Understanding Dent Repairs

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Dent repairs on today’s vehicles require a thorough understanding of materials as well as specialized equipment and training. PHOTO Huw Evans

It’s not just about pulling.

Vehicle technology has seen some incredible advances over the last 25 years. Within the last decade, not only have collision shops had to contend with more and more electronics and sensors, but also with changing substrates.

Even when it comes to dent repairs, techniques that were used in the past, are no longer effective. Traditional dent pulling could, in some cases, result in significant damage to the panel.

OEM procedures

Before beginning any type of body repair on a late-model vehicle, it is absolutely imperative that the OEM repair procedures are followed.

According to Stu Klein, Technician Trainer, Fix Network, Canada, this is extremely important because technicians need to understand “the strength of the material that technicians are working with, as well as the OEM’s position on repairability.”

As more and more vehicles are adopting multi-materials in their construction, with growth in aluminum panels for hoods, doors, fenders and in some cases the entire body structure (Ford F-150, Audi A-8, and Jaguars such as the XE, XF, XJ, F-PACE and F-TYPE) even something as small as a dent warrant careful consideration before the work actually begins.

Besides the material itself, Klein says that the number of foams and sealers OEMs use to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) on modern vehicles also have an impact on repairability.

“Technicians need to know where these foams and sealers are located and how that may affect the ability to perform the repair,” explains Klein.

There’s also the issue of equipment.

Anouar Belganche, National Manager, Canada for Norton St-Gobain, says that when you’re dealing with different materials, such as aluminum and steel, separation and cleanliness is absolutely essential.

Separate stations

For aluminum, a separate work area and tools used exclusively for aluminum repairs are essential, even for something as small as a dent.

“Aluminum is an alloy and it reacts differently to steel,” says Belganche.

Equipment considerations are another. “Having a modern, fully-equipped dent repair system is essential for both steel and aluminum repairs,” says Stu Klein.

He notes that some of the modern dent repair systems currently on the market, such as those offered from BETAG Innovation and Camauto Pro allow technicians to do very controlled, finite pulling on light-gauge steel panels and aluminum bodywork.

This is an important consideration as it allows for the repair area to remain small, maximizing efficiency for both the technician and the shop. Klein also notes that some systems today also offer glue on tabs that not only enable the repair area to be kept small but also prevent damage to OEM sealers, cavity waxes and NVH foams.

Yet the best equipment in the world is only as good as those using it. Mike Croker, Global Repair and Training Product Manager, Collision, at Chief Automotive Technologies, which offers a whole range of body repair equipment, including aluminum pulling systems for dent repairs, says that often, one of the biggest challenges is that shops don’t always keep up with training requirements.

“They make the investment in the equipment and then they don’t train people to use it properly, so they end up not using it the right way and then blame it on the equipment distributor.” Croker also notes that the impact of improper training can be far-reaching, even for something as small as repairing dents.

For aluminum panels, contamination by foreign objects such as steel will cause galvanic corrosion and significantly weaken the aluminum, creating a safety issue for the vehicle and customer, as well as a potential liability risk for the shop.

That’s why he says, staying on top of training and ensuring that technicians know how to do the job right, each and every time is critical.

Repairability assessment

When it comes to repairing dents on late-model vehicles, it’s also important to consider the extent of the dent or crease and whether it’s actually repairable.

“Modern dent repair systems work extremely well on larger repairs,” says Stu Klein, “but with some outer panels being made of high strength steels, they may have limited repairability due to extreme work hardening or OEM restrictions.”

He also notes that in some cases, larger panel repairs may simply not be economically feasible for the shop. This particularly applies to aluminum panels as the nature of the material requires greater time spent on the actual repair.

“Aluminum must be repaired much more gradually than mild steel by applying heat and then adding gradual pressure and repeating the process multiple times,” says Klein.

He also notes that the heat “must be closely monitored and controlled as overheating will destroy the aluminum. Large areas require a repair technician as well as an assistant to help apply and monitor the heat.”

When you factor the efforts required, in these cases it can often be more economical for the shop to simply source replacement panels, though in the current pandemic climate this can present additional challenges due to availability concerns resulting from supply chain disruptions.


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