When it comes to auto body shops, you will never hear such a diverse ranting or raving over the body and paint work performed on vehicles. I have been in this business for over 54 years and have a good understanding of what is going on in this industry as far as what it is that constitutes "good value" in body repair. I am writing this to be informative of the industry in general and not to just push the place where I am I currently working.
Insurance companies: I am a shop manager so my take on this is purely my opinion. Insurance is a business like any other and is very competitive. They are getting into the auto repair business now and are recommending shops to repair your vehicle. This has advantages and disadvantages. I'm not going to go into all that now as there is so much in-fighting going on over this that anything I tell you today probably won't be true tomorrow. California law is you can take your vehicle wherever you want and that is the bottom line.
You need to understand first that all body shops are different in how they perform their work. They also aren't always consistent in the work they turn out. It's all about people. To be a good shop manager you must listen to the customer and determine just what his or her expectations are with the finished product. To be a "good customer" you should expect to get what you are paying for, and that means a little research as to the difference in paints, types of repair parts used, and most important, that the person you are talking to really knows his business.
He should be able to not only walk you through the repair and refinish process but also walk your vehicle through the repair so it meets your expectations. What you need to know is that any repairs you have talked about MUST be written down. Do not expect a casual reference to a repair to be done if it isn't written in the repair order.
Custom restoration body shops: expensive generally and not always good for collision repair. Great for doing show cars both old and new. Expect to spend 10,000 on up to...well the REALLY good ones hundreds of thousands. Told ya there are a lot of different ways to approach body and paint.
Independent collision shops: geared for collision work and spot painting, the insurance industry is getting into this area and muddying up the waters. Generally these repair shops are not geared for overall refinishing and charge a premium for complete paint jobs.
Maaco auto paint and collision shops: independently owned and diverse in how they handle collision repairs and types of paint used. Production painting, meaning they paint a lot of cars and do it quickly, so perfect paint jobs aren't to be found here. Pros: Excellent value! Quick turnaround, lots of selection as to "types" of paint, ie: single-stage, two-stage, three and four-stage paints. Cons: Paint doesn't look as good as more expensive. Imperfections in paint, doesn't last as long. In short you get what you pay for.
THE ART OF RESTORATION: you want your car perfect? WELL THEN! Expect to spend a lot of money on a "perfect paint job" as this is what it takes to make your car perfect. All chrome and trim needs to be removed from exterior. Door handles, mirrors, bumpers, etc (sometimes all glass needs to be removed). Strip vehicle to metal (don't want to paint as the over existing paint job/s as the material becomes too thick and chips easier). Remove all fillers (Bondo) from previous repairs (some cars are covered with it).
I'M ADDING THIS IN AS IT IS SELDOM DONE: after stripping to metal, a great body shop will align fenders, doors, hood and deck lid to even out the gaps and perfectly fit all these parts (the older cars didn't fit that well from the factory). Ford used to be terrible!
Now begins the resurfacing process: first the metal must be acid-etched for to clean and etch the metal for adherence and rust protection. Then the dents and dings are all hammered out or more frequently pulled out using a tool that welds tabs in the areas to be straightened after which the tabs are removed. The vehicle is then masked and sprayed EVENLY with Epoxy Primer Surfacer.
It is then block-sanded to slowly remove all the minor body waves and imperfections to make that the car look as straight as possible. This process is repeated over and over until the car is PERFECT! It is labor-intensive and sometimes takes weeks and even MONTHS in some cases to do.
When this process is completed and all sand scratches and imperfections are removed, the vehicle is re-sanded with fine grit sandpaper (sometimes washed thoroughly), extensively blown off to get particles out of tight areas and cracks. The vehicle is ready for the spray booth! The booth has been pre-prepped and cleaned for the job. It is a state of the art booth that probably cost as much as your house! The vehicle is washed with a grease and wax remover, lightly rubbed with a tack cloth to remove any dust or lint that still remains, and finally it is PAINTED!
Generally a top of the line paint job is the ONLY vehicle painted that day, so after painting it doesn't get moved into a second bake oven. It is instead baked in the place it was painted to minimize dust/dirt from getting into fresh paint! (Sometimes they prefer to let air dry.)
After curing, the paint can be sanded again with extremely fine sandpaper to remove impurities as ALL paint jobs have impurities, just less with better booths and work habits. The car is then buffed out generally three times with course, fine, and finer grade compounds and burnished for high shine. A really good burnishing needs no polish or wax as there will be NO buffer/swirl marks after. Re-assemble car! WOW! A lot of work and most done by "skilled craftsman". This is an ART!
COLLISION REPAIR; I am going to keep this short. There are a lot of methods for repairing wrecked vehicles: used parts, factory OEM parts, CAPA-certified parts, cheap-o parts! When it comes to sheet metal, the best value is CAPA-certified parts, generally made in Taiwan, although more and more suppliers all the time. They are getting better at making these parts and generally they look fine and fit.
Keep in mind I am speaking of fenders, doors, bumpers, and exterior bolt on parts. (Use your own judgment when it comes to mechanical parts.) If the damage to your car is minor (the car is still drivable), then most of the job will require repair/replacement of these parts. If the air bags went off, it becomes expensive! Unfortunately sometimes the airbags will go off even in moderate accidents and a perfectly good car can be totaled.
Keep also in mind that to "total" a car has nothing to do with the car being "unsafe". It is all about THE MONEY!
For example: Joe Blow recently wrecked his car and got an insurance company totaled the vehicle. It was what was called a borderline total. This means the "cost to repair exceeded the value of the vehicle". What that means is the cost to repair exceeded the insurance companies' guideline for repairing. They all have different guidelines.
This can be argued and sometimes (if you're the claimant) you can still get the vehicle repaired. It's all about business and money. If the car is totaled the insurance auctions it off, highest bidder gets the car. It used to be that junkyards bought the car. Now, body shops are competing and buying these cars to repair and put back on the road. Most of these cars are fine but there are unscrupulous operators out there doing "butcher repair jobs" so beware. These cars are all issued salvage certificates and in the state of CA are deemed roadworthy. Most are...
Modern cars today are Uni-Coupe design and the "frames" are incorporated into the body itself. If the frame is bent, there are guidelines to repairing each individual make of car. The tolerances for these frame repairs are tight. Special training (ICAR) is required along with special equipment, measuring devices and so on to effect a "safe" repair.
You need to understand that more and more cars are becoming lighter due to the use of special metals and plastics. They are made to "deform" a certain way in a collision to protect the passenger compartment. They crunch easier to absorb the energies of impact and need to be brought back to the original "strengths" in order for the frame to perform as before.
This means that we can no longer just "heat up" the metal to straighten it. In most cases it needs to be REPLACED by someone who knows what he is doing. You don't want to hear a repairmen stating that he will make the repair "stronger than before" as this disrupts the way the car deforms and can KILL YOU in a major collision.
Most of these types of repairs need to be done either at the dealer or an authorized repair facility with personnel trained in that type of repair. Most of this type of heavy damage repair is done with "newer or more expensive cars". The rest are totaled.
That said, and so much for keeping it short! I've left a lot out but I'm trying to keep it short. There are so many ways to repair vehicles and it depends on who your speaking with at the shop as to their knowledge of repairs. Most of shop owners focus on what they know so that's why you get so many different opinions on what it takes to "FIX" your particular problem. Most all of the disputes I hear in this industry are from miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than outright lying and cheating.
I'm a retired bodyman painter manager with over 54 years in this business. I learned it from my dad who was also in that business. What I learned from him and other older bodymen is what is termed today as the "ART" of body repair. I learned to straighten metal without the use of fillers (Bondo). Sometimes a filler was necessary and I learned a process of Body solder where we melted lead/solder "stick" and filled imperfections with that. Usually it was only used to fill cracks like where the roof was attached to the body.
Years ago they even had a tool that allowed you to spray molten lead onto the car after which it was filed down to smooth. It was laughed at by most craftsmen of the day. Now we have guys who use body fillers to cover the car in fillers. They are laughed at by today's craftsmen.
Even today most body repairmen thought body solder was used in place of body fillers and that just isn't true. We learned to "peck and file", a process that required the dent to be slowly worked out and filed off for a perfect repair without using any filler. The metal was thicker then and had more lead content so it was easier to do. Today the metals are thin for light weight and stronger due to special alloys. These types of repairs are no longer used unless restoring a 50's or older vehicle.
PAINT. When I started painting, my dad had a shop at home in rural northern CA. Not so rural now as it was located near the city dump on the property. This is now Shoreline Ampitheater in Mtn View. I started sanding cars when I was about 9 years old. There were no air tools then and all sanding and rubbing out was done by hand.
We had electric buffers but I wasn't allowed to touch one because they were HEAVY. I hand-rubbed all my dad's, l spot jobs and completes he did using Lacquer. The cheaper enamel jobs were for complete painting only and didn't need rubbing! (Thank God.) The paints used then were alkyd enamel and nitrocellulose lacquers!
Sometimes the salesperson who mixed the enamel would forget to put the dryer in and we had to wash the paint off the job the next day. This was the most labor-intensive, frustrating, nasty job I've ever had to do in this industry, and unheard of today. The car would still be collecting dust 3 months later if it weren't washed off. (What a mess.)
The torch we had then was a carbide torch and similar to oxy-acetylene torches of today, used carbide pellets and water mix to produce the gas. This is what we used to melt body solder, flux-coated brass rods and steel. It was also used for cutting thicker steel (frames).
The old technology was to put the chassis/coach on top of a steel frame. It is/was called a perimeter frame and was reminiscent of how coach builders built early automobiles. They copied how horse-drawn coaches were built, beefing up the suspension with heavy steel frames. The first ones built were made of wood with sheet metal stretched over the wooden frame. This practice continued on into the...well the English did it through the 50's. Early MGs were wood framed coaches. I digress!
PRODUCTION PAINTING AND REPAIRS. The best value for repairing and refinishing cars can be found in places like MAACO! It is proven that only 30% of the average repair job needs to be performed by Journeymen Bodymen. This is a large savings to a production shop as they don't need all the skills to sand and prep cars, freeing the Journeyman to handle or oversee the more difficult procedures.
In a production shop the sanders and prep men do just that and become proficient quickly or they no longer have a job. The most important skilled work is performed by the bodyman, the masker, the sander, and the king of the shop, the painter. They prep and paint LOTS of cars and become quite good at it.
The best of the best MAACOS have a frame machine for simple framework on up to heavy repairs. They have equipment for removing and replacing body parts and become quite skilled at doing it in a production environment. The turnover is generally fast and the work is good for the money. You save on the average at least 30% on repair compared to most body shops. Well-informed is your best protection. Discuss your repairs with shop estimator. Ask about advantages of repair over replacement and aftermarket over factory parts.
The largest problem by far with MAACO as far as getting a vehicle painted is understanding the process necessary to effect a good paint job. Here in CA I see a lot of what is called de-lamination. This is where the factory clear is separating from the base coat! The clear coat has to be sanded off. Usually it's just the top surface as that's what sees the sun the most! This means you will need to resurface the top areas and seal off the finish with a primer sealer. This is an additional cost and it is very reasonable as Maaco is quite used to dealing with it.
If you have a problem with lacquer checks or crows feet, you will need to strip the paint to metal and that is expensive. Maaco deals with this also and can save you $$ but it is still not cheap, especially if it's over the whole vehicle.
WHAT DO YOU WANT AND CAN YOU AFFORD IT? This is up to you. If your car is older then production shops might be the answer. You can use aftermarket parts and some of the insurance company's require it now. If you're paying out of pocket ,production shops may be your answer. Get a feel for whom your speaking with and if he seems knowledgeable work a deal. Production shops are more likely to work a deal with you than independents. This is not to say you can't work some kind deal with them it's just that it is becoming more difficult to make a profit in this industry.
We will be seeing more franchises opening up and the mom-and-pop operations will be all but gone. They don't have the buying power to get the materials, paint, etc at the discounts offered the larger nationwide companies.
I hate to see it, but that is just how it is. OH just one more thing I want to interject here. This is a complaint about body shops that I have heard so much through the years. This has happened so many times where the customer will bring in a job done by another body shop.
"JUST LOOK AT THE LOUSY JOB SUCH AND SUCH BODY SHOP DID TO MY CAR!! It's worse than I brought it in! I'm suing them and I want you to write an estimate to repair what they did..." I've heard this in many forms and many times. In order to avoid this, you will need to understand what I have written before. I've worked all the types of body shops I have mentioned earlier and I believe it is the person you spoke with at the body shop who didn't make it clear what you were getting. All cars are different and need different repairs.
The last body shop to paint your car gets to take the heat for all the other bad wavy body work done at other shops no matter how good the paint job is! KEEP IN MIND THE SHINIER YOUR PAINT, THE MORE THE FLAWS WILL SHOW!