Thousands of motor vehicles are damaged in traffic accidents every day. Although some of these vehicles are beyond repair, others can be made to look and drive like new. Automotive body repairers straighten bent bodies, remove dents, and replace crumpled parts that cannot be fixed. They repair all types of vehicles, but work mostly on cars and small trucks, although some work on large trucks, buses, or tractor-trailers.
Automotive body repairers use special equipment to restore damaged metal frames and body sections. Repairers chain or clamp frames and sections to alignment machines that use hydraulic pressure to align damaged components. “Unibody” vehicles—designs built without frames—must be restored to precise factory specifications for the vehicle to operate correctly. To do so, repairers use benchmark systems to make accurate measurements of how much each section is out of alignment and hydraulic machinery to return the vehicle to its original shape.
Body repairers remove badly damaged sections of body panels with a pneumatic metal-cutting gun or by other means and weld in replacement sections. Repairers pull out less serious dents with a hydraulic jack or hand prying bar or knock them out with handtools or pneumatic hammers. They smooth out small dents and creases in the metal by holding a small anvil against one side of the damaged area while hammering the opposite side. Repairers also remove very small pits and dimples with pick hammers and punches in a process called metal finishing.
Body repairers also repair or replace the plastic body parts that are increasingly being used on new-model vehicles. They remove damaged panels and identify the type and properties of the plastic used on the vehicle. With most types of plastic, repairers can apply heat from a hot-air welding gun or by immersion in hot water and press the softened panel back into its original shape by hand. They replace plastic parts that are badly damaged or very difficult to repair.
Body repairers use plastic or solder to fill small dents that cannot be worked out of the plastic or metal panel. On metal panels, they file or grind the hardened filler to the original shape and clean the surface with a media blaster before painting. In many shops, automotive painters do the painting. (These workers are discussed in the Handbook statement on painting and coating workers, except construction and maintenance
.) In small shops, workers often do both body repairing and painting. A few body repairers specialize in repairing fiberglass car bodies.
The advent of assembly-line repairs in large shops enables the establishment to move away from the one-vehicle, one-repairer method to a team approach and allows body repairers to specialize in one type of repair, such as straightening frames or repairing doors and fenders. Some body repairers specialize in installing and repairing glass in automobiles and other vehicles. Automotive glass installers and repairers remove broken, cracked, or pitted windshields and window glass. Glass installers apply a moisture-proofing compound along the edges of the glass, place the glass in the vehicle, and install rubber strips around the sides of the windshield or window to make it secure and weatherproof.
Body repair work has variety and challenges: each damaged vehicle presents a different problem. Using their broad knowledge of automotive construction and repair techniques, repairers must develop appropriate methods for each job. They usually work alone, with only general directions from supervisors. In some shops, helpers or apprentices assist experienced repairers.