The application of spray-on bedliners could be a great profit generator for those times when business isn't where you want it to be.
Diversification. It's a word we often hear, but don't often give much thought to. Another way of looking at this word is not putting all of your eggs into one basket. Yet, collision repair facility owners and managers often do just that. Placing all of the emphasis on the core product: repairing collision damaged vehicles.
The fact is, not all collision repair facilities are consistently busy throughout the entire year. Diversification can smooth out the peaks and valleys between the busy times of the year and the times when there isn't as much work as you would hope.
Due to the equipment required to apply these coatings, a natural choice for collision repair facilities is the application of spray-on bedliners. Since most bedliner products require spraying or applying a product that contains solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it is also important to check your local and state regulations on equipment and material recording requirements.
Before you make the leap into the bedliner application business, research the various products currently on the market. When spray-on bedliners first made their way into the marketplace, the investment for equipment and materials was quite large. These were commonly sold as franchises. Within the last few years, products have been developed to apply similar coatings to the franchise-applied coatings.
What is a bedliner coating?
Spray-on bedliner products are an alternative to a plastic drop-in bedliner. The spray-on material is a thick liquid material that is applied directly to the painted metal or composite material of the truck bed. It is designed to protect the bed from scratches, corrosion, dents and other damage that may occur from daily use. It also provides skid resistance for items placed in the bed. Bedliner materials currently in the marketplace come in various types. Most products are two-component materials consisting of a polymer and a catalyst that will chemically cross link to form a solid product. Some of the two-part products are polyurethane-based, while others are urethane-based. There are also single-component products that cure by the evaporation of solvents, similar to the way automotive basecoat cures. Other types of products include epoxy-based and paint-based materials.
The current trend in spray-on bedliners is applying a colorized coating to either match the vehicle body color, or to add some custom graphics to the coating. One method to apply a colored bedliner coating is to add a percentage of automotive basecoat to the material before it is sprayed. Most products that have the capability to be tinted include specific instructions pertaining to the mixing percentages and types of materials that can be used for tinting.
Application equipmentFranchise Application — Bedliner franchises typically require special mixing and application pumps along with specific products and equipment (Figure 1). In some cases, franchise application pumps have a very large capacity of material, sometimes in 55 gallon barrels. The franchise agreement generally includes marketing and advertising materials and promotions for the specific brand of bedliner. Most franchises also provide set-up and staff training on the preparation and application of the specific product.
Roll-On Bedliners — Another option for application is to apply the material with a foam roller. These systems typically are designed for consumer application. Although some products that are applied with a roller are two-part products, most tend to be a single-part product that cures by the evaporation of solvents in the coating.
PreparationNow that we have discussed the product types and application equipment, it is time to prepare for applying a bedliner coating. The most common cause for failure of a bedliner coating is improper preparation. If the vehicle to which the bedliner will be applied is brand new, the preparation may be easier, as there are no scratches or corrosion that will require repair. Truck beds that have been in use for a while will require a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt and debris prior to preparation. A pressure washer (Figure 4) works effectively for this.
MaskingNow that the surface is prepared, the vehicle must be protected from overspray. Most bedliner coatings are very hard when cured and have very strong adhesive qualities. This is what makes them so effective in preventing damage to the bed of the truck. These properties also make overspray very difficult to remove from painted surfaces. Some product makers recommend using wire tape (Figure 5) to the edges of a bedliner. After the product has cured, the wire tape cuts the coating, making a smooth break line. Other product makers recommend removing the masking materials immediately after spraying the coating before the product has been allowed to fully cure. Regardless of the masking procedure, any overspray should be removed from the vehicle immediately. This is generally done with a mild solvent (Figure 6). Care should be taken when removing overspray from a recently painted vehicle.
ApplicationThe application process also varies by each type of product, as discussed earlier. However, the application technique also can be varied to achieve the desired texture and thickness. A spray-out panel can be an effective way to achieve the desired texture (Figure 7).
Some product makers recommend cleaning the spray equipment before mixing more product. This is due to the short pot life, in some cases, as little as 10 minutes. It is also recommended that the walls and floor in the spray area be covered with plastic or paper to help protect them from overspray.
Repairing a bedliner coatingWith the popularity of spray-on bedliners comes the issue of how to repair them when they're damaged. A few instances where this may be necessary is when the box bolts have been removed, when the coating has blistered or been damaged, or when the box side panel requires replacement (Figure 8).
During any of these processes, the coating must be reapplied to match the texture on the remaining portion of the truck bed. In some cases, the entire bed must be re-coated. Also, the bedliner material can be tinted to match the truck's exterior color, so color matching becomes an issue.
When repairing a spray-on bedliner, check to see if the original installer's warranty will be voided if repairs are made. Some spray-on bedliner companies require that the original installer or an authorized dealer or franchise repair the bedliner.
Personal protectionAs with any application of an automotive coating, these products contain chemicals that may be harmful. It is important that the persons preparing the surface, as well as those applying the coatings, follow the proper personal protection recommendations (Figure 9). Some of the bedliner coatings use hardeners that contain isocyanides and solvents. When applying these products, a supplied-air respirator should be worn, as well as a full paint suit and nitrile gloves. The material safety data sheets for each product will have the correct personal protective measures to follow.
Other usesBedliner coatings are designed for protection of a pick-up bed, but there are several other uses that come to mind. These coatings are effective in preventing stone chips in the wheel housing of vehicles. They also reduce the amount of noise in the passenger compartment of a vehicle. When properly prepared and applied, the coatings are very durable and provide excellent corrosion resistance to chassis and frame parts.
Since collision repair facilities already have much of the equipment, the bedliner coating application is a natural business opportunity for those seeking diversification. Also, many of the preparation/application processes are similar to refinishing processes. Some research into the products available may help smooth out the peaks and valleys that seem to be common in the industry today.