by Jim Kerr

What is your idea of a bodyshop? Is it a dark and dusty building emitting foul odours and filled with twisted and bent sheet metal? Probably the only tools required are a hammer, welder, and a paint spray gun. Then you may be in for a surprise!

Modern bodyshops can be neat, clean, and well lighted; and the best in the business are! Thousands of dollars worth of special tools and equipment fill the interior, ready to help repair your car to the standards required by the auto manufacturers for new cars. The staff is well trained in the latest procedures not only to make your car look good, but also to ensure all repairs comply with safety and environmental standards. Here is what you might find in a modern
bodyshop.

Your first contact at the body shop will be typically with the estimator. Many estimators use a computer-generated display to bring all the information on your model of vehicle. Then the estimator can “point and click” to highlight all the damage on your vehicle. Every time a damaged part is selected, the computer generates a report showing the labour times to replace or repair the part, how much the replacement parts cost, and how much it costs to prepare and paint that portion of the car. The result is an accurate and complete list that can be printed out to show exactly what work is being done for you.

Next, your car may be moved to the “frame” machine. Few cars have a true “frame” anymore, so this machine is really used to straighten the unibody construction typical of most modern cars. Unibody is a term that describes how sheet metal is stamped, formed, and welded together to form the structural portion of the car body.

Measuring the vehicle body for correct unibody alignment is critical. As little as one millimeter error is all that is allowed by many manufacturers. Laser measuring systems are used by some bodyshops along with the frame machine to ensure everything is straightened correctly.

After the unibody is repaired, the outer panels of the car can be reinstalled. Any panels that are being reused may need repair work. This work is still done by skilled technicians using hammers and dollies, but even the work done by body technicians has been changed by technology. Overhead vacuum lines are connected to grinders and sanders to pull dust and dirt away from this part of the shop. A body shop can be very clean!

After the panels are repaired, the next step is preparing for paint. This requires a lot of sanding and spraying of primer/surfacer on the car body. To eliminate dust and paint overspray from this part of the shop, overhead dust extraction systems are used as well as vacuum hoses to all sanders. Infrared light systems are used to cure primer paint quickly. The use of these lights can shorten the cure time from 24 hours to just over 20 minutes. You get your car back much quicker!

Painting a car is best done in a special room called a paint booth. Several designs are available, but “down draft” booths are the latestdesign used to produce the best finishes. This type of booth has fans that pull air through filters in the top of the booth, around the car, and out grills in the floor of the booth. This fast flow of air pulls unwanted paint particles in the air out of the paint booth before the particles can settle on and mar the already painted surfaces. A shiny,
smooth finish should result.

On top of the paint booth is an air make-up unit. This is a very large furnace that can control the temperature and humidity of outside air as it enters the booth. Outside air is used to create a pressure effect inside the booth so no dust from the shop will enter the booth. Even a tiny speck of dust is noticeable on a newly painted hood, so cleanliness is important!

Inside the booth, you will find the painter dressed from head to toe in white coveralls and wearing an air supply mask. This paint specialist is highly trained to be able to match the multitudes of special paint effects used on cars today. The coveralls keep dust and lint from the painter’s clothing from marring your vehicle’s finish, and the air supply mask protects the painter from the fumes given off by today’s paint chemicals.

The spray gun used by the painter will be a high volume/low pressure design. This relatively recent development in paint guns reduces overspray of paint in unwanted areas and permits nearly 80% efficiency in transferring paint onto the car body. High efficiency paint application reduces the use of solvents and produces less paint waste to be trapped by the paint booth filters. Protecting our environment by using this type of equipment actually saves you money on paint materials.

After the car is painted, the painter cleans the spray gun at a “gun wash” station. This unit recycles the cleaning solvents as the painter cleans the spray gun. Even the cleaning solvent fumes are captured so workers will not be exposed to the chemicals.

Finally, it is time to pick up your car. A car properly repaired should have the same fit and finish as a new car. Good bodyshops can do this all the time, but there are many small shops that haven’t invested the time or money for equipment and training. Any good bodyshop will be proud to give you a tour of their facilities. If it looks organized and neat, then they will likely repair your car in the same manner.

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