You might have heard about PDR or Paintless Dent Repair from a friend or on a car forum. Here we want to give you an introduction on what it’s about and how a car enthusiast can benefit from it.
Dents are awful. They tend to come out of nowhere, too—other cars and lazy pedestrians are the usual suspects, but you can also find yourself at the mercy of the weather. The most common of these are door dings from careless non-car-enthusiasts opening their doors and slamming into yours. For this reason, most car guys park way the heck away from other cars at the very end of a parking lot, right up against a curb (without scratching their wheels of course.)
There are tons of DIY home tips for getting rid of dents, but most of them leave your car looking almost as bad as it did with the damage. If you are spending your time searching the Internet for “how is hail damage repaired on a car” or figuring out whether or not you can use a plunger to pull out your dent, you might want to consider a more professional solution. Paintless dent repair can usually restore the dented area to near perfection, all without requiring you to leave your car at a body shop for days. The process can actually be done at home, but professional techs tend to provide you with superior results.
The main purpose of this article is what follows… This is what really matters to you – the bottom line, if you will:
Don’t ignore small dings. They look hideous, even if it’s just a small one. Take care of the small dings right away and they will repel the big ones. That way, when you polish and wax your paint for a meet, a car show or a weekend cruise, your car will look like you actually are a car fan.
How Does Paintless Dent Repair Work?
Paintless dent repair is one of those processes that make so much sense to a layperson that you might wonder why it has not been around longer. It is simple enough that almost any technician can perform the basic techniques, though it does take a professional to get the most out of the effort. It’s almost an art form. The difference between an inexperienced hand and that of a pro really shows. It is probably the most effective way to fix hail damage car problems, and it is one of the best methods of keeping door dings from ruining your car’s overall appearance and value.
This process, in form of mobile dent repair is usually cited as taking about an hour or two and it relies not on removing and replacing car panels but making use of a series of paintless dent repair tools on the opposite side of the panel to bring the dent back out and in line with the rest of the vehicle.
Yes, traditional dent repair guys make use of a series of rubber mallets, hammers and other basic tools to gently tap out dents from the rear of the damaged panel, slowly bringing it back to its original state. For big dents they’ll often drill and stick a puller into the panel to pull the damaged section out. But these traditional processes will require, filler, sanding, primer and paint to complete. This would be the way to go for bigger damage or if the paint has been compromised.
There are tons of DIY home tips for getting rid of dents, but most of them leave your car looking almost as bad as it did with the damage.
The basic process of popping out the dent can be relatively simple, but PDR is a little different. The repairman basically massages out the dent using PDR tools and very slowly shapes it back into place. The PDR tech will use tools that look like bent rods that when combined with an S-hook can be used to press the dents out from the back of the panel with a little leverage. The PDR rod needs to butt up against another object to allow for leverage. To fix door dings the PDR tool is usually fed into the door via holes car manufacturers leave at each end of the doors. Many modern cars have these holes and are usually covered with some sort of plastic plug. Sometimes, access can be had via the slot for the window but care must be taken to put a protector to avoid scratching or otherwise completely smashing the window.
The other very important tool for the Paintless Dent Removal trade is… lights. Yes, lighting. Since the repairperson is basically shaping the dent back into its original state, it’s like sculpting. And to get that dent out and the panel back in the perfect shape it used to be, lights with special highlights, lines and shadows are placed over the panel to be worked on. The lights draw lines on the panel and the tech can see those lines either bulging in or bulging out as he works. Once the lines he’s working on follow the perfect curve of the rest of lines reflected over the panel, he knows he’s done. One fixed, these old dents are basically invisible. Dent and ding no more!
Doing it On Your Own
You do not have to go to paintless dent repair school to fix a dent, and those with a bit of DIY knowledge and a good deal of bravery can actually accomplish the process on their own. BUT DON’T TRY IT ON YOUR CAR OR ON YOUR FRIENDS’ CARS. Let’s say that again on a separate line:
DON’T TRY IT ON YOUR CAR OR ON YOUR FRIENDS’ CARS.
You will likely screw it up even worse, the first couple of times. If you are keen on learning how to do PDR, get a hold of a crappy car, or grab a spare door and a hood at a junkyard and practice on that. Once you get good enough, and it’ll take a while… Take your car to a pro and practice some more while he works on your car!
The process is a bit more difficult than some of the DIY fads like dry ice dent removal, but unlike those processes that may or may not work, PDR is a legitimate trade that if done right will yield a clean-looking panel. If you are feeling particularly brave, get a hold of those practice parts, gather up the right tools and get prepared to go to work. However, since this article is not meant to teach you how to screw up your car trying PDR for yourself, you’ll need to dig up more resources to learn how to do it.
…this article is not meant to teach you how to screw up your car trying PDR for yourself…
But in essence, your biggest concern is getting access to the back of the damaged panel – and to find a way to have leverage to work the dents out. Certain areas of the car, like the wheel wells and rear panels, are actually fairly easy for even a novice to reach, but finding leverage points can be tricky. Some sealed panels… like possibly quarter panels might require you to remove interior trim in the trunk or maybe the taillights to allow access to the inside of them. On doors, removing the inner door cards and the plastic liner cover can oftentimes be enough to access the inside of the outer door panel. But like it was said earlier, there are usually access points at each end of the door for the rods… and of course there is also the window slot at the top. Again, careful with that glass.
The tools used for these procedures are simple, but there are literally hundreds of different shapes, lengths and diameters to choose from. A good shop will likely have many of these are their disposal – in all shapes and sizes.
Why Use a Shop?
Some repair jobs are just a bit too big for DIY. Hail is a fairly common culprit in such situations. Fixing up one ding might be attainable by a talented DIY guy, but a car that looks like a golf ball thanks to the latest winter storm is pretty much best left to professionals. After all, they not only have the training to fix it, but their experience will pay dividends. Not to mention, they probably have more and better tools than you. AND they know how to use them properly.
While you can accomplish a paintless dent repair project on your own, the process is not simple. In fact, you really can end up doing some damage to your vehicle—damage that far exceeds paintless dent repair cost at your local shop. If you are not absolutely confident of your own ability to conduct dent removal in a manner that will leave your car looking better than it did before, you might want to take a bit of time to see if you have a shop in your area that can take care of your damage at a reasonable price. Asking around, simple door dings are about $75-$125 to fix. If you are the type that parks as far away from people as humanly possible, the chances of getting the odd ding is quite low. So paying $100 to fix one and not have to worry about another for a long time is definitely worth it. Much cheaper than paying a speeding ticket too. 🙂
It might be a good rule of thumb to judge whether to use a shop or not by the condition of the rest of your car. If your car is already a dent and ding magnet, you might as well give it a shot on your own. If your car still looks new or was recently purchased though, there is no reason to avoid going to a good dent removal shop to have them fix it. You have to remember that a good shop’s worst efforts will still probably be about as a good as your best.
Damage repair really is a job for those who have the right tools, training and more importantly, experience. Make sure to at least consider and research professional PDR before jumping into the DIY world.
After reading this, you now know that if your paint is there and not scratched and all you have is a simple dent, you don’t have to live with it. Some people think that to fix these minor dents a shop needs to fill them with Bondo, sand and paint. Well, umm, no. That’s what PDR is for. You might have heard of it but had no idea what it was about. Well, here it is. Now you know.
You’re probably going outside right about now to look at the dings on your car and then figuring out what shop to call.
Once you have decided on giving up on the “Do it Yourself” PDR dent repair game, your next step should be to find a shop that actually specializes in paintless dent repair. While you would think that any local shop that has body repair tools would engage in this type of work, you are far more likely to see it conducted by specialists. Body shops tend to look at dent and ding repair as their bread and butter after all, and finding a quicker and cheaper alternative is not usually one of their priorities. Instead of hitting your local shop, you might want to look for mobile dent repair services or paintless dent repair specialists online or in the phone book. Some of these individuals can do the work in your driveway, while others might require you to bring your car to a shop and possibly leave it overnight. No matter what you choose, though, you should expect a relatively astounding fix. Most of these repair techs cite a “90% to 100%” repair rate, which is more or less a miracle for anyone who has had their perfect finish ruined by some inconsiderate dumbass that opened his door too quickly and carelessly.
If there is a local car meet around your area, consider attending it. Ask the car enthusiasts there who they would recommend for PDR work. Word of mouth goes a long way. Plus, if a car enthusiast at a car show or meet can tell you, “Hey, I used this or that shop for PDR and look at my car” and the car looks great… Well that’s a great place to start, don’t you think?
Whether you are looking for hail damage repair or you simply need to get an old ding out of your car, this form of repair is likely your best bet. You might be able to do it at home, but the low price and quick service of a shop will be a better choice. Remember, for PDR to work, the area can have a dent, but the paint must not be compromised. If there is a crack, gouge or scratch in the paint, no PDR is going to fix that. You will need paint. As long as you make sure your paint is good in the area of the dent, you might want to see what a paintless dent repair service can do for you.