In today's world, you can update your appearance with cosmetic surgery. Seems the same is true for your car — and it's much faster and less expensive than a facelift, nose job or tummy tuck.
Among the more noticeable and annoying issues with a vehicle's looks are those dents and dings from parking lot neighbors, errant shopping carts, personal goofs and perhaps even a car wash with faulty equipment.
Most of us just live with our automotive imperfections. But when warm weather arrives and we get a better look at them, or we are considering trading for a newer vehicle, the dents and dings assume greater urgency.
Paintless dent repair (known as PDR in the business) has been around for over two decades. PDR is a repair process that removes dings, dents and creases without involving body shop services that typically require sanding and re-painting.
PDR technicians access the damage from behind the panel utilizing specifically designed tools. A series of pushes completes the repair.
It works well provided the car's paint is not broken or scratched.
Insurance companies like paintless dent repair, says Fausto Martin, vice president and chief claims officer for AAA Auto Club Group.
One good reason: "It preserves the integrity of the factory paint job," says Martin from his office in Dearborn, Mich. "We are looking for the most effective way to handle repairs, including cost-effective (methods)," he says.
AAA and other insurers have identified direct repair shops they can recommend to the car owner who doesn't already have one in mind.
One of them is Fleetwood Collision in St. Clair Shores, Mich. Owner John Skuza, like many of his peers, calls in a paintless dent repair specialist for dings and dents.
"They will go down between the glass and the panel or they will drill a hole in the inner door frame," says the veteran collision specialist. "The guy we use can take out dents 95 percent of the time."
"In cases of hail damage, we will pull the headliner and rearview mirror so he can do his work," Skuza adds.
John Regnerus of Alter Collision in Detroit offers this caveat: if the paint is chipped, cracked or even scratched, the panel should be re-painted.
"A scuff on top of the finish will usually not need to be painted," he says.
"There's no question that paintless dent repair is cheaper for the customer," Regnerus says. "It might cost the customer $90. It we did it and removed the panel, it could run $200.
Regnerus says there are some locations, like the edges of doors, that may be too difficult to reach with paintless dent repair tools.
And dents close to a car's roof rails are next to impossible to make smooth, according to Mike Black, COO of Dent Wizard International, a 22-year-old paintless dent repair company headquartered in St. Louis.
Black says Dent Wizard is involved in designing its own tools and, as a rule, does not drill access holes for repairs.
Black says there are challenges as automotive exterior panels evolve. Lightweight aluminum likely is supported by a number of honeycomb braces, which make it more difficult to access the dent, he explains.
How does the company know if a hood is aluminum or sheet metal?
"We put a magnet on it," he says.
Aluminum, plastics and fiberglass all have different repair requirements.
"Aluminum is softer and more difficult to work with than steel," says Ron Davis, director of autobody, Ohio Technical College in Cleveland.
"Aluminum is more pliable, making it different than steel or stainless steel," Davis says.
Plastic materials are also different to work with, and plastics are changing constantly, and students must learn new ways to work on them, he says.
Time is another issue, says Davis. "Plastic repair often requires two sides to be repaired versus just one side," he explains. "So if you have to do both, it's more time-consuming."
Specialty car dealer Bob Lichty says he has had success with paintless dent repairs on older vehicles for sale at his Classic Motorcar in Canton, Ohio.
"It does work on the thicker steel bodies of classics," Lichty says.
Aaron Schulenburg is executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, a trade association designed to increase professionalism and business opportunities in the collision industry.
The society has been working to bring repairs in line with accepted standards and the automakers' specifications.
"The vehicle manufacturers prepare documents outlining how repairs should be done," Schulenburg says.
With respect to dent repairs, he says, "Extensive training is necessary to fix dents the right way."
This is especially true with luxury cars, which may use various metals and composites for exterior panels, he says.
Insurance companies aren't always reimbursing for repairs specified by the automakers. And while insurers may leave the final choice of repair shop to the customer, the insurers may not cover the entire cost of that work, Schulenburg adds.
While 22-year-old Dent Wizard focuses on servicing dealers, auctions and rental-car companies, newcomer Dent Recon has set its sights on individual car owners.
Now completing its first year in business, Barrington, Ill.-based Dent Recon offers paintless dent repair and glass repair at the customer's home or office.
The company's website invites potential customers to obtain an estimate for their vehicle repair.
"No other competing business serves its customers in this convenient and upfront way," says company president Kevin O'Brien.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun