Not always about hard hits
Collision repair includes special repairs, maintenance and refurbishment
The very word collision implies horrendous accidents that result in tremendous damage, not to mention the headaches that come with the costs of repair. These four experienced specialists equip their shops more than the average maintenance facility in preparation for the worst that can happen, but spoke with BUSRide about what else goes on in their shops. Their work doesn’t always have to do with hard hits. On the average day they may be just as likely to be involved in painting, applying vinyl graphics or just smoothing over parking lot dings.
What goes on in a collision repair shop?
Rob Pek: We describe collision repair as the unplanned repairs. Most repair shops focus on the planned repairs, which include running repairs and preventative maintenance programs. Collision repair is disruptive to the daily routine of most repair shops and often farmed out to a specialist in that field.
Greg Dotseth: We have everyone involved, from the frame straighteners to high-tech body men and fabricators. It is all an integral process, requiring work and attention in every area.
Andy DeLaGarza: On a typical day we will be doing collision repair on frames using our Gold Medallion 63-foot frame machine and painting on a variety of large vehicles.
Gigi Walker: The work we do is not always as severe as it sounds. A day in our shop can be as much about minor bodywork, but the complexities of the systems involved can be difficult and require experience to sort through damaged components such as wiring and electronics.
What are the unique aspects of your operation?
Dotseth: We seem to be able to operate in a national market because of our experience and skill sets, as well as the quality of the labor force in the Midwest. Our team has been working together for years. I have 26 years of experience at ABC Companies, and the collision shop manager has been coming to work for 32 years.
Walker: We are under contract with Tri Delta Transit and The County Connection in Contra Costa County east of San Francisco, CA. Being registered with the Department of Transportation as a woman-owned business has helped me tremendously. After working in a number of body shops, I opened my own shop 24 years ago. We leaned toward public transit and fleet work, along with the fire trucks and sheriff’s cars, where the door was open. There’s no problem with women doing the work. Our three full-time employees have been here since day one.
DeLaGarza: We are a family-owned operation that has been in business for 39 years, doing minor to major repairs on every type of vehicle from passenger cars to large buses and semi-trailers. Because of the size of our 40,000-square-foot facility and the variety of services required on so many types of vehicles, we don’t really fit the category of an average maintenance shop.
What is the extent of the damages you typically address?
Dotseth: We have a fast-paced body shop that just takes care of the dents and scrapes. Our major collision repair center handles damages from $40,000 and up. Our separate maintenance, body shop and collision functions are all under one roof. The body shop gets vehicles patched up and back on the road within the week. We might keep a bus in the collision center for more than 15 days. The seemingly smallest issues, be they a pinched wire, lights flashing on the dash or fault codes coming up, can cause the most pain and aggravation.
Pek: We focus on heavy-hit collision repairs and mechanical and structural refurbishment. This work is very specialized and it takes experienced technicians and management to source parts and ensure the quality of work meets OEM specifications.
Walker: We’ll get a “nasty” in here about once every two years, a hard hit where the damage is severe. However, we do not handle the more horrific collisions where a bus lays down or rolls.
A hard front-end hit often damages the electrical components. We get into replacing wiring harness, and because that work we have to do ourselves, we are involved in the mechanical aspects. We’ll replace lower skirt panels, do fiberglass repair and rebuild battery boxes that get hit all the time.
What new equipment and gear have you recently added to the operation?
Dotseth: We recently added new laser measuring instruments for the frame straightening that pinpoints any twisting or misalignments in the framework. Insurance claims adjusters really appreciate how precisely it measures every detail of the damage, which helps them estimate the cost to repair.
Pek: We recently purchased frame straightening equipment and an additional 70-foot paint booth.
Walker: We updated our paint facility and paint systems.
DeLaGarza: Our newest enterprise is our graphics department where we can now produce and install partial to full bus wraps and lettering.
Where does the maintenance shop end and collision repair begin?
Dotseth: With our mechanics, body shop employees and collision specialists all cross-trained in each operation, that line is kind of blurred. Working in the same building, we can always bring a mechanic over to the collision center, or send our frame repair expert over the body shop.
Walker: The transit agency will usually take care of the mechanical repairs and send the bus over to us to handle the bodywork. We get a lot of minor scrapes and bumps and dents. The transit authorities are terrific to work with. They will often send over one of their technicians to work alongside our staff to work out the technicalities.
Pek: Experienced technicians, bay space availability and equipment are the deciding factors. Many shops can repair minor damage. The heavy-hit collision requires a completely different skill set to assess the damage, ensure an accurate estimate of the costs and order parts in accordance with the “just in time” delivery procedures used by many manufacturers.
The work also requires specialized equipment such as specialty welders, breaking and bending machines for fabrication, frame straightening equipment, forklifts, overhead cranes and large industrial paint booths.
What will I see in your collision shop that I won’t see in the average maintenance facility?
Pek: The scale of the repair. Many heavy hit collisions and refurbishments lead to an entire bus torn down to the skeleton and even the frame. Most repair shops won’t have the specialized equipment that make nearly every collision repair possible, such as 150-ton frame straightening machines, fabrication and manufacturing tools, specialized welders, forklifts, cranes and 60-foot paint booths.
Dotseth: You are going to see more catastrophic damage that’s not so obvious that we have to ferret out. Beyond just replacing frames and sidings, front and rear caps and glass, it could mean having to validate the multiplexing systems, intricate emissions control components, onboard computer, electronics and wire harnesses.
Walker: As public entities, our customers supply us with the majority of the parts needed for a particular repair. We give the agency our list of parts, which they can obtain faster than we can through their procurement channels, and get them for a better price. Because we don’t mark them up 25 percent, the taxpayers save a little money. BR