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How Technology Ensures Accurate Vehicle Repairs

had become fascinated with lasers ever since I read in the paper about how NASA scientists used a laser beam to measure the distance to the moon in 1969. It was discovered the distance was not as had been commonly believed.

Previous astronomers calculated the distance by looking at the stars and used mathematics to determine the distance. The calculations varied through the centuries and were often thousands of miles in difference. But that is still close considering the great distance to the moon. The laser proved the distance within a few inches…thousands of miles different than was previously thought.

This article is intended to inform the reader that accurate collision repairs are not something that just happens. There is equipment that needs to be purchased and new skills to be learned as science advances.

I thought, a laser is accurate within inches at the great distance to the moon. Imagine how accurate it could be for repairing vehicle collision damage.

As you read this article Coachmaster is approaching our 47th year in business. During this time we have upgraded our lasers and other related equipment many times and will continue to do so. We enjoy technology and I have never lost my fascination for lasers.

It was in the mid 1970’s when I heard of a company that was building a laser for auto body work. I contacted the laser manufacturer and was advised they are working on a vehicle “total body laser.” They had a few test units in shops in the Eastern States but we were the first inquiry from the Western States. They assured me I would be the first to be contacted when a unit was ready for sale.

It was some time later when I got the call and made arrangements to appear for training. We became the first body shop in California and number 12 in the nation to use laser beams for accuracy when repairing collision damaged vehicles.

Coachmaster has the largest laser-based frame machine in the northern Sacramento Valley. Trucks, buses and RVs are often brought to Coachmaster as a result.

Coachmaster has the largest laser-based frame machine in the northern Sacramento Valley. Trucks, buses and RVs are often brought to Coachmaster as a result.

At a California State Auto Body Association meeting held in Monterey, California, leading shop owners complained. The laser was an unproven method and the association should not recommend its use. A dedicated (fixed jig) type measuring method, which was the most foolproof method to repair a damaged modern car at the time, should be the only method recommended.

A fixed jig has one great advantage. It is simple to use because the car fits it if undamaged…or it does not, if damaged. But it has many disadvantages. The first is: it is costly to buy and useless without the fixtures. Each car model has to have its own fixtures. The fixtures have to be delivered to a shop and the daily rental fee for the fixtures often renders a vehicle not cost effective to repair; in other words, a total loss.

At the meeting I voiced my opinion: Science has proven laser beams to be accurate and this has been published in many scientific papers and magazines. Should the California Auto Body Association come out against science and the use of lasers it will just look foolish and will lose professional credibility. Fortunately they listened and did not reject the laser. Today lasers are used throughout the nation in the well-equipped shops.

Our laser has proven invaluable over the years. We have added a second laser and upgraded our system now three times as more features are introduced to make it easier and faster to use. Of course this also saves money for vehicle owners and Insurance companies.

As the word got out to the Insurance Companies and the public that we could correct improper repairs. We got new criticisms from shop owners. One owner complained to an Insurance company, “no matter how perfect we can make a vehicle Coachmaster can always make it better.” I replied to the Insurance Company representative. “If we can make it better…it was not perfect.” Vehicle owners come to us because they are not satisfied with their repair and we can provide documentation.

What looks like a totaled vehicle can often be restored with laser-based frame alignment systems. This auto is setup on a European laser jig.

What looks like a totaled vehicle can often be restored with laser-based frame alignment systems. This auto is setup on a European laser jig.

We also upgraded our frame machine. I got a call from a body shop in another city a few months after I sold them our old frame machine. He asked, is there some way to make the machine more accurate? I asked what the problem was. He said the repairs are not coming out to factory specifications and he especially wanted Coachmaster’s machine because of the reputation we had for doing accurate repairs.

The machine is only a tool I replied, it’s kind of like getting a new golf club…you can’t make a hole in one until you have a lot of practice. The operator achieves the accuracy.

Then why did you get another machine he asked? Because the Mega Liner is bigger and more powerful and will handle a larger variety of vehicles…but it is always the operator that makes it accurate…especially if he is using other tools, such as laser beams.

To complement our laser beam system our latest acquisition is an infra-red, 3-D imaging alignment machine. Using the two in conjunction on every frame repair creates a double check for accuracy and an ideal wheel alignment.

But it does not end there. Between the two devices we can determine if the body is bent even if not visible to the naked eye. A vehicle involved in a moderate collision often has minor body misalignment (called frame damage on an estimate.) The owners may notice doors or the hood or trunk lid close differently. If this is the case the wheels may be out of alignment too. The owner may adjust the doors and make then work to his satisfaction but the body is still bent. Wheel alignments have very limited adjustment. If the body is bent the wheel alignment may not be achieved without frame repair.

A vehicle I remember in particular because the repair was so unusual had a bent frame from a side impact. A front wheel was tilted inward by several inches at the top. The repair shop installed a longer bolt to the steering arm and shimmed the arm out until the wheel was straight. Unfortunately this caused other steering angles to be off and the vehicle steered erratically. We corrected the frame, restored the steering arm to the correct position and used the correct bolt to secure it. The alignment was corrected and the vehicle drove properly.

Don Stec is the owner of Coachmaster Collision Repair, a technically advanced body shop in the North Valley. We work with all Insurance Companies. If you have an improper repair and the repair shop did not correct it after several attempts, contact Coachmaster. We have had great success in reopening claims and getting approval to correct a faulty repair. We can be reached at 530-243-1310 or at 6851 Eastside Road Redding, CA.

More columns by Don Stec


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