A couple of weeks ago, I was pulling my car out of a local parking garage when I had one of those “D’OH!” moments. During a lapse in concentration, I backed the car out at too sharp an angle, causing the front end to strike a concrete column. The result was a shallow dent in the front right quarter-panel. I also managed to tear the molding off the front, driver-side door. (Though I define it as a “D’OH” moment, I promise you that “D’OH!” wasn’t the word that came out of my mouth.)
Though I’d give anything to get back those three seconds (not to mention my $250 deductible), the experience of getting my car fixed turned out to be a rather enlightening one for me. Since becoming involved with the metal finishing industry, I often find myself looking at objects in stores or on the streets and speculating as to how they were coated. Needless to say, I was more than a little intrigued with regard to the processes and technologies that would be used to mend my vehicle.
While it’s important to note that there are some differences between finishing and refinishing, I was amazed at the number of similarities between the two industries. Some of my observations are listed below:
Color is critical. Three years ago, I would have told you that I thought that parts came to collision shops pre-painted. I mean, black is black, right? Not quite. As we all know, having a little leftover blue in the hoses on an automaker’s paint line can mean that Monday’s black cars are considerably darker than Tuesday’s black cars. Consequently, parts are shipped to collision repair shops with only an e-coat primer. Ever curious, I asked one of the paint technicians to give me an overview of how he selects the right paint color for the car. Expecting him to say something like “I just eyeball it,” I was surprised when he described a complex system of color-matching that rivals anything that goes on in the metal finishing industry.
Cleanliness is just as important to refinishers as it is finishers. Never having been in a collision repair shop before – and perhaps having seen a few too many movies and television shows - I’ve always envisioned them as being dark and a bit grungy. But the facility where I had my work done was as clean and well-lit as any finishing shop I’ve seen.
Technology isn’t just for the big guys. Thirty minutes after getting a referral from my insurance company, I found myself at the repair shop having the car looked at. Ten minutes after that, my customer service consultant had generated the estimate on her computer, submitted it electronically to my insurance company, ordered a rental car for me and had entered an order for the necessary parts. The efficiency of this system brings to mind the supply chain and order-fulfillment models used by companies like Ford and GM.
Granted, just as every finishing shop isn’t the same, some collision repair shops are better than others. Based on my experience, I’m inclined to believe that I really lucked out by landing at a place staffed by such knowledgeable people and furnished with some great technology. Though it came at a cost that I’d prefer not to incur again, automotive refinishing no longer seems like such a mystery to me.