Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Collision Science

Fender bender.  Backing into a fire hydrant.  Getting a little ding.  These are some of the ways people describe the minor car accidents that unfortunately happen all around the world every day.  If you've been driving for awhile now (in my case, over 18 years), you've probably been involved with one or two of these situations, and you probably didn't appreciate it very much when it happened.
One thing about these little accidents that I have come to appreciate, though, is the repair process and the men and women who are able to fix them.  I've had the opportunity to walk through Mr. Mike Villena's Auto Body lab on multiple occasions this year, and each time I become more impressed with the process and precision that goes into fixing every scratch and dent (or even a total body overhaul).
Today, I had the chance to walk through during the senior lab.  Each student pleasantly explained exactly what he or she was working on, and how they planned to finish it.  While I won't pretend like I can remember every piece of every step they showed me, I will never forget how much more work goes into it than I could have ever imagined.  For example, one senior was fixing a small spot on the bottom of a car door.  It was one of several issues she's fixing over the body of a Dodge Stealth (which happens to be one of my favorite car models of all time).  The time and care she was taking on that little spot made me realize that the entire car and all of it's issues were bound to take her hours and hours of lab time over the course of several days.
You can't simply "knock the dent out, and paint over the scratches" or "snap on a new bumper".
From what I have seen and heard, our students learn to check both the body and the frame to make sure there's not more extensive damage than what's on the surface.  They also learn how to disassemble the vehicle as part of the inspection process.  Once they are sure the damage is only to the outside of the vehicle, then they can get started on the multiple steps that go into repairing the body of a vehicle.
Now, this is where the "fun" part of knocking out the deeper dents comes in (smaller dents don't actually get "pounded out", according to our auto body juniors).  I put fun in quotation marks because there's usually a lot of skill, planning, and time put in to get the dents out and making sure the affected areas are back into working order when one is finished.  Next comes the sander.  If you're like me, you might be shocked that they would use a sander on the body of your car.  But according to our students, they need to get rid of all the paint and primer until all that's left in the affected area is the bare metal of the frame.  This will ensure that nice smooth finish eventually returns to your car.  Then comes what the students call "bondo" or body filler that will cover the affected areas and eventually "bond" with the paint (both the old paint surrounding the dent and the new coat that's about to go on).  The process of applying bondo requires a lot of patience and several different consistencies of sand-paper until the spot doesn't stick out.  Finally comes the very careful and precise application of the primer and (after the primer dries) the paint.
Oh, did I mention the dozens of steps our students must take throughout this process to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their fellow students?  Mr. Villena does an excellent job of constantly briefing and reminding his students to wear their masks, turn on the air filters,'s quite the experience to witness and realize that this same undertaking goes into each and every imperfection on your vehicle.    
With that in mind, I'd like to thank Mr. Villena and his juniors and seniors for helping me find an all new perspective on collision repair.  It takes an awful lot of energy and effort to get it just right.  As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see the field eventually change names to Auto Body and Collision Science.  So, the next time you get a little "ding", I hope you remember this blog post and can appreciate the hard work and time that will be put into repairing it for you.  And if you happen to be from the area, chances are there's a professional working in your local body shop who learned these skills from Vantage...which, of course, means your car will be in great hands!
Thank you all for taking the time to read this week's post.  Have a great rest of the week!

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