Friday, 31 March 2006 09:00

Skipping steps in repair procedures can lead to problems

Written by Rich Evans

A common problem that often gums up the works of the collision repair process is the customer with a near-impossible deadline. Even if the needed repairs are second nature, the time deadline can interfere with performing established shop procedures and the technician's better judgment. 

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Project : A 2003 SL500 Mercedes-Benz with a severely damaged Lorinser aftermarket body kit. Due to unavailability of parts, replacement was impossible, necessitating the repair.
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Nearly completed, the bumper has been shaped, sanded and sculpted to make it look and perform as good as new.
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Rich Evans, owner of Huntington Beach Bodyworks, accepts thanks from actor and producer John Singleton for a job well done.

Creating a repair plan is simple. Identify the damage and a proper way to repair it. Create a step-by-step system of repair with a starting and ending point. You know the importance of adhering to these steps or you wouldn't have created them in the first place, but nearly every collision repair professional has been guilty of short cutting a step or two - only to have it come back and bite them in the end.

Today's case study: a 2003 SL500 Mercedes-Benz with a severely damaged Lorinser aftermarket body kit. The bumper was broken into several pieces and normally would have been scrapped and replaced with a new one. Unfortunately, this particular part was on back order and with the customer's uncompromising deadline, we had no choice, but to repair the existing bumper.

Step one was to remove the damaged parts from the vehicle, taking care to gather every broken piece to help put this puzzle back together. The right side of the bumper was practically destroyed, but luckily, the left side was intact and could be used as a guide for modeling the damaged side.

Recreating the part

After pulling the bumper, collecting the pieces, and ordering replacement parts, it was time to get down to work. All the broken pieces were put back together with masking tape. On the outside of the bumper to keep everything in place. Next, the bumper was flipped upside down, placed on a stand and stabilized. We began by sanding the inside of the bumper with 36 grit sand paper. Using fiberglass matting, pieces were then cut to fit the damaged areas inside of the bumper.

Next we mixed together some Evercoat Automotive Fiberglass Resin and brushed it on to the sanded areas. We then placed our precut fiberglass matting pieces over the damaged areas and brushed on more resin, saturating the fiberglass matting. We let the material cure for about six hours until it was completely hard.

With some structural integrity returned to our part, we flipped the bumper back over and removed the masking tape. The next step was to "V" out all the cracked areas of the bumper, sand with 36 grit again, and repeat our resin and fiberglassing steps for the outside of the bumper. Now it was time to sand and shape the inside and outside of our bumper back to its original form, making sure to remove all excess resin and stray fibers. Evercoat Kitty Hair was then used to fill and sculpt all our low spots.

Obstacle: parts not arriving

We quickly ran into a problem when our new headlight squirter mounts did not arrive as expected. With no time to waste, there was no choice but to proceed without them and hope our measurements were correct, using the undamaged side as our guide. When we reinstalled the bumper for mock-up and fitting, everything fit reasonably well, although there was a problem with the damaged side fitting snugly to the headlight. We marked the areas needing structural changes.

The bumper was pulled back off. Measurements where taken from the left side and compared with the side we reconstructed. The top of the bumper needed to be raised by an inch, so we made a couple of cuts and reconstructed the piece in the right position. Once again, the sanding, fiberglass, curing, and sanding our excess resin and stray fibers takes place.

It's now time for reinstallation of the bumper for final mockup. Everything fits well. We used the left side headlight squirter door as a reference point for reconstructing the squirter door for the damaged side, but, with our replacement parts still missing and time slipping away, we decide to go ahead and prep for paint.

Consequences of skipping steps

This was a mistake and it is important to point out, because no shop is immune. Sometimes the pressure of a short deadline tempts you to skip important steps - steps that were meant to be done before and not later. We rationalize it by calling it a shortcut, but more often than not, these shortcuts end up costing time instead of making up time.

Lacking the mount we needed for our squirter door, we went ahead to sealing and primering our bumper with PCL Poly Primer. After curing, it's time to block sand the part. We started with an 80 grit block, 150 grit block, and then finally a 320 grit block. Now it is time to paint.

Our piece for the squirter still had not arrived and with our time restraint we went ahead to basecoat and clearcoat the bumper without having our last piece in hand.

At last our missing piece arrived and as the reassembly began, we discovered that the new part was a little off and did not fit properly. It was close, but just a little off. We made a few modifications to the new piece and got it to fit properly. The customer received the car back on time.

By allowing ourselves to be influenced by the short deadline and skipping important steps, we put ourselves in a potentially embarrassing situation. In the long run, it is better to tell the customer something they don't want to hear, instead of compromising your procedures. You have a reputation to protect, so it is important to do the job right and stick to the repair plan. We got lucky this time, but the next time a shortcut is taken, we may end up being sorry.

Rich Evans, owner of Huntington Beach Bodyworks in Southern California, is an award winning painter and fabricator. Currently he is offering workshops at his facility so he can share his special techniques to other industry professionals. For more information about Evans, visit www.huntingtonbeachbodyworks.com.