Tool and equipment investments and OEM procedures keep work in-house
Tacoma, Wash.—Ask Phil and Christina Harmon about recent equipment purchases they’ve made at Precision Auto Body, and one brand comes up time after time: Car-O-Liner.
The shop has two Car-O-Liner welders, including a spot welder and its most recent addition, the CTR 12,000 resistance spot welder.
“It’s a dual-pulse welder that does aluminum, silicon bronze and steel,” Phil Harmon said. “It is fully automatic, and the welds are amazing.”
He has also purchased the Car-O-Liner aluminum tool station, SPR rivet gun, bench system, EVO anchoring system and the Car-O-Tronic Vision2 X3 measuring system.
“The rivet gun does all the specialty rivets, so we’re able to do some of the higher-end European cars,” Harmon said. “What’s so nice about the drive-on bench rack is that it’s a scissor lift. You can get a car five feet in the air, take all the ramps out after you tie it down, and work underneath the car while you’re doing a pull on it. It’s pretty slick.”
“We’re just really believers in Car-O-Liner,” Christina Harmon said. “It is the best equipment out there.”
“There’s a reason it has the most OEM approvals,” Loginne Bottoms, the shop’s estimator and office manager, added.
Phil Harmon started the company in 1989, saving up $2,500 to rent a space after working as both a both technician and painter at other shops. The company moved to its current location in 1995, and now employs seven people, including Christina, who left a teaching career five years ago to work at the shop. She said the company’s dedication to quality and following OEM repair procedures is part of what sets the shop apart.
“I believe strongly that you need to educate yourself,” she said. “We pull all OEM guidelines from every website. We read the procedures before and during the job, and keep them into the file afterward. It’s a liability issue, that’s for sure. But we also believe in returning cars 100 percent to pre-loss condition.”
The couple’s nephew, Diamante Wilson, works as an apprentice body technician under Phil’s guidance.
“We decided to train an apprentice because so many of the body guys out there are so set in their ways,” Bottoms said. “The only way to get that quality-level technician that you truly need is to train them the way you want them to work, so they don’t ever learn any of those bad habits. They only know how to fix cars the right way.”
Phil Harmon said he has equipped the shop to do nearly all work in-house, with very little need to sublet work. The addition of a GFC downdraft paint booth in the last year allows the shop to use its old cross-flow booth for aluminum repair work. He’s done the shop’s alignments using Hunter Engineering equipment since 2000, and is currently installing Hunter’s Hawkeye alignment system.
“Ninety percent of the cars in here, we can do it all ourselves,” he said. “That way, I’m standing behind my own work.”
He also raves about the 3M Festool sanding systems the shop uses.
“We have two of them, one for the body, one for paint. That keeps the shop dust down. It’s been really nice. That’s been one of the best additions.”
He said the shop relies on online reviews, word-of-mouth and a long-standing reputation in the community to bring business to the door, having dropped the few direct repair agreements he’d previously had with some insurance companies.
“Becoming a DRP was the biggest mistake I made,” he said. “It was a mistake to try to work for the insurance company while working for the customer. It wasn’t in the customers’ best interests. I still did quality repairs under a DRP, but I never got paid for it. That hurt the business.”
Now, he said, the company can focus solely on what’s best for the customer, choosing not to install non-OEM parts, for example, unless the customer authorizes it.
“We take a lot of pride in the transparency we have with our customers,” Bottoms said. “If they come in with an insurance company that we know is difficult, we tell them right away: Your insurance company is not going to pay for your claim in full. If you want us to fix your car, we absolutely will, but you have to be 100 percent on the same team as us if you want that quality repair. Most of the customers who find us have researched us and know we are willing to help fight for them.”
“We’re car people who work for car people,” Christina Harmon said. “There’s a lot of people out there who aren’t car people, and just take their car wherever they’re told to go. The fight truly isn’t ours. Shops have taken it on. But it’s not our fight. It’s the customer’s fight. So we empower our customers to fight for themselves. And it works. They will get their claim paid, if they’re willing to fight.”
Phil Harmon said the company’s next big move is an expansion that will tie the company’s two existing buildings together, bringing the facility to about 12,000 square feet.
“We’ve already hired a contractor, but the city is making it very, very difficult,” he said. “If that falls through, we may acquire the building next door and convert that into offices and a parts room. But the expansion will take place one way or another. We need more room.”