SHOP STATS: Truckstar Collision Center Location: Deerfield, Wis. Operator: Stephanie Schwartz Average Monthly Car Count: 55-60 Staff Size: 14 Shop Size: 18,000 sq ft; Annual Revenue;$2.3 million
Work on a Weinermobile? Check. Work on firetrucks? Check. Work on the big ones, the RVs, the buses and the trucks? Check. For 15 years, Stephanie Schwartz has worked at Truckstar Collision Center, a heavy-duty repair business owned and founded by her parents.
In 2016, Greg Schwartz, part owner of the facility, retired and Stephanie Schwartz became 80 percent owner. She spent her time learning the ownership side of the business by finding processes in place in the automotive industry and adapting them for the heavy-duty collision work.
Over the course of the two years, she has witnessed her paint team learning how to navigate tools and paint swatches—which vary greatly from the automotive industry.
Stepping out of normal repair processes is not unusual for the Truckstar team, who recently renovated the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile from immobile to a moving statue for the Deerfield, Wis., Historical Society.
Schwartz plans to expand the business through purchasing a property next door and doubling the square footage from 18,000 square feet to 36,000 square feet.
“My grandpa was saying [20 years ago] to my dad that he better have a plan to rent out some of the shop space and now today we need more space,” Schwartz says.
And along with expansion, comes fine-tuning processes that are made difficult by an industry that is about 10 years behind in tools and equipment compared to the light-duty automotive sector.
Schwartz shares her tips for navigating the heavy-duty collision industry paint issues and how to do the best paint job with tricky tools.
1.Pay Attention to Small Details
In the heavy-duty sector, there are more processes involved in the paint work. Painters have to spend more time on preparation of surfaces. In Schwartz’s shop, painters spend time blasting the truck’s surface. In 2017, Truckstar Collision upgraded their facility with a 35-by-70 foot blast booth. The team blasts with recycled steel, cleaning the vehicle completely before the seal and coating are applied.
In addition to extra time in the paint process, the types and colors of paint used in heavy-duty repair are more extensive than the auto industry. Schwartz says she’s seen vehicle hoods made of fiberglass, plastic, steel, aluminum and sheet-moulding compound. The different materials mean an extra step for the paint team, which then have to make sure the right shine is produced on a high-grade material and make sure the paint sticks to the different materials. Whereas the auto industry has “cookie cutter” materials of steel, aluminum and plastic.
“One truck last year had a paint job done with crushed glass in the paint,” Schwartz says. “That paint alone was $1,400 per quart.”
The paint team needs to be trained in miniscule details like how the crushed glass paint lays down or stands up in the paint and how to gauge temperature of the paint, along with the paint’s humidity.
2. Train by Doing, Not Watching
“We could use more in-house training,” she says. “It’s hard to take technicians out of the shop.”
For the heavy-duty collision industry, Schwartz faces an even larger technician shortage than the auto industry.
Schwartz sent her second-line painter and estimator to color match and refinish training. The hands-on training reiterates the importance of going through all the steps in the paint process.
"It reminds them to do that extra wipe down prior to paint,” she says.
The training also encompasses the different types of paint, from high-end to industrial-grade paint—a paint used for older trucks that need a new coat frame so it doesn’t corrode.
3. Change with the Trends
For Schwartz, her first reference for information is the Axalta Business Council, which she’s been a part of since 2014. 3M has also spent time in her Wisconsin market, keeping the shop up-to-date on industry trends.
To keep track of news, 3M has offered the use of a supply tracking spreadsheet program, which is updated with latest products. The spreadsheet allows the shop to make sure they are getting reimbursed correctly for the cost of the repair which includes the cost of the paint products.
One paint gap Schwartz has heard about is the RV market. Unlike cars, where the paint code can be found in the passenger-side glove box, RVs and motorhomes often do not provide paint codes for technicians. This proves difficult for technicians to color match on the vehicle. There can be up to five different colors on one RV, Schwartz says. Painters typically end up memorizing paint codes.
But when they don’t memorize codes, a tool like the Chromavision spectrometer can point the painter in the right direction of tint to use on the vehicle. The tool will break down the original color and make its own recipe and give a color that can be tinted to make a better match.
Yet, the tool only gives the team about a 50 percent chance of matching the original color.
They’ll also spray another material like a piece of cardboard with the tint before spraying the car.
4. Spray Consistently and Correctly
“We like the paint to be around 70 degrees,” says Chuck Ja Doul, Truckstar Collision production manager. “But if the paint is sitting on the shelf in a room that’s 60 degrees then we need to go and warm the paint.”
The team aims to keep the spray paint viscosity the same year round. They spend more time heating paints in the summer months, when the temperature during the day can be hot and humid but cooler at night.
Another source of team pride comes from being able to paint trucks without as many opportunities to make mistakes. Painters use the cross-coat technique when working with heavier paints, like metallics. The method involves spraying in a side-to-side motion and then an up-to-down motion. This procedure comes in handy when using coating for commercial transportation applications, Ja Doul says. The method helps the team control the spray and prevent dripping, a mistake that could occur in the automotive industry and be easily fixed but cannot on large vehicles.
Paint in heavy-duty collision is measured in 5 to 7 milliliters, compared to car paint measured in 3 milliliters.
“It’s like comparing molasses to water,” Ja Doul says about the highly used waterborne paints in the car industry compared to the solvent-based paints in the heavy-duty collision side.
To produce better colors, the painters need to practice staring at colors throughout the day and eventually they’ll be able to not only see the white color but the red, blue and green tints in the white. It’s all about experience and the years a tech has developed in experience by constantly looking at paint every day.
5. Frequently Upgrade Technology
Cesar Salinas, Truckstar Collision’s lead painter, uses the SATAjet spray guns despite the more expensive cost. The spray guns can cost roughly $900, Salinas says.
The team would also like to upgrade its crossdraft booth to a downdraft booth in order to reduce overspray. A downdraft booth allows air flow to go straight down and prevents dirt from accumulating on the car and odd texture issues. Another worrisome problem that can arise is a change in color from the overspray.
Technology may be behind the light-duty vehicle industry but Schwartz easily spends every three months updating information on color pricing due to the consistent price increases in the industry. One day a standard paint job could cost the standard $50 per hour or customers could see additional costs at the end of the process because the metallic paint was more.