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Capitalizing on Bumper Cover Repairs

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In its 2015 Q3 Industry Trends Report, Mitchell published the top 10 parts involved in collisions: fenders, grilles, hoods, headlamps and quarter panels all hovered around 30 percent each.

At a whopping 68 percent? Bumper covers, of course.

That percentage makes the next percentage all the more surprising: 72 percent of bumper covers are being replaced as opposed to being repaired. And in yet another report, Mitchell notes that more hours exist to do a quality bumper cover repair than are currently being estimated across the country.

As the report points out, the accuracy of the repair-versus-replace decision is critical, and these trends signal a lack of equipment and knowledge regarding plastic welding. That’s why, Mitchell says, bumper cover repair training is necessary and something that shops should embrace.

One of the shops that has made that transition is Kline Collision in San Mateo, Calif. Co-owner and full-time plastic welder Warren Kline easily transitioned into the bumper repair role, and he says embracing plastic welding has put his shop one step ahead of the competition in his area. Here, he details how to get the maximum return on investment with bumper cover repairs.

Embrace the Technology

Before buying a plastic welder for the shop, Kline admittedly had some doubts. He had heard horror stories about larger shops purchasing plastic welders, never using them and allowing them to collect dust.

But once he embraced the technology, the shop immediately put it into use, and several benefits became clear:

Ease of use. Despite never repairing a car before stepping into the role after a technician suddenly quit, Kline says a short training demo from a Urethane Supply Company representative and some tips from the shop’s A tech was enough to get him started on some practice repairs.

Inexpensive upkeep. The nitrogen used to fuel many plastic welders—which acts as a protective gas to block plastic from burning—is very cheap, Kline says. The shop spends around $100 per week for new nitrogen tanks. In addition, new welding rods range from 50 cents to $1, and Kline only goes through one to three per job.

Significant ROI. While the cost of a plastic welder typically hovers between $5,000 and $7,000, Kline says it’s been a small expense in the long run.

Beforehand, Kline Collision’s biggest expense when it came to parts was always bumper covers, averaging $400 per order. But now, by repairing more often than replacing, the shop earns more money on labor and paint costs, is able to more easily get reimbursed by insurers and offers the customer a better deal in the process.

“When we give them the quotes, we say, ‘A new bumper is this price, but here’s what it is to repair it,’ and they give us the green light,” he says. “They’ll choose something $200 cheaper than the new one.”

In addition, Kline says an average 6-inch repair costs less than $2, which is how much you pay just for the mixing when using traditional two-part adhesives.

Improved cycle times. Because Kline is no longer burdened with waiting for bumper replacement parts, which could take up to a week, he says cycle time immediately improved on lighter repairs by one day, pleasing both customers and insurance partners.

Environmentally friendly. In California, environmental standards are very stringent for body shops, and Kline says there’s pressure to recycle as much as possible. To suffice, the shop keeps old bumpers that have been scrapped and uses pieces of them for plastic welds.

Have the Basic Necessities

Kline says several additional tools and pieces of equipment go a long way in making plastic repairs easier and more efficient:

• A sturdy surface or table to place the nitrogen welder, so it’s elevated alongside the bumper being repaired.

• A “glorified version” of paint stands that hold bumpers steady, straight up and down, and allow you to position them at any angle.

• Very fine drill bits for wedging a hole at both ends of a crack to prevent it from spreading, making for a cleaner repair.

• Cleaning materials to polish down the surface before repairs. 

• Rods made of various types of plastic to match any type of bumper cover material, such as polypropylene, polyethylene, ABS and polyvinyl chloride. Kline suggests stocking up on rods made of thermoplastic polyolefins (TPO), a special kind of polyurethane that “seems to work with most repairs.”

Find the Right Technician

Kline easily transitioned into his current role by embracing training, but also by possessing three traits that aid plastic welding:

Patience. You cannot rush the process, Kline says. The plastic welder works better if you take your time and avoid costly mistakes.

“You can turn up the heat to look like it’s moving faster,” he says. “One of our former techs turned up the heat, caught a sharp edge on the front of the bumper and melted it. And as soon as it melts, it crumbles and deteriorates.”

Steady hands. While that might seem obvious, Kline says steady hands aren’t exactly common and are a significant factor in performing precise repairs that won’t melt the plastic.

Open to training. Training was one of Kline’s biggest hesitations when it came to plastic welding, as his technicians were very skeptical of change and adding a plastic welding station.

However, Kline embraced the training and not only hosted Urethane onsite, but also followed up with his representative for tips for making repairs easier and more efficient. A perk with many plastic welders, including Urethane, is the value-added services that come with a purchase, which includes on-site training and feedback.

As the importance of plastic welding becomes more apparent, more training options are becoming available. I-CAR recently introduced its first “Introduction to Nitrogen Plastic Welding” course to its Industry Training Alliance program.

Find the Space

Not only did a Urethane representative teach Kline the basics of plastic welding and how to use the system, but the representative also evaluated the shop layout and helped determine an optimal spot for the welder. This is necessary whether you’re just finding space within an occupied shop or designing an express lane for bumper jobs.

Fortunately, a bumper cover repair station encompasses a very small footprint, says Kline. In his shop, the area only needs to hold a long table and a bumper stand with a few feet of room surrounding the station for mobility.

Advertise Your Services

Once the plastic welding station was set up, Kline’s Collision began to offer more affordable bumper repairs to retail and wholesale clients.

“It really gets customers coming in,” Kline says. “There’s a big hole in their bumper? Well, we can actually fix that for you for a lot less than insurance quoted you. We gain customers that way. A lot of other shops who don’t have the technology miss out on all that work.”

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