Why Does It Cost So Much To Fix A Dent In Your Vehicle?
A step-by-step guide of an auto body shop’s repair process.
Have you ever wondered why it costs so much money to fix a seemingly insignificant amount of damaged bodywork on your vehicle? All you have to do it take it to a body shop, get a hammer, bang out the dent, get a little touch-up paint, and off you go. How hard is that? Well, as it turns out, if you want to fix it properly there are a lot of steps involved that require many man-hours of labour and expensive replacement parts.
The collision repair industry is big business. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the cost of insurance claims reached $11.7 billion to repair damaged private passenger vehicles in 2016. There are more than 5,000 collision repair shops across the country, employing about 23,000 Canadians according to the Automotive Industries Association of Canada’s 2019 Collision Yearbook.
We wanted to get a better understanding of what is involved in the vehicle body repair process. Our Land Rover had an altercation and lost with a big, strong and well-protected delivery truck. We took our bruised SUV to our local body shop to be repaired. Over the course of a week, we made daily visits to observe the repair process as they worked diligently to fix our vehicle.
We spoke to Mark De Lorenzo who is the second of three generations of De Lorenzos at Ryding Auto Body in midtown Toronto. Their body shop was founded by Mark’s father, Rocky, in 1965. Mark’s son also works there.
The hardest part of this business is assembling and retaining a talented team of skilled workers according to Mark. “There is very little turnover here,” said Mark. “We want to create an environment where everybody here is happy to come to work every day. We treat them fairly. The key to our success is our staff.”
Mark went on to say that “You have to have an artistic ability to be good at this. You also have to have an abstract mind and be a good problem solver. You need to be able to bring the vehicle back to the way it was. There is an art to this.”
As we all know, good art is expensive. In our case, when you start off having to replace a Land Rover passenger door that costs a couple of thousand dollars, this is going to end up being expensive art.
Here are the basic steps in the auto body repair process:
Assessment & Estimate
Once the vehicle arrives at the body shop, it is assessed to determine the extent of the damage. If the vehicle damage is too extensive to be repaired, then the insurance company may deem it a write-off and the vehicle owner will work with their insurance provider to find a suitable replacement. If the vehicle is not too badly damaged then the body shop will provide the owner and/or their insurance provider, with an estimate. If the vehicle’s owner does not want to put a claim through their insurance, they can choose to pay for the repairs themselves. Once the body shop estimate is approved, the repair process begins.
Replacement Parts & Disassembly
Independently owned and operated body shops can source replacement parts from virtually every vehicle manufacturer with very few exceptions. In our case, our Land Rover required a new right rear passenger door. The damage to the existing door was too extensive to be repaired. A new replacement door was ordered. All of the components attached to the existing door were removed as these parts were going to be reinstalled on the new door, when it was ready. Once the damaged door was stripped of all of its components, it was sent off to be recycled. It could not be reused and it will be melted down to make new parts.
New Door Preparation
The new replacement door arrived with a metal etching primer which ensures the body part will not corrode prior to use. The door is then sanded down so that the new paint primer and sealers will adhere to the OEM primer. The prepped door is then fitted and aligned on the vehicle prior to being painted. The new door has to be aligned to make sure all functions will operate properly, including opening and closing, locking and unlocking, raising and lowering the window, etc.
Every exterior paint colour has a corresponding manufacturer’s paint code. But to better match the car’s actual paint colour, the paint is analyzed by a spectrophotometer. This device provides the paint technician with the required ingredients to produce a batch of paint to match the existing exterior body colour.
Ryding Auto Body uses PPG paints, an industry leader in this segment. Their body shop is capable of creating any colour paint by mixing and matching the necessary toners based on the vehicle’s colour code and the results from the spectrophotometer. The colour analysis results are entered into the PPG paint system. The exact amounts of toner are added, and the result is a batch of paint that will perfectly match the vehicle’s existing colour.
Adjacent Body Panel Preparation
Not only did the new door have to be painted, but the adjacent door and body panel also needed to be painted to make sure the colour blended together. Car paint colours can vary slightly and if only one door was painted, it might not match the other door and body panels exactly. The body shop does a blendable match so that you end up with a visually seamless paintjob along the side of the vehicle.
The health and safety of everyone working in the body shop is obviously of paramount importance. Many of the team members are handling and being exposed to hazardous materials and vapors. Before painting in the spray room, the technician must put on safety goggles, lint-free coveralls, nitrile gloves, safety boots, a supplied-air respirator, hood respirator or a dual-cartridge respirator.
The interior and exterior portions of the vehicle that are not being painted are covered in plastic and tape to protect it from possible paint overspray. Inside their down-draft spray paint room, air is fed into the room from the ceiling and extracted through a large vent in the floor. Airborne paint is extracted from the paint room down through the floor vent. The paint that has been extracted is trapped in a large filter which is changed on a regular basis.
The room is approximately 25 degrees Celsius, (80 degrees Fahrenheit) during the spray painting process. Once the painting is complete, it goes into a bake cycle and the temperature is increased to approximately 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit.). The bake cycle takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes. There are many solvents, hardeners, and accelerators contained in the paint that help speed up the paint curing process.
Once the bake cycle is complete, and the vehicle cools for approximately 30 minutes. It is then ready to be handled and the reassembly process begins. All of the components that were removed from the original door are reused, except for those that might have been damaged in the accident, which would be replaced. In our case, only the door bodywork was damaged and all of the parts from the original door were reused. This helps reduce the overall cost of the repair.
Once the reassembly process is complete, the vehicles paint surface is buffed to remove any minor imperfections. The interior is cleaned and the vehicle thoroughly washed and dried.
Each vehicle is then test driven to make sure all of the components that have been repaired, function properly. They also want to ensure that there are no rattles or other issues and that all of the work done was successful, in every respect.
In our case, it took between 20 and 30 man-hours of labour over the course of the week, from the beginning to the end of the process. That will vary greatly depending on the extent of the damage. This body shop has roughly 15 workers, more than half of whom were involved in one aspect or another on the repair of our vehicle. Their average repair time, once the vehicle has been added to their schedule, is three to five days. Their average body shop repair bill is between one and two thousand dollars.
Independent body shops have access to replacement parts from every major vehicle manufacturer so they can repair virtually any make and model vehicle. Getting your car fixed at a dealership is definitely one option. Taking your vehicle to a reputable local body shop is another. Every situation is different, but depending on the extent of the damage one repair route may be more cost-effective than the other.
There are no shortcuts to properly executing vehicle auto body repair. If you want to get your vehicle back into as-new showroom condition, banging it out with a hammer and throwing on some touchup paint, probably isn’t the best route to go.