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Avoid a bill by knowing when you can fix a dent yourself

A dented bumper on an SUV.
A dented bumper on an SUV. - 123RF Stock Photo

I’ve looked out the front window of my house at the dent in the passenger side door of my truck long enough.

Even though the dent in my right rear door is minor, it draws my eyes to it every time I look at the vehicle. Mine happened when someone opened a door into the side of my truck while parked at work.

In your situation, it may have happened while shopping and someone let a shopping cart bump into your vehicle, or perhaps the person who parked beside you while shopping opened their door and put a ding into the side of your vehicle.

It could even be that with a momentary lapse in attention, you backed into the side of the garage door frame one day, or perhaps a hail storm came through your area and left several small dimples on the top of your vehicle. All of these are potential candidates for paintless dent repair.

Works like a dream, but with limitations

Some people think paintless dent repair is a second rate method of fixing a dent in a vehicle. To them, replacing the panel or hammering it out and repainting is best. Wrong. Paintless dent repair is a first-class method of fixing vehicle dents and it takes a lot of skill to do it well.

There are limitations to what can be fixed by paintless dent repair and the big one is the paint finish on the vehicle. If the paint hasn’t cracked or chipped and there are no scratches that go through the paint to the underlying layers, then it is possible to attempt paintless dent repair.

Sharp creases are the most difficult to remove and paint is often damaged on the edge of a sharp crease so usually these types of damage require conventional repairs and repaint, but as long as the painted surface is in good condition, I have seen some amazing results on even badly damaged panels using paintless dent repair.

There are several tools and techniques used in paintless dent repair. First, the panel is cleaned and the damage assessed. Access to the back side of the panel is necessary so interior trim or fender liners will have to come off in the area of the repair.

De-dinging your ride

Larger dents are pulled out first. Some use a suction cup but most repair technicians will use a special glue to attach pull tabs to the panel. Then a slide hammer is used on the pull tabs to gently pop the large part of the dent out. The use of glue tabs may not be possible if the panel has already been painted however because the tab may pull the new paint off the factory original paint.

Then the real work begins with oddly-shaped pry bars, picks, spoons (a flat or slight curved panel on the end of a bar) and hammers covered in tape. The technician will often use a high-intensity light placed along the panel to help clearly show the shape of the dent. This also enables the technician to see where the tool that is pushing behind the panel is exactly located.

The dent is slowly raised from the back side using many light pushes and the top or painted side of the panel may be tapped with a non-marring hammer face to bring the panel back to its original shape. Apply too much pressure and you damage the paint or stretch the metal even more. One of the techniques used to help preserve the finish is to heat the panel with a heat gun. This makes the paint more flexible so there is less possibility of it cracking as the metal is moved.

Paintless dent repair is faster, more economical and retains the integrity of the original body panel better than other repair methods, but if the paint is damaged, then paintless dent repair alone won’t fix the panel.

However, it can still be used to remove the dent so that less body filler will be necessary when the panel is repainted.

Small dents and creases not only look bad, they lower the value of your vehicle. Paintless dent repair can pay for itself in higher retained vehicle values.

It costs nothing to get an estimate, and there are several shops that specialize in paintless dent repair to make your ride look smooth and sleek again.

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