The first step is preparing the estimate. Whenever a motorist brings his or her car into the shop, the body specialist examines it carefully and notes all the parts that have to be fixed or replaced. He or she then figures the time it should take to do the job. After determining the price of the parts and labor, he or she presents the customer with the estimate. Most body shops have special books and catalogs to help calculate the estimate.
NATURE OF THE WORK
Automobile body specialists use a variety of equipment in their job. To restore bent frames to their original shape, the specialist uses hydraulic machines that are chained to the vehicle in order to twist it back into its original shape.
Once the frame is straightened the damaged body parts are repaired. The body repairer uses a pneumatic cutter, saw, or acetylene torch to remove the sections of the body that are badly damaged. He or she then welds or brazes new sections into place. If a section is only dented, a slide hammer or a variety of specially designed body hammers may be used to return the dent as nearly as possible to its original contour. Sometimes the specialist corrects small dents or creases by hammering on one side of the panel while holding an anvil on the other. Body repairers use special pick hammers and punches to remove tiny dents and pin holes.
Once the sheet metal is restored as nearly as possible to the original shape, the body repair person fills the remaining dents with plastic body filler or solder. The filler material then is filed or sanded before it is painted. In some of the smaller shops the body repair specialist also may do the painting, but often this is done by the painting specialist.
If variety is the spice of life, then body repair must be a pretty spicy job. Each damaged car presents a new challenge, and there are usually many different problems. The specialist typically develops special methods to handle the variety of different problems. The occupation of body repair specialist is one that offers both challenge and pride. The body repairer is a skilled artisan-not unlike a sculptor in many ways.
Most body repair persons work by themselves and get only general instructions from their supervisor. In some shops they may have an assistant or a helper or apprentice. In some of the larger shops the repair technician may specialize in one area, such as fenders or frame straightening.
Almost all the work is done indoors. However, it is not an easy job. Many times the body repairer has to work in an awkward position or in tight areas. The work is both strenuous and dirty. Although most of the shops are very well ventilated, the conditions are usually dusty, and there is often a heavy odor of paint in the air. The automobile body repair shop can be a very noisy place. The whir of power tools for grinding and sanding is almost constant, and there are plenty of hammers banging most of the time.
There are also numerous chances to get injured. Cuts from jagged sheet metal are common. There is the potential for burns from torches and heated metal, and the power tools pose an additional threat. Respiratory problems can develop if the worker does not use a protective breathing mask over the nose and mouth.
PLACES OF EMPLOYMENT
There were about 240,000 persons employed in the automobile body repair trade in 1999. The industry association I-CAR puts the number of technicians at 208,000, working in about 52,700 shops, which generate more than $20 billion in annual sales and repairs by census estimates. Most of them worked in shops that specialize in collision repair service or at automobile dealerships. Some fleets, such as trucking companies and taxi companies, have their own staff of body repair specialists. A large portion of the body specialists work for the vehicle manufacturers on assembly lines. Fit and finish is becoming increasingly important in new cars as the buying public demands better products.