with 220 and make the paint look great, but how long is that job going to look great? And how about those blend panels? I know I said to take it easy with the sandpaper, but you should probably at least make an attempt to take the gloss off the panel before you spray it.

Painters really have it easy when you think about it. We have these big tech manuals from our paint manufacturer telling us exactly what we’re supposed to do. How often do they get followed, though? Not too often. I know we all think we know everything, but I’m guessing the paint company that has spent millions of dollars on research knows what’s better for their product than we do. The cornerstone of quality control needs to stop being whatever we can get away with.

The Devil’s in the Details
Some people say the body tech’s work is what the customer notices. Customers expect to see body panels fitting nicely and dents removed well. Others say customers notice the painter’s work the most. That’s true if the hood you just painted has tiger stripes all over it and there are hard tape lines in
the jambs.

The detailers, though, have one of the most underrated jobs in the collision industry and have the ability to make or break the job. I don’t care if the repair work was superb – if the car’s interior is covered with fingerprints or dust, that customer is going to be angry with a capital ‘A.’ You know if swirl marks are there, so get them out. And for crying out loud, get the compound out of the jambs.

For a lot of shops, the detailer is also the quality-control tech. He makes sure the paint looks nice. He makes sure the windows go up and down, and often is the one replacing burnt-out bulbs that should have been replaced earlier. I believe that a detailer is mainly accountable to the customer. Therefore, it’s important for the detailer to care about what he’s doing.

Communication = Quality
How does a shop implement good quality control? Whose responsibility is it to make it happen? The easy answer is that we’re all responsible for what goes on in the shop. But each repair begins and ends with the shop’s management, and without clearly defined goals for each job, that consistent
quality you’re after just isn’t going
to happen.

As a boss, you have to ask yourself what kind of business you want to run. What kind of repairs do you want to do? Assuming you know the answers to these questions, does your staff know what you hope to accomplish? Do your technicians know what you expect out of them? You need to clearly communicate what your shop wants done to each car and make sure proper procedures are being done on every repair. If you look over the completed repair before the customer gets there and you don’t like what you see, you’ve failed. It’s too late. Blame can be passed around all you like, but the fact is you obviously didn’t properly communicate to your people what you expect. Now is not the time to hoot and holler at the offending tech. You have to figure out how to improve things on the next job so these little surprises don’t come up.

Do your techs know what it takes to do a quality job? Maybe they’re a little behind the times. It’s a good idea for them to take advantage of educational programs available in our industry. In many cases, you don’t have to look any further than the paint company you deal with.

Sometimes, unfortunately, it’s a money issue. Is the seam sealer sloppy-looking? It would be easy to scream at the tech for doing a sloppy job, but that’s too reactive. Look at your estimate or work order – does it give time for caulking seams? Does it give enough time? Do you expect your hardworking technician to spend an hour of his valuable time duplicating for free what the factory does with caulk? I always chuckle when I see “seam sealer” on a work order with the time of 0.0 next to it. If you as a business owner or manager feel it’s a good practice to throw this stuff in for free, by all means do it. But in the flat-rate world of a body shop, don’t expect me or anyone else to agree or live with your business decision. The fact is I don’t go to work to do favors for multi-billion dollar companies. I come to work to do a job, and I expect to get paid for it, thank you very much.

Keep the Customer in Mind
No doubt the work we do can be tough. Dust, fumes, unwanted involvement from insurance companies. But we need to focus on the customers who keep us in business. The people who bring their cars to us expect us to repair them in a professional manner. That means using the correct procedures in a way that brings their cars to pre-loss condition. That doesn’t mean cutting corners to get the car done fast. We all need to start doing our jobs with the best interests of our customers in mind. The first step is for shop owners and managers to figure out what kind of repairs they want to do and clue the techs in so we can do it.
If you have a genuine desire to do quality repairs for your customers, it’s time to sit down with your crew and communicate your shop’s goals. Figure out what’s “right,” and make sure everyone is committed to doing the right thing.

Don’t be the type to just do a lot of preaching about quality work and customer service when what you’re really after is the quickest buck possible. You know who you are! To be honest, I wish those kinds of shop owners would just close up their doors, because they’re part of the problem with the collision repair industry, and we already have enough problems.

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 two-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]

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