They’re often the unseen heroes of the auto-retailing world: scratch and dent repair specialists. When hundreds of new vehicles are parked on tight dealership lots and moved on a regular basis for customer demos or display changes, damage is bound to happen. Everything from door dings and dents, to bumper scratches can mar the almost perfect factory finishes on new vehicles.
It’s important to remember that even on the most expensive ride, the factory paint is never perfect. But what do lot touch-ups have to do with customers? Quite a bit if you’re a fanatic about the finish on your new $35,000 chariot (and who among us isn’t?).
Like my old chemistry teacher was fond of saying, “There are three ways to do anything: right, wrong, and fast.” When it comes to taking care of those little blemishes that happen to a retailer’s new-vehicle inventory, most are done by mobile technicians working out of their trucks. They basically fall into two categories; paintless dent repairs and paint touch-ups.
Paintless dent repairs seldom represent any risk to the lifespan and quality of any vehicle’s finish. The process involves accessing the inner surface of the dented panel and with the use of a series of specially formed metal rods, in the hands of a skilled master, the metal can be returned to flawless condition. The only restriction to this type of repair is that the inner surface where the dent is located must be accessible, therefore mars at the extreme edges of a door, fender, or other body panel, or severe creases, can seldom be treated in this manner.
The real problem is the methods used for paint touch-ups, specifically those done on larger areas (basically anything more than a chip a few millimetres in size). When these accidents happen, a mobile repair centre tech will usually scuff, sand, prep, and then repaint the affected area while working outdoors (if it’s not freezing) or in a service drive-thru or shop bay.
So what’s wrong with this picture? First is the environment where the painting is being done. Vehicles are painted at the factory in a pristine and strictly controlled area. Dust is minimized by a series of fine filters and an HVAC system that looks more like a NASA creation than anything you’d have at home. When collision paint repairs are completed at a body shop, the air-sealed paint booth duplicates as closely as possible the conditions in the factory.
Spray painting body panels (even small areas) in the open air leads to dirt and grit being trapped in the paint and, if you’re a stickler on the finish of your new ride, this will seldom pass inspection. The other item that’s missing in mobile painting is the heat treating that collision-shop paint booths provide. This oven feature ensures that the paint hardens under the correct temperatures for long life and adhesion. It becomes critical when painting flexible areas such as bumper covers. Making a touch-up without it can lead to paint cracking and flaking on these components.
Another hidden risk is when or if you take your vehicle in to a dealership for warranty paint concerns. Some paint shop managers will measure the thickness of the paint before considering any warranty application. If an additional layer was added during a lot-scratch repair, they may question any coverage. This might not lead to any problems if you are dealing with the retailer that did the repair in the first place, but if you end up at another dealership, you might have your request for warranty coverage refused.
So, if you’re buying a new ride, how can you protect yourself? Understand that no lot repair done by an external vendor, regardless of how minor, is ever completed on any retailer’s vehicle without a record. So there’s never the excuse a sales manager didn’t know about the repair. Request a condition of purchase that indicates the vehicle has never had any spray paint repairs (touch-ups with a small brush stick are usually OK). Check the vehicle carefully, looking for any dirt trapped in the paint. If you see a questionable area, run your hand over it and compare any roughness with another panel on the vehicle. If it feels considerably grittier, it’s probably been sprayed outdoors.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016