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Toby Chess

Toby Chess is an I-CAR program instructor, training specialist, and former salvage yard operator. Toby is universally known in the collision industry for his work with first responders and advocacy for body shops and consumers. He can be reached at

Friday, 30 September 2005 17:00

Understanding proper paint procedure to improve profits

Written by Toby Chess

Have you as a collision shop repairer recently been asked to change the paint time on a panel by an insurance company representative - a time that is different from that listed by the information providers? The answer, I think most of you will agree, is yes.

The arbitrary changing of the paint times has been widely discussed this year at a number of Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meetings. One segment of the industry is trying to contain their costs by altering the paint times without really understanding the paint process. Another segment changes the paint times for its own reasons. The intent of this article is to understand the painting process by showing the correct steps taught by the major paint companies for painting a new panel, painting a used panel, painting a repaired panel, "spot painting" or blending within a panel, and blending an adjacent panel.

What is the basis for paint times that are published by the information providers.

The three major information providers - Motor, Mitchell, and ADP - state in their procedure pages that the times for refinishing are based on a new and undamaged part. Any operation performed to achieve that level of new and undamaged part is not included. In other words, the process of applying an "E-coat" replacement primer followed by a polyurethane primer are two additional steps needed to get that part to the same level of new and undamaged part.

What's a blend

ADP defines a blend as the application of color to a portion of an undamaged adjacent panel for the sole purpose of facilitating the appearance of color match into the area. Mitchell states in their P-pages that "blending times are for undamaged exterior surfaces." They further state that "application of clear coat is applied to the entire panel on which the color is blended." Motors offers a similar definition. The key word in all of the definitions is undamaged panels. There is nothing mentioned that allows for using the blend formula on a repaired panel. With a little better understanding of the blending and how the paint times were derived, let's look at the paint procedures that the paint companies employ.

Definitive word

I contacted DuPont, Sherwin-Williams, Spies, Standox, PPG, and Akzo Nobel for technical information on paint procedures for the five previously mentioned scenarios and discovered that all the paint companies specify nearly identical procedures. The major difference between them is each company's own unique products. In other words, the procedures for painting a new part, used part, repaired part and a panel blend are the same with only slight variations.

Akzo Nobel arranged for me to spend a day at their training center with their two trainers to refinish all of the fenders. Using five identical new fenders, I first left one fender unpainted. Secondly, I painted three of the fenders with a red metallic base coat/clear coat system. Lastly, the fifth fender was painted white to simulate a used fender. To keep everything uniform, the same trainer did all of the paint work. The new fender was used as the control and all the timed units were measured against the control fender.

Painting fenders

The new fender was sanded with a DA with 400 grit sand paper. It was degreased, tacked, sealed and painted with two coats of base color and finished with two full coats of clear.


The second panel sprayed was the used fender (white). The paint thickness of the fender was measured with an electronic thickness gauge and a reading of 4.5 mils was acquired. Since the fender had only 4.5 mils thickness of paint, the fender needed to be prepared with DA with 400 grit sandpaper. If the thickness of paint were above 16.0 mils, the paint on the fender would need to be stripped off, and a replacement e-coat applied, followed by an application of polyurethane primer.

This process must be well-documented in the estimate and the appropriate additional time applied. The process for painting the used fender was as follows: sand with 400 grit sand paper, degrease, tac, seal (bare spots resulting for sanding) two coats of base color followed by two full coats of clear. The steps for the used fender paralleled the steps for the new fender. The only exception was the time to sand the fender with the 400 grit DA took longer. It should be noted that the used fender was in better condition than what is regularly encountered in the real world.

Further scenarios

In scenarios 3 and 4, the two fenders were damaged. Fender 3 had damage in the middle of the fender and fender 4 had damage on the front portion of the fender. The paint was removed, the fenders repaired and body filler applied to the repaired areas and sanded with 150 grit DA sandpaper. The repaired areas on both fenders were sanded with 220 grit DA followed by 400 grit DA. Both fenders were then sprayed with a wash primer (an e-coat substitute primer) followed by two coats of primer-surfacer.

After the appropriate dry time both fenders were block sanded with 220 sand paper followed by 400 grit sand paper. The painted portions on both fenders were prepared with a scotch brite pad and paste. Both fenders were then degreased and tacked.

At this juncture, the paint application differed. The fender that had the repairs performed in the center of the fender received two full coats of color followed by two coats of clear. The fender that had the repairs to the front part of the fender received color to the front third of the fender, followed by 1¾ coats of clear.

Blending a fender

The fifth fender was blended. Let's assume that the door was replaced and the fender needed to be blended. To blend the fender, the rear portion of the fender was sanded with 400 grit sand paper on a DA and the front section with scotch brite pad and a blending paste, degreased and tacked, two coats of base applied to the rear third of the fender and finished with 1½ coats of clear (two coats on the color coat and one coat on the non-blended section).

Consolidation of data

Review the accompanying spreadsheet showing the time units for each of the five different scenarios. As you can see, the least amount of time was for the new fender, followed by the blend and then the used fender. The repaired fenders took the most time.

Before proceeding, please note that I did not validate the times published by the information providers and the time units do not represent any specific time. In addition, I want to stress is that the time to apply the base coat is less than 20% of the time that is published by the information providers. There are a number of other operations that I did not show in this article that are included in the published paint times (see the P-pages for the included operations). With the application of the color coat being less than 20 % of the total time, one can conclude that most of the time is spent on preparation to apply the color coat.

The "spot paint or blend within a panel" operation took about the same time relative to the repaired panel. How do certain entities state that blend time should be considered? The blend operation for this type of repair should not be considered at all. I will grant the fact that the entire fender did not receive base coat and maybe there should be a reduction in the materials, but I must reiterate the fact that the spot blend should not be used. It should be also noted that, even though the fender did not get color on the entire panel, the entire fender had to be prepped - a labor operation that must be addressed.

Restoration of e-coat

The restoration of the factory e-coat and the prime and featheredge operation still must be addressed.

Since the labor times are for new and undamaged parts, there must be additional steps taken on a repaired panel to get it to the same level as a new and undamaged part. We as an industry have been taught by the OE manufacturers, paint manufacturers and I-CAR that we must restore the factory e-coat when it is removed for repair purposes.

But is this an included operation? The answer is no. There is a labor factor plus a material factor that needs to be addressed in the estimate. Moreover, we are taught to apply a polyurethane primer for adhesion purposes over the repaired part. Again, is this an included item? Once more, the answer is no. Both of these operations need to have line items in the estimate to reflect the proper repair. Body shops need to understand these processes so they can explain why they need to get paid for additional paint department operations.

Furthermore, shops need to look at and understand spot painting to staunch the shrinking profit in the paint department.

Finally, insurance companies need to understand the complete process and compensate the body shops for these additional steps by putting the prep time in the body labor section instead of the paint column.

Toby Chess has more than 30 years of industry experience. Chess is an ASE Master Certified Technician, an Accredited Automotive Manager, an I-CAR instructor, the Los Angeles I-CAR Chairman, and a technical presenter for CIC.

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