By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- May 15, 2018 -- The latest Guild 21 call took place this past Thursday and focused on the latest developments in the paintless dent repair (PDR) sector.
Today, PDR has evolved into a unique market segment. Typically techs work as journeymen. Unaffiliated with any particular collision repair centre, they will travel to a region where a hail storm has struck and work with local shops to handle the huge influx of cases.
“When it comes to PDR it really is a new industry. I know it’s been 30 some years now but that’s relativity new in this industry. The way I think about it PDR has always been a young stepbrother to the collision industry,” said Bill Park, a guest on the call.
Park was joined on the teleconference by Ryan Hampton and Tony Frasher. All three work at the 300 Group, which is an umbrella organization containing several different companies. Among the subsidiaries is Car-Hail Insurance, which provides hail repair management solutions to collision repair sectors, dealerships and fleets; Axiom Accident & Hail Repair which helps individuals start the kind of small hail repair businesses that do non-structural repairs that can be completed in three days or less. Also in the group is PDR Mobile Solutions, a technology company that offers back office support system. The organization has relationships with insurers and service providers such as CCC. Members of the group are also on the board of directors for the National Association of Paintless Dent Repair Technicians, (NAPDRT.org), among other industry roles. The message the trio of executives delivered is that PDR is not just for hail damage, but is becoming more useful in the traditional collision repair industry.
“The more these two [sectors] separate, the more some are reaching out to get themselves educated on these issues,” said Park. PDR technologies have evolved, allowing larger jobs to be addressed with these techniques. This is leading to a so-called “partial push to repair” approach, where a tech uses PDR techniques to reduce the severity of a collision repair job, and then finishes the job with standard paint-based collision repair techniques.
“If you have large dent in panel, you can shrink that with glue pulling and get the repair zone down from a watermelon-size dent to a softball-sized repair zone. I think that’s one of the things that’s going to grow in the industry,” said Hampton. “There is a move to do more collision repair. By taking advantage of all the new things out there, PDR techs are pushing the limits on large repairs.”
The latest developments in PDR tech include the use of adhesive to push out dents. This technique replaces the older style suction-based and ‘dent-rod’ approach. “Glue pulling has surpassed suction for external repair. It has grown by leaps and bounds. No one who we work with drills a panel anymore. Rather than removing a bumper cover, throw a glue tab on there and pull the dent out. Glue has moved up a lot. It is able to move a lot of metal as compared to a dent rod. So there are a lot of advantages there. Guys are just getting better at it,” said Hampton.
Another advance is the use of a hot box, which uses an induction unit to reform the metal. It allows you to start to pull the dent from the top side of the panel and eliminates damage to the back side of the panel. One of the advantages of this is that it helps you do larger dents. It’s an interesting technology. It’s going to be big over the next five years,” according to the speaker.
An example cited by one of the speakers involved a large dent on the back of the bed of a pickup near the tail light. “It was a big oversize dent. The insurance adjuster would normally write that as a conventional repair job. But these are things that can be repaired with PDR now.”
Clearly the PDR industry is evolving to a new level of sophistication. In North America the practice became standardized over time. Key to this evolution has been the development of a measurement matrix that insurance adjusters use to rate each job. “Before we had a matrix it was all over the place. The jobs were even cloaked in some instances. Now a matrix allows adjusters the ability to differentiate the size and severity of the damage and assign a value to that. It makes it easier for a hail adjuster to go out and make a claim, and say, ‘There are sixty dents on one panel. It’s aluminum. The dents are slightly larger than normal. This is going to cost so much. That standardization has trickled down into all aspects of hail damage now,” according to the execs.
That said, it is still up to techs to apply critical thinking to each job to come up with the right repair for the vehicle. According to Park, “The matrix, as a guide, has a lot of value. But there is an unintended impact as it puts people in a box too quickly concerning the severity of damage. I think there needs to be more awareness around this… that sometimes you can go outside of the matrix.”
An example of where you might go ‘outside the matrix’ is in the case of a repair near a structural part. “When you are repairing you have to be careful you’re not increasing damage in some other area. When it comes to structural parts you have to take a few steps back from the matrix and ask, ‘What’s best for the car.’ Any time you can save the liability and integrity of the vehicle by not cutting into a structural component, I think it’s smart to do,” according to the speaker. “You might have a higher dent repair estimate… but you’re not disturbing structural parts. Does PDR have a role in saving something like that? When it comes to ‘partial push to repair, I think it’s 100 percent valid.”
But while the techniques for PDR have evolved they have become more complex and that means there is an art to doing these procedures correctly. “If someone comes into this industry with little experience, they might say, ‘Hey, I have this guide...’ But when the dents get larger it’s 100 percent about technique. There are some specialty tools to help you. But it’s about the guy doing it. It takes a lot of focus. More than anything it’s about technique. It’s about understanding metal and understanding how metal works, and using old school metal techniques. The guys who can do it are just amazing. Some guys can do artwork on doors… Google that on YouTube. But there’s not a certification for this that you can find”
Because there is an art to doing PDR it can be difficult to get an insurer to provide an estimate. “Insurance companies leverage efficiencies by centralizing adjusters. One location may estimate a job Missouri one minute and then in Arizona the next. How are they expected to know who’s available locally? In their defense, if you’ve got an estimator in a central location, they’re looking at a lot of estimates. They get a feel for what can be repaired, and what cannot. But they’re not going to know if a shop is capable of. I always tell people… use common sense. Look at a dent for half a second. If it’s an obvious repair, go with PDR. If it’s complex, write the estimate for traditional collision repair, and then if you have the guy, send it over to him. It’s no different than body repair. The easy ones you can write up. The complex ones are less easy.”
When it comes to finding someone who can do complex PDR, the shop owner would be advised to spend some time searching out the right tech. “When you consider that the trade is an artisan-based one, some states won’t have that guy. You have to get to know the tech. There’s no easy answer. I’d say, call him up, interview him. They’re not going to be in-house. They’re good, they know that. But have them do a demo for you. It’s a real skill. And so you have to develop some trust. You just have to do your homework. There’s no easy answer,” says Park.
If a shop owner is going to search for a PDR tech stick to ones that have good reviews on social media. According to one of the speakers, “I’d look through Yelp to find someone. There are some guys out there are that are all about the Internet and are good at social marketing. Yelp and Google are the primary ones. The reviews are important. There are some parts of the country where there are, for lack of a better term, scammers. They will approach people in parking lot. The really good PDR guys are huge on reviews. You can get a really good idea of somebody’s skill level based on that. If you have a bad day and you’re not friendly to someone, someone is going to write that review. That’s the big thing on the social media side. The guys who are really being proactive are using YouTube and doing online videos.”
For those who do find a good PDR tech the ability to reduce the severity of a claim, or to do PDR is another trick in the bag. “The PDR industry is the little brother of collision repair, and they are two different industries. A lot of shops don't make money with PDR because they’re selling paint. And so some only look at it two ways, I’m with a shop or a PDR tech. The guys who are doing those big dents are marketing to the end customer. They’re not going through insurance. If they’re doing a $800, $900 repair, it’s not worth going through insurance. And so some of those repairs aren’t done in shops for that reason. But as more of these repairs get done, as more owners understand what can be done, this is going to change,” says Hampton. “More will be done in-shop. I think in five or ten years you’re going to find more shops leaning on PDR guys. We’ve been in industry for long time. We see a lot of room for efficiency in making repairs and fixing it right. We hope we expand this paintless dent repair and bring it to a wider market. I think as this sector grows, it’s going to become a bigger thing.”