• To become a fully skilled automotive body repairer, formal training followed by on-the-job instruction is recommended because fixing newer automobiles requires advanced skills.
• Excellent job opportunities are projected because of the large number of older workers who are expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.
• Repairers need good reading ability and basic mathematics and computer skills to use print and digital technical manuals.
Nature of the Work
Most of the damage resulting from everyday vehicle collisions can be repaired, and vehicles can be refinished to look and drive like new. Automotive body repairers, often called collision repair technicians, straighten bent bodies, remove dents, and replace crumpled parts that cannot be fixed. They repair all types of vehicles, and although some work on large trucks, buses, or tractor-trailers, most work on cars and small trucks. They can work alone, with only general direction from supervisors, or as specialists on a repair team. In some shops, helpers or apprentices assist experienced repairers.
Each damaged vehicle presents different challenges for repairers. Using their broad knowledge of automotive construction and repair techniques, automotive body repairers must decide how to handle each job based on what the vehicle is made of and what needs to be fixed. They must first determine the extent of the damage and order any needed parts.
If the car is heavily damaged, an automotive body repairer might start by realigning the frame of the vehicle. Repairers chain or clamp frames and sections to alignment machines that use hydraulic pressure to align damaged components. “Unibody” vehicles—designs built without frames—must be restored to precise factory specifications for the vehicle to operate correctly. For these vehicles, repairers use benchmark systems to accurately measure how much each section is out of alignment, and hydraulic machinery to return the vehicle to its original shape.
Once the frame is aligned, repairers can begin to fix or replace damaged body parts. If the vehicle or part is made of metal, body repairers will use a pneumatic metal-cutting gun or other tools to remove badly damaged sections of body panels and then weld in replacement sections. Less serious dents are pulled out with a hydraulic jack or hand prying bar or knocked out with handtools or pneumatic hammers. Small dents and creases in the metal are smoothed by holding a small anvil against one side of the damaged area while hammering the opposite side. Repairers also remove very small pits and dimples with pick hammers and punches in a process called metal finishing. Body repairers use plastic or solder to fill small dents that cannot be worked out of plastic or metal panels. On metal panels, they file or grind the hardened filler to the original shape and clean the surface with a media blaster—similar to a sand blaster—before repainting the damaged portion of the vehicle.
Body repairers also repair or replace the plastic body parts that are increasingly used on new vehicles. They remove damaged panels and identify the type and properties of the plastic used. With most types of plastic, repairers can apply heat from a hot-air welding gun or immerse the panel in hot water and press the softened section back into shape by hand. Repairers replace plastic parts that are badly damaged or very difficult to fix. A few body repairers specialize in fixing fiberglass car bodies.
Some body repairers specialize in installing and repairing glass in automobiles and other vehicles. Automotive glass installers and repairers remove broken, cracked, or pitted windshields and window glass. Glass installers apply a moisture-proofing compound along the edges of the glass, place the glass in the vehicle, and install rubber strips around the sides of the windshield or window to make it secure and weatherproof.
Many large shops make repairs using an assembly-line approach where vehicles are fixed by a team of repairers who each specialize in one type of repair. One worker might straighten frames while another repairs doors and fenders, for example. In most shops, automotive painters do the painting and refinishing, but in small shops, workers often do both body repairing and painting.
Repairers work indoors in body shops that are noisy with the clatter of hammers against metal and the whine of power tools. Most shops are well ventilated to disperse dust and paint fumes. Body repairers often work in awkward or cramped positions, and much of their work is strenuous and dirty. Hazards include cuts from sharp metal edges, burns from torches and heated metal, injuries from power tools, and fumes from paint. However, serious accidents usually are avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices are observed. Automotive repair and maintenance shops averaged 4 cases of work-related injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers in 2005, compared to 4.6 per 100 workers in all private industry.
Most automotive body repairers work a standard 40-hour week. More than 40 hours a week may be required when there is a backlog of repair work to be completed. This may include working on weekends.