In this issue’s The Top Drawer, I talked about automotive repair shops and how we have gotten into many repairs over the years that are traditionally defined as body work. I posed the question, “Where do we draw the line between auto repair and body repair?” It’s a tricky answer, and a blurry line at best. Often, it has to do with experience and what a technician is comfortable doing.
But for certain, whatever the line may be, it has changed over the years as the technology of vehicle design and safety has affected what we are equipped to do, and what we are willing to do from a standpoint of liability. Most of us are familiar now with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), or at least what they are, even if we haven’t begun to work on them.
We also know that modern vehicles utilize adhesives, specific welding techniques and the design of the windshield and window glass to build bodies with occupant protection as the primary focus. This is the biggest area in which we shy away, due to the specialized training required for proper repair — and the associated liability.
Nonetheless, to maximize our profit, we need to take advantage of any opportunity to make money and serve our customers, and luckily there are still many things we can capitalize on, as well as new systems we can learn. Thumbing through the body repair section of a tool catalog will surely add a few items to your wish list, and equipped with the right tools, technicians can expand their skillset and tackle those jobs that are close to the line.
Many tool companies design tools specifically for the autobody professional and repair technician and recognize the crossover between the two sides of the industry, as well as the value it has historically brought to our business. While technology is changing along with some of the tools, some of the core tools remain the same, which benefits our business. “We haven’t seen much of a change with our tools, because most of our tools serve the same purpose today, even with the changes in the industry,” said Chris Brill, president of Steck Manufacturing.
Some of My Favorites
The interesting thing about body work is it deals with the unusual. It’s not just about taking something apart and putting it back together. It’s about doing that with something that’s bent, broken, distorted or mangled in some way that suddenly makes the job much more difficult. In other words, something always needs to be straightened.
One of the most useful tools, often overlooked, is a leverage type of puller, sometimes called an alignment bar. It’s a bar and chain that allows you to hook to almost anything and utilize leverage to pull it. How many times have you needed to straighten a radiator core support and somehow utilized a long prybar and a strategically placed block of wood? Now you know how to do it the easy way.
One of the most useful subgroups of tools from the body work category are trim clip tools. They’re like a certain brand of potato chip — no one can have just one. In addition to interior door panels, which we remove all the time, there are countless exterior moldings and trim pieces we encounter, and you’d be amazed at how quickly and efficiently some of the trim tools work, especially when compared to a screwdriver or pick.
Trim tools add versatility in not only the different styles of clips and trim they are designed for, but also in the multiple different lengths and angles in which they are available, as well as materials they are made of to protect surrounding components.
Parts storage seems to get more attention on the body side of things, perhaps because of the physical size of the parts, and the fact that most jobs require a considerable amount of disassembly. Too often we use our workbenches to hold parts, and they ultimately get mixed up in between our tools. I love to use a separate tool cart, and the folding parts cart by Steck Manufacturing is an example of a great opportunity for technicians to keep their bigger jobs organized. Not only does it offer multiple shelves and the opportunity to hang parts, but if you’re not using it, you can fold it up and store it easily out of the way. You’ll just have to lock it to your toolbox, because you can bet there’ll be people lined up to borrow it.
I have to mention a piece of equipment that’s been around for a while but recently caught my attention. It’s an air tool oiler. I’ve always done it the old-fashioned way with the little 1 oz. eyedropper bottles you can buy, but I’d be lying if I said I never skipped the step. I know how important it is, but I’ve still skipped it plenty of times. With an air tool oiler, all you do is push the air tool fitting into the oiler outlet and the job is done. No mess, no drips, just oil in your tool.
I’m still always finding tools I wish I’d had about 30 years ago, and here are a couple that fit that bill: tie rod end pliers and tie rod couplers. Have you heard of them? Picture this (I know you can): A car is towed into your shop, and the ball end of the tie rod has separated, or the tie rod is disconnected or broken from the adjusting sleeve. You can either jack up that corner of the car and have someone drive while you yank and tug the floor jack through the parking lot to your bay, or you can attempt to continuously kick the wheel into alignment as someone else drives and steers. Either way it’s a hassle — or you could quickly install a pair of the tie rod end pliers or a tie rod coupler and drive the car in.
Stick It to Them
The newer cars get, the fewer clips and screws we see, and double-sided adhesive tape is used more and more often. We find ourselves frequently faced with body side moldings that are coming loose, and in order to reattach them, they need to be completely removed. We all know how difficult and time consuming this can be, so how do body shops do it? They use heat, and an example of a tool that works efficiently for this is the Inductor Max by Induction Innovations. Its fast-off pad heats the metal behind the moldings and makes quick work of removal.
In addition, vinyl graphics are wildly popular, and we may be faced with removing them as well from time to time. Heat is the trick, and if you own an inductive heater, you already know how useful it can be for heating all kinds of components, without the dangers of an open flame.
ADAS Scan Tools
As soon as the acronym hit the automotive industry, ADAS was the buzz word in collision shops. They had to learn it. The calibration and adjustment of the sensors and cameras that are responsible for system operation are critical, and since many of these are located around the perimeter of the car, they’re one of the first things to get damaged in a collision.
In the world of the general repair shop, we’ve had a lot more time to get used to it, but that time runs shorter every day. While we’re not repairing these systems on a regular basis, they’re here to stay, and some repair procedures require the removal of components that will necessitate the recalibration of the sensors or systems.
ADAS service not only requires a scan tool with ADAS software, but it also requires ADAS calibration equipment that is compatible with the scan tool/software that you own. Without this equipment, you may find yourself having to subcontract the work to someone who has invested in it. Or, if you get ahead of the game, you may be the one on the receiving end of a profitable service.
If you can’t work on the car, you can’t make any money, and that’s definitely what happens when the keys are locked in the car. We try to avoid this, but it happens, and it will continue to happen, no matter what. Lockout tools are worth their weight in gold, and there are a few that stand out to me at the top of the most useful list.
The first is an inflatable door wedge. Regardless of what you are using to get to the lock, you need to create access between the door frame and the car body. Prying tools are going to cause damage, and you can pull the door frame out by hand, but only briefly. It’s not possible to sustain the pressure. An inflatable door wedge allows you to safely and carefully open a gap just enough to get your lock tool in place.
Many companies make a long-reach type of lockout tool, with many variations between four to five feet in length. The reason these work so well is they are rigid. It’s frustrating to reach a lock button, only to find your lockout tool is too flexible to put any pressure on it, making these a worthwhile investment.
Plastic rivet guns and rivets are a great addition to any toolbox. Plastic rivets have been in use for many years, especially on bumpers and inner fenders. As we all know, there’s no re-using a rivet, and zip-ties or push-clips just won’t give you the same result. This is a nice crowning touch of quality, but don’t forget to factor in a few extra bucks for the cost of the rivets. Sorry this paragraph wasn’t about Corvettes in case some of you were expecting it!
Last But Not Least
A buffer/polisher is a natural for a body shop, but it’s on my list for everyone that works on cars, as well as a selection of polishing compounds, cleaners, waxes and microfiber towels. Anyone who has worked on cars knows at some point, something will happen with the paint, such as contact with a corrosive fluid. Or even small scratches can be difficult to avoid.
Stuff like this simply happens, but if you’re prepared, you can fix small mistakes before they become big mistakes.
Even though cars have fewer nuts and bolts than they used to and certain aspects of body repair are beyond the scope of what we can do, with the right tools, we can still work close to the line and provide additional services to our customer.