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Keeping Truck Bodies Repaired Is Good for the Bottom Line

While the temptation to overlook damaged vehicles can be overwhelming during peak business times or when money is tight, experts say doing so can actually cost you more money in additional repairs later on.

March 2018, - Feature

by Jack Roberts - Also by this author

Keeping fleets looking sharp is always a challenge. But new products and materials are making doing so easier than ever. Photo: Sherwin Williams
Keeping fleets looking sharp is always a challenge. But new products and materials are making doing so easier than ever. Photo: Sherwin Williams

Trucks live hard lives. Dents and dings simply go along with the job. But while the temptation to overlook damaged vehicles can be overwhelming during peak business times or when money is tight, experts say doing so can actually cost you more money in additional repairs later on — as well as hurt your company image and degrade fleet fuel efficiency.

“Not many fleet managers get excited about pulling a truck out of service to address cosmetic issues,” says James Svaasand, vice present of collision center development and operations for Penske Truck Leasing. “But at some point, most of them recognize that there is great benefit to taking care of these issues before they get out of hand.”

Svaasand is responsible for a chain of collision repair centers across the United States and Canada. He works with both OEMs and body material and paint suppliers to continuously refine the products and procedures used to keep truck exteriors in good shape.

Complicating matters is the fact that modern truck exterior design relies on advanced components and materials that were unheard of just a few years ago. Svaasand says it is not uncommon to see OEMs use proprietary composites or metals in their designs.

“Daimler, for example, uses aluminum cabs, while Navistar uses high-strength steel,” he notes. “And you also see a great deal of lightweight fiberglass body panels today. So it can be challenging for our technicians to stay on top of the latest repair procedures, because things are so specialized today.”

Rush Truck Centers also maintains a nationwide network of body repair shops. Daniel Brown, the body shop manager at Rush’s Dallas dealership location, agrees with Svaasand’s appraisal of body materials in use today. “Without a doubt, metal was much easier to work with,” he says. “Today, our technicians have to deal with composite materials, plastics and aluminum. The repair procedures are far more complex, and the overall costs have gone up as well.”

Brown says glues and (often) two-part adhesives used in body repairs today can often cost $70 to $80. “Moreover, there are no shortcuts anymore,” he adds. “Technicians have to follow the repair procedures faithfully to fix the trucks correctly. And with the cost of these materials today, we just can’t afford to have them making any mistakes. The guys we have in our shops today doing body work are truly specialists. They have to be.”

Resale values and corporate image are two major reasons Penske makes repairing body and paint damage a priority. Photo: Penske
Resale values and corporate image are two major reasons Penske makes repairing body and paint damage a priority. Photo: Penske

Flexible materials for faster turnaround

The companies that develop and manufacture the materials used to repair truck bodies are under unrelenting pressure to stay current as well, says J.J. Wirth, brand manager, fleet segment, USCA Commercial Coatings — a division of PPG.

“One noteworthy trend in the Class 8 truck world is that fewer rivets are being used in the manufacturing process,” Wirth says. “This is a huge benefit to painters, making it much easier to get a good, final finish on paint jobs. At the same time, the structural adhesives used in repair instead of rivets are evolving daily as new production processes, materials and substrates — including plastics and composites — are used to improve weight (leading to better fuel economy), strength and durability. In light of these structural changes, following OEM repair procedures and selecting the correct coatings products are critical steps for achieving ultimate finish expectations.”

In response to the  limited availability of repair procedures from the OEMs, 3M is focusing on developing repair procedures – including corrosion prevention -- to avoid galvanic corrosion by duplicating isolation that would be present in factory riveted attachment flanges.  These processes include the proper use of seam sealers, foam installations and bonding adhesives for panels and joints. This helps deliver high-quality, more durable repairs.

Due to the push for lighter weight body components, the use of Metton LMR seems to be increasing, says Dale Ross, U.S. marketing operations manager for 3M Automotive Aftermarket Division, who says this can be attributed to lighter weight, design and cost advantages to the manufacturer. "Newer SMC panels used for hoods and fenders are getting thinner and lighter compared to years ago,” says Ross. “This can create a challenge, as technicians have questions about proper repair processes but aren’t finding this information readily available.  We are working to provide the new information or training to ensure repairs are being done properly.” 

Penske uses both 3M and PPG products in its body shops, and that relationship includes working with those companies as they develop new products and work to educate technicians on proper repair procedures. “The OEMs do a really good job getting support out for their powertrains and mechanical components,” Svaasand says. “But that support is sometimes lacking when it comes to new body components and their repair procedures.”

He says 3M’s new line of commercial vehicle repair materials has given his shops real advantages in terms of turnaround times and the overall fit and finish of the repair jobs. “Depending on the severity of the damage, we can often run minor bump and bruise repairs around in a day,” he says. “Larger jobs — like rollovers — obviously take more time because we have to assemble parts. But we want to be able to handle just about any type of body repair, and those materials give us that capability.”

Another example of advanced materials in use is Wabash Composite’s Duraplate composite sidewall panels, which Svaasand says can be used on both dry vans and tractor bodies. The plates are constructed of a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) core bonded between two high-strength steel skins for damage resistance. Penske technicians have found these plates to be quick and efficient to use in repairs — to the point he feels it is more cost-effective to replace a whole Duraplate panel, rather than cutting sections out to fill in damaged areas.

As truck OEMs use more advanced materials for body surfaces, education and training has become vital for body and paint technicians. Photo: 3M
As truck OEMs use more advanced materials for body surfaces, education and training has become vital for body and paint technicians. Photo: 3M

Ross says minimizing the amount of time a truck spends in the body shop is a priority for PPG as well. It has developed a line of commercial grade products that allows technicians to take care of minor touch-up work without committing a vehicle to a paint booth. Any touch-up paint work that can be done at a fleet maintenance facility instead of in a paint booth is welcomed because it saves time, labor and money, as do rollable and aerosol products that are often used for touch up or wheel refurbishment as well.

Paint and body material suppliers are going the extra mile to help fleets deal with minor body and paint issues in a timely and affordable manner, says William Lemons, technical service manager, commercial vehicles, AkzoNobel. “We’ve been making some inroads with a new product for quick spot repairs, that uses ultraviolet light to cure paints,” he notes. “The product is available now for the passenger car market, and we’re looking closely at adapting it for commercial vehicles.”

Lemons says a handheld UV light allows technicians to identify and touch up hard-to-spot minor paint damage at a shop before corrosion sets in. “It’s always important to take care of minor paint and body issues before they turn into major ones,” he adds. “The more you do to prevent moisture and corrosion from making contact with metal, the longer you can keep a vehicle while protecting its resale value.”

Penske’s Svaasand also praises PPG’s Delfleet paint refinishing system and products, which takes much of the guesswork out of a notoriously difficult task — accurately matching paint colors on repair jobs. “Paint colors are often the stumbling block in achieving that goal. But PPG’s system enables our technicians to match the paint using a computer program, and then take into account factors like UV radiation and natural fading and discoloration that happens naturally over time.”

An ideal repair job is one where the truck doesn’t look like it has been in the body shop at all. The technicians who make a once-damaged truck look as good as new are as much artists as they are craftsman. The materials they work with today are complex and demanding. But the results they deliver are truly impressive.


  1. 1. Michael Galorath [ March 20, 2018 @ 04:10AM ]

    Excellent but no mater who or what kind of glues, fillers and paint that used you still have to take the vehicles out of service for repairs period. Very few places have in house body shops to control the process. now depending on the size of your fleet swap hoods and replace any markings. Then sent the damaged hood out fo repair. I've even asked a body shop if they were willing to make repairs over the weekend.

  2. 2. Adam [ March 20, 2018 @ 05:05AM ]

    The article does a fine job explaining how repairs are changing and done, but ignores the title. Why a fleet should perform these repairs. Information relating to improved fuel efficiency due to reduced drag, resale or affect on DOT inspections would have been useful.

  3. 3. Russ [ March 24, 2018 @ 09:03AM ]

    People don't really care about image anymore for the most part. That is evident by the fact that they buy throw away vehicles like Volvo, cascadia, Prostar ECT. The freight companies pioneered throw away vehicles when they bought the cheapest ugliest trucks they could find. Freight truck drivers rarely drove the same truck 2 days in a row so they didn't care about taking care of it which led to a bunch of busted equipment which in turn led to the company buying the cheapest piece of garbage they could. Then the big companies followed suit because they couldn't get and keep good drivers which meant vehicles were constantly getting destroyed, so the company had to find a way to offset the cost so they started buying the cheapest ugliest trucks they could find which at the time was most likely going to be a freightliner and so the industry standard was started. Today most trucking companies are ran by people who have never driven a truck and have no real trucking history to draw from so they think that the best and most beautiful sought after trucks in the industry are the piece of junk throw away trucks that all of the trucking companies operate. They just see a shiny truck with painted rims and think its just wonderful. There never was much incentive to fix cosmetic issues on throw away trucks because the drivers either didn't have pride in the truck in the first place, or were such bad drivers that they were just going to run into something else next week and damage it again (Swift). There are however some companies that do still care about image, I could name several companies but one company that most drivers would know of is Western Distributing Transportation out of Denver Colorado. They don't pay a whole lot but they do have nice equipment that veteran drivers can take pride in driving. I've never driven for them but I have always loved seeing their trucks on the road, it gives me pride to know that there is still a few companies with some class out there.


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