To give it its less showbiz name, paintless dent removal may not have the appeal of sawing the lovely Debbie in half, but it does an important job.
Still relatively under-used by many fleets, it is a process which can reap financial rewards. Many fleets still assume that when a vehicle is dented, it requires a trip to the local dealer for a completely new – and costly – panel.
Such are the advances in paintless dent removal (PDR), that this is often now not the case.
Minor bumps meant serious down-time and costs for the repair of the vehicle, whereas with today’s latest PDR techniques, vehicles can be back on the road within a couple of hours with the original panel still intact.
Fleet News spent at day at PDR group Dent Wizard to discover how repair technology has changed during the past decade and what can now be achieved without the need for beautiful assistants, capes or wands.
How paintless dent removal works – and why UK fleets should use it
THIS method of removing dents can be a real asset to modern day fleets. Repairs can be done in a fraction of the time of traditional bodyshop methods as the body panel is restored to its original condition without the need for re-spraying, usually for a lower cost. However, a large number of fleets continue to use bodyshops to repair dents.
Repairs can run into hundreds of pounds and several hours of down-time compared with less than £100 for a complex dent, repaired in under an hour by smart repairers. Upfront costs are dwarfed by improvements at disposal time. On average £100 spent on PDR can bring a £200-£300 improvement in residual values.
It is thought that PDR first originated in Argentina on the motor assembly lines. When a new car suffered a dent, a ‘dingman’ would use special tools and techniques to ease the metal back to where it was originally.
This slashed timescales on the production line and meant new panels were not required for the vehicle. Quintin Cornforth, managing director of UK operations at Dent Wizard International, said: ‘The aim of PDR is to reduce overall costs and refurbish vehicles. The method originated in Argentina and most of our tools are still made there.’
Dents are categorised by Dent Wizard as level one, two or three depending on the severity of the damage.
Any oval-shaped knock or crease up to 12-inches in diameter or length can be repaired unless the dent is as deep as it is wide.
A standard category level three dent costs about £80 to repair for fleets. The cost can vary depending on the work undertaken but it will still be considerably lower than using a bodyshop.
To repair a dent in a door panel, the technician will first open the window. A white plastic screen attached to a sucker is fixed to the side of the door and acts as a light reflector.
The repairer can see a clear outline of the dent, picked up by the light on the screen. A metal tool, similar to a long thin metal bar, is pushed in through the window or indicator fixing and the dent is gently pushed out from the other side of the panel. If more force is needed the repairer uses a hammer.
To repair any dent, the back of the area must be accessible – such as through lights, doors or windows. However, if the vehicle’s paint has been damaged, PDR is not a viable repair option on its own.
A Dent Wizard technician, said: ‘There are several things to understand when dealing with paintless dent removal. The first is the physics behind what makes a dent in sheet metal and how to remove it. ‘When a dent is made, the metal is pushed and stretched out of shape.
‘Rather than fix the metal in the traditional way of hammering it back into shape, we use special tools and push the metal back into shape from behind the dent, reversing the forces that created the dent.
‘While it takes only one action to create a dent, we use dozens of small pushes from behind, working the metal back into its original shape. Because the dent repair is slow, gentle, and gradual, the original paint is not stressed and maintains its adhesion to the metal.
‘If the paint wasn’t broken by the forces that made the dent, we can save it during the repair.’
The main advantages of using PDR over a bodyshop repair are reduced costs, less down-time and improved residual values at disposal time, according to Cornforth.
However, by switching to PDR fleets can also help create a greener world. He added: ‘We contribute to the repair-not-replace culture. PDR is a very green process as no paint or new panels are required. We have brought back into the motor industry a true old-fashioned craft.’
Dent Wizard prides itself on having well-qualified technicians to complete the repairs, with 15% of its overall revenue pumped back into training the technicians.
Storm troopers are at hand as hailstones damage cars
DENT Wizard has more than 1,000 specialised ‘hail’ technicians working around the world.
Following a severe hailstorm a vehicle can be left with hundreds of circular dents, spanning the whole of the vehicle’s body.
The group is able to repair hail damage up to four-inches in diameter and numerous dents may be repaired on both steel and aluminium panels. Last July a hailstorm lasting just 10 minutes hammered hundreds of cars left out in the open in Dover– including many brand new imported ones awaiting onward transportation.
Hailstones the size of golf balls left cars with up to 400 dents each in their bodywork. Seven dedicated hail technicians, four from Italy, two from France and one from England – all working for Dent Wizard – were called to repair the damage.
The team worked for at least a week on the cars, many of which ‘looked like the cratered surface of the moon,’ according to Cornforth.
About 25,000 cars a year are severely damaged by hailstones across Europe, which is around half the number in the USA, Dent Wizard’s home country.
The hail season on the continent runs from May to September with as many as 100 storms in a summer. Some of these can involve hailstones weighing four pounds. Cornforth explained: ‘All our hail technicians have to be on call to move into a hail-hit area within 48 hours in order to assist with insurance claims and, of course, perform a very large number of repairs in a very short time.’
A history of crash repairs
A MINOR prang even back in the late 1800s would probably mean a new panel, labour intensive repair or even a new vehicle.
Some of the first motor cars were constructed with canvas over the top of a wooden frame meaning repair was a difficult task. Metal panels were introduced in the early 1900s and flat sheets of folded metal replaced the earlier canvas and wood.
If a vehicle was involved in a minor bump it was usually a case of the local tinsmith ‘bashing’ out the uneven lump with a hammer.
The body panel would be removed and the dent knocked out from the opposite side.
However, there was a revolutionary breakthrough in the mid-1900s when the process of lead loading was introduced.
Cornforth explained: ‘The process of repair in early panels was called lead loading. Lead was melted into the damage in a controlled way and the metal was then filed and the shape reformed – it was an art to complete.’
The vehicle would have to be re-sprayed, meaning added costs on top of the repair. Body filler became popular in the 1960s and is still used on some repairs today. Cornforth said: ‘Body filler was easier to use than lead.
‘With filler, ground chalk is mixed with resin prior to application. It is put on to the dent and filed down, but the process means repainting.’
The real breakthrough came in the late 1960s as paintless dent removal was first developed.
Keeping pace with change
AS the motor industry continues to develop, smart repairers have to keep up and new developments create more work.
Aluminium panels are more difficult to repair as the metal does not regain its original shape as easily as steel.
Cornforth said: ‘Aluminium had a significant effect on how we work, we had to develop new technologies to use on new metal as aluminium is softer and moves in a different way to steel.’
Each time a new model is launched, smart repairers have to design new tools to cope with the altering dynamics of vehicles.
Dent Wizard’s latest tool is a ‘glue gun’ which can repair areas which were previously difficult to access.
Shaun Harris, Dent Wizard International’s national sales manager (corporate) said: ‘The glue gun enables us to achieve a wider range of work. If you can’t get behind a panel you can’t use conventional tools.’
To use the glue gun a small amount of glue is put onto a glue pad. This is then placed on to the centre of the dent. It takes about 30 seconds to set and brings the metal into a large mound. The dent is then gently knocked back into its original shape.
Future development of new materials used in car construction is set to change the way smart repairers work.
Cornforth explained: ‘We are constantly introducing new ideas but most new developments come from the US to here.
‘However, in the future we will undoubtedly lose part of the market because of plastic panels introduced on vehicles. We will need to develop heat technologies to manipulate plastic panels.
‘We will also be required to complete even more complicated dents even though some of the dents we repair today wouldn’t have been possible five years ago.’