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Thousands of motor vehicles are damaged in traffic accidents every day. Although some are sold for salvage or scrapped, most can be repaired to look and drive like new. Automotive body repairers straighten bent bodies, remove dents, and replace crumpled parts that are beyond repair. Usually, they can repair all types of vehicles, but most body repairers work on cars and small trucks. A few work on large trucks, buses, or tractor-trailers.
When a damaged vehicle is brought into the shop, body repairers generally receive instructions from their supervisors, who have determined which parts are to be restored or replaced and how much time the job should take.
Automotive body repairers use special machines to restore damaged metal frames and body sections to their original shape and location. They chain or clamp the frames and sections to alignment machines that usually use hydraulic pressure to align the damaged metal. "Unibody" designs, which are built without frames, must be returned to precise alignment, so repairers use bench systems to guide them and measure how much each section is out of alignment.
Body repairers remove badly damaged sections of body panels with a pneumatic metal-cutting gun or acetylene torch and weld in new sections to replace them. Repairers pull out less serious dents with a hydraulic jack or hand prying bar, or knock them out with handtools or pneumatic hammers. They smooth out small dents and creases in the metal by holding a small anvil against one side of the damaged area while hammering the opposite side. They remove very small pits and dimples with pick hammers and punches.
Body repairers also repair or replace the plastic body parts used increasingly on newer model vehicles. They remove the damaged panels and determine the type of plastic from which they are made. With most types, they can apply heat from a hot-air welding gun or by immersion in hot water, and press the softened panel back into its original shape by hand. They replace plastic parts which are badly damaged or more difficult to repair.
Body repairers use plastic or solder to fill small dents which cannot be worked out of the plastic or metal panel. On metal panels, they then file or grind the hardened filler to the original shape and sand it before painting. In many shops, automotive painters do the painting. (These workers are discussed in the Handbook statement on painting and coating machine operators.) In smaller shops, workers often do both body repairing and painting. A few body repairers specialize in repairing fiberglass car bodies.
In large shops, body repairers may specialize in one type of repair, such as frame straightening or door and fender repairing. Some body repairers also specialize in installing glass in automobiles and other vehicles. Glass installers remove broken, cracked, or pitted windshields and window glass. Curved windows sometimes must be cut from a sheet of safety glass. Glass installers apply a moisture-proofing compound along the edges of the glass, place it in the vehicle, and install rubber strips around the sides of the windshield or window to make it secure and weatherproof.
Body repair work has variety and challengeeach damaged vehicle presents a different problem. Repairers must develop appropriate methods for each job, using their broad knowledge of automotive construction and repair techniques.
Body repairers usually work alone with only general directions from supervisors. In some shops, they may be assisted by helpers or apprentices.
The majority of automotive body repairers work a standard 40 hour week, but those who are self employed may work 60 or more hours a week. They work indoors in body shops which are noisy because of the banging of hammers against metal and the whir of power tools. Most shops are well ventilated to partially 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.
Automotive body repairers held about 209,000 jobs in 1994. Most worked for shops that specialized in body repairs and painting, and for automobile and truck dealers. Others worked for organizations that maintain their own motor vehicles, such as trucking companies and automobile rental companies. A few worked for motor vehicle manufacturers. About 1 automotive body repairer out of 5 was self-employed.
Most employers prefer to hire persons who have completed formal training programs in automotive body repair, but these programs are able to supply only a portion of employers' needs. Formal training is highly desirable because advances in technology in recent years have greatly changed the structure, the components, and even the materials used in automobiles. As a result, many new repair techniques have been created and many new skills are required. For example, the bodies of newer automobiles are increasingly made of a combination of materialsthe traditional steel, plus aluminum and a growing variety of metal alloys and plasticseach requiring the use of somewhat different techniques to reshape and smooth out dents and small pits. Automotive body repair training programs are offered by high schools, vocational schools, private trade schools, and community colleges. Formal training in automotive body repair can enhance chances for employment and speed promotion to a journeyman position.
Employers also hire many persons without formal automotive body repair training. They learn the trade as helpers, picking up skills on the job from experienced body repairers. For helper jobs most employers prefer to hire high school graduates who know how to use handtools. Good reading and basic mathematics and computer skills are essential to becoming a fully skilled automotive body repairer. Restoring unibody automobiles to their original form requires such precision that body repairers often must follow instructions and diagrams in technical manuals and make very precise measurements of the position of one body section relative to another.
Helpers begin by assisting body repairers in tasks such as removing damaged parts and installing repaired parts. They learn to remove small dents and to make other minor repairs. They then progress to more difficult tasks such as straightening body parts and returning them to their correct alignment. Generally, to become skilled in all aspects of body repair requires 3 to 4 years of on-the-job training.
Certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which is voluntary, is recognized as a standard of achievement for automotive body repairers. To be certified, a body repairer must pass a written examination and must have at least 2 years of experience in the trade. Completion of a high school, vocational school, trade school, or community college program in automotive body repair may be substituted for 1 year of work experience. Automotive body repairers must retake the examination at least every 5 years to retain certification.
Automotive body repairers must buy their own handtools, but employers usually furnish power tools. Trainees generally accumulate tools as they gain experience, and many workers have thousands of dollars invested in tools.
Continuing education throughout a career in automotive body repair is becoming increasingly important. Automotive parts, body materials, and electronics continue to change and become more complex and technologically advanced. Gaining new skills, reading technical manuals, and attending seminars and classes is important for keeping up with these technological advances.
An experienced automotive body repairer with supervisory ability may advance to shop supervisor. Some workers open their own body repair shops. Others become automobile damage appraisers for insurance companies.
Employment of automotive body repairers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Opportunities should be best for persons with formal training in automotive body repair and mechanics.
Requirements for body repairers will increase because, as the number of motor vehicles in operation grows with the Nation's population, the number damaged in accidents will increase as well. New automobile designs increasingly have body parts made of steel alloys, aluminum, and plasticsmaterials that are more difficult to work with than the traditional steel body parts. Also, new, lighter weight automotive designs are prone to greater collision damage than older, heavier designs and, consequently, are more time consuming to repair. Nevertheless, the need to replace experienced repairers who transfer to other occupations, retire, or stop working for other reasons will still account for the majority of job openings.
The automotive repair business is not very sensitive to changes in economic conditions, and experienced body repairers are rarely laid off. However, most employers hire fewer new workers during an economic slowdown. Although major body damage must be repaired if a vehicle is to be restored to safe operating condition, repair of minor dents and crumpled fenders can often be deferred.
Body repairers earned median weekly earnings of $456 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $321 and $624 a week. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $249 a week, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned over $790 a week. Helpers and trainees usually earn from 30 to 60 percent of the earnings of skilled workers.
The majority of body repairers employed by automotive dealers and repair shops are paid on an incentive basis. Under this method, body repairers are paid a predetermined amount for various tasks, and earnings depend on the amount of work assigned to the repairer and how fast it is completed. Employers frequently guarantee workers a minimum weekly salary. Helpers and trainees usually receive an hourly rate until they are skilled enough to be paid on an incentive basis. Body repairers who work for trucking companies, buslines, and other organizations that maintain their own vehicles usually receive an hourly wage.
Many automotive body repairers are members of unions, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Most body repairers who are union members work for large automobile dealers, trucking companies, and buslines.
Repairing damaged motor vehicles often involves working on their mechanical components as well as their bodies. Automotive body repairers often work closely with several related occupations including automotive and diesel mechanics, automotive repair service estimators, painters, and body customizers.
More details about work opportunities may be obtained from automotive body repair shops and motor vehicle dealers; locals of the unions previously mentioned; or local offices of the State employment service. The State employment service also is a source of information about training programs.
For general information about automotive body repairer careers, write to:
Automotive Service Association, Inc., 1901 Airport Freeway, Bedford, TX 76021-5732.
Automotive Service Industry Association, 25 Northwest Point, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1035.
For information on how to become a certified automotive body repairer, write to:
ASE, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071-3415.
For a directory of certified automotive body repairer programs, contact:
National Automotive Technician Education Foundation, 13505 Dulles Technology Dr., Herndon, VA 22071.
For a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools that offer training programs in automotive body repair, write to:
Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, 2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201.
For a list of public automotive mechanic training programs, contact:
Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, P.O. Box 3000, 1401 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg, VA 22075.
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