Blueprint to effective body maintenance

When done properly, body maintenance not only protects and maintains a vehicle’s appearance, it helps extend the productive life of the vehicle and maintain a higher trade-in or resale value. Regular body maintenance also helps keep vehicles on the road by reducing costly body repairs and electrical work.

“It just makes good sense to keep equipment looking fresh,” says James D Syler, fleet maintenance manager for the City of Little Rock, AK’s Fleet Services Department. “Good body maintenance helps keep vehicles out of the shop, maintains vehicle appearance and extends useful life expectancy.

“With most fleets looking at ways of maximizing their investments, good maintenance all around is important. If a unit is well maintained, you can bet it will sell quicker.”

The City of Little Rock Fleet Services Department maintains more than 1,200 pieces of equipment and vehicles. It operates a central maintenance facility that includes a light duty truck/sedan shop, heavy duty truck shop, tire shop, welding/machine shop, fire apparatus shop and body shop, along with a heavy duty truck and heavy equipment shop located at the city’s landfill.

“Body maintenance is so important because in business, just as in anything in life, image is everything,” says Vahid Farahani, director of operations for American Bus Repair. “Proper body maintenance maintains a positive image for a fleet and that can be a competitive advantage over the competition.”

Based in Alameda, CA, American Bus Repair does complete truck and bus body repair - from vehicle painting to major component retrofits and everything in between.

“Customers, no matter who they are, care about how a vehicle is portrayed,” Farahani says. “Making a positive first impression is key in generating a long-term relationship with customers. A nice clean vehicle is the best advertising tool for a company and will help maintain customer loyalty.”

He agrees with City of Little Rock Fleet Services’ Syler that effective body maintenance increases the life cycle of vehicles and brings higher returns when it comes time to sell or trade in equipment.


A key to an effective body maintenance program is regular inspection of vehicles with inspections specific to each type of equipment, says Syler. “We have a regular PM program that allows us to get a good look at all of our units. We also have an established incident and accident reporting policy in place. This helps us make sure that we repair the units as soon as we are notified that something has happened.”

American Bus Repair’s Farahani advises integrating the right people with the right know-how into the vehicle body inspection process and implementing regular routine precautionary measures to catch any issues as early as possible so they don’t grow into more costly and time-consuming future repairs. These include such things as daily driver inspections and regular vehicle washing.

Identifying and attacking body maintenance from an early stage minimizes the possibility of sinking larger amounts of money into the fleet at a later point, he says. By way of example, finding and repairing a small rust spot will decrease the need to make more costly panel corrosion repairs and/or replacements later on.

Further, Farahani recommends incorporating technology to help monitor body maintenance programs, investing in the proper tools to minimize waste and to create quality work and having designated bays.

Star Leasing Company has built a job description program for its body maintenance and repair operations for consistent, uniform and safe work, says Michael A. Viles, director of maintenance at the company’s Zionsville, IN, facility. The company is an employee owned, multi-location semi-trailer leasing, rental and maintenance business.

As part of this program, for each type of work, there is a specific Job Safety Analysis sheet. Along with outlining the basic job steps and cautions, it lists any required or recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), Viles says. Also provided are all existing and potential hazards and the recommended corrective measures to take to stay safe while performing the work.


Depending on the scope and volume of body repair, it may make sense for a maintenance operation to do some or all of its own body and paint work. Provided, of course, that it has the tools, equipment, space and expertise to handle this work.

Vehicles that have been repaired to sub-par standards reflect negatively on a fleet’s image, observes Farahani of American Bus Repair. Beyond that, shoddy work could create a safety issue and will probably require re-work or additional repairs and that means further vehicle downtime.

For repairs that are detailed and intricate, both Farahani and Syler suggest having them outsourced to a shop that can adequately diagnose and make the necessary mends and fixes.

“Investing in time and money to get the repairs done properly the first time will always far outweigh the costs associated with a future incident caused by something that was not repaired correctly the first time,” Farahani says.

In 2005, after an analysis of its needs, the City of Little Rock Fleet Services Department decided to build its own body shop. “We were outsourcing and realized that if we had our own shop and technicians, we could get the units in and out two to three weeks faster, plus save in overall cost of repairs,” says Syler. “When we outsourced we found that in most cases we were never a priority to most body shops.”

Another benefit of having its own body shops is that the department is easily able to touch up units and completely re-paint units as needed.

The body shop does have its limitations, however. It outsources some of its larger units, such as street sweepers and some fire apparatus. “It all depends on the extent of the damage to the units,” Syler says.

When the City of Little Rock Fleet Services Department needs to outsource body and paint work, it looks for shops that are certified and experienced, particularly for work on its custom-built fire apparatus with custom paint jobs. “Quality and timeliness is just as important,” he says.

Years in service is usually a good indication of the quality of work by a body and paint shop, adds Farahani of American Bus Repair. “Qualified repair facilities will have invested in the tools and equipment to provide first-rate work.

“In addition, technician certifications, training and qualifications should also be taken into consideration in choosing your provider. Customer and insurance company feedback and testimonials can give an accurate depiction of the work that a facility can provide.”

The range of services provided by body shops is another consideration when deciding which one to use. Along with body maintenance and repair, services can include vehicle painting and lettering, roof and floor replacements, glass replacement, graffiti protection and collision repair.

Paint booth recommendations

When it comes to purchasing a paint booth, the key consideration is size.

Often, a company is reluctant to give up shop space for a paint booth and ends up lamenting: “If I could do it over again I would have made my booth bigger,” says Troy Volbrecht, refinish sales manager with Global Finishing Solutions, the world’s leading manufacturer of paint booths and finishing systems.

“The size of a booth is critical to the successful performance to the finishers and the spray finishing equipment,” he says

A number of factors contribute to the selection of the proper paint booth for an organization’s needs. Volbrecht offers the following guidelines:
• Figure the width, height and depth necessary for the booth.
A. Width - Measure the width of the largest vehicle and add 5 feet to allow for access to the sides of the equipment.
B. Height - Measure the overall height of the largest vehicle and add two feet for clearance. Ample room should be allowed for the finisher to spray the top and bottom of the vehicle.
C. Depth - Working depth should be sufficient for the largest vehicle to be within the enclosure. Add 3 feet clearance at the rear of the booth.

• Understand the different types of booths which are defined by the type of airflow they use to collect overspray. The main types are downdraft, side downdraft, crossflow and semi-downdraft.
“The air flow in a paint booth is accomplished by creating a flow of air that envelopes the vehicle during booth operation,” explains Volbrecht. “This air flow, referred to as laminar air, is responsible for carrying away the paint overspray during the refinish process and air movement during the paint curing.”

• Be aware of the need for bright shadow-free light throughout the booth. Light fixtures in the proper quantity and correct locations create an environment that allows for color match and proper paint flow identification. Volbrecht says paint booths should maintain these light specs: a color rendering index of 85, light temperature between 5000 to 6500 Kelvin and foot candle power between 100 and 350 throughout the vehicle’s surface.

• Understand the benefits of a pressurized booth. The term pressurized refers to the amount of airinside the booth versus the amount of air outside the booth.
“The booth, when properly balanced, should be slightly positive - meaning the amount of air flowing into the booth is slightly greater than the amount of air that is allowed to leave,” he says. “The advantage is that the positive pressure keeps unwanted dirt and debris from entering the booth. Any leaks in the seals or joints are going out, not in, thus providing a cleaner paint environment.”

• Understand the benefits of a recirculating unit. These devices recirculate up to 80 percent of the heated air for an accelerated curing cycle. The ability to recirculate the heated air rather than heating ambient air provides energy cost savings during the cure mode, says Volbrecht.


Another element of good body maintenance is preventive maintenance of a vehicle’s lighting and electrical system. This takes on even greater importance as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) rolls out its Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 - an initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce commercial motor vehicle-related crashes, injuries and fatalities.

Under the program, CDL drivers will be ranked right along with the motor carrier they work for, based on safety information collected by FMCSA through the new Safety Measurement System. It evaluates the safety of individual motor carriers by considering all safety-based roadside inspection violations, not just out-of-service violations, as well as state-reported crashes.

Based upon U.S. DOT weighted guidelines, infractions such as inoperable lamps and defective lighting rank higher in importance than brakes, points out Page Large, national fleet manager for Grote Industries.

With electrical system maintenance, working with a modular system is the key, he says. “Without modularity, repairs often mean that you are forced to cut and splice wires. Simple wiring mistakes often lead to problems, but regardless of the craftsmanship, these types of splices and old junction boxes are prone to water intrusion and corrosion that will ultimately compromise the vehicle’s electrical system.”

In contrast, a modular power delivery and lighting system is designed to branch-off from a main trunk line, providing flexibility. “Modular systems are easy to expand and standardized connectors snap together and are designed with reservoirs that accommodate dielectric grease that resists moisture and corrosion,” explains Large. “Some systems even provide additional moisture barriers.”

New modular nose box technology is also integral to successful electrical system maintenance. New nose boxes feature consolidated, multi-pin connectors and water-resistant modular plugs, as well as mounting systems with gaskets that prevent the migration of moisture.

“Electrical system maintenance should start the day the vehicle is delivered,” Large counsels. “Grote recommends checking to make sure that the OEM has applied dielectric grease to the modular connections as soon as the fleet receives delivery of a vehicle.”

Large also suggests following a solid planned maintenance schedule which should include a thorough examination of the vehicles’ electrical system and lighting. Light fixtures, wires and cables should be inspected for cracks, corrosion, excessive ware and punctures and should be replaced immediately when problems are detected.

“Even the smallest hole in the exterior skin of a wire or cable will cause moisture to wick into the interior,” points out Large. “It’s simply a matter of hydrodynamics.”

Modular electrical systems are easier to troubleshoot and technicians should work from the outside in and from the back of the vehicle to the front. Because connectors can be easily unsnapped and checked for current, a simple process of elimination can be followed.

Connectors should be used exclusively for testing and probes should never be used to puncture cables during diagnostics, he says.

“A failing lamp may be a sign of a deeper problem and if diagnostics are not intelligently executed, technicians may send a vehicle back out, only to have the problem reoccur,” says Large. “If regular maintenance is correctly performed, a modular system, particularly used in conjunction with long-lasting LED lamps, should provide a vehicle with many years and thousands of miles of service.”


Today’s vehicles finishes are quite durable and resistant to environmental elements such as dust, acid rain, smog and pollen. However, vehicles still need to be washed on a regular basis to prevent buildup of these and potentially abrasive and corrosive elements, as well as bug residues, bird droppings, tree sap, greasy hands, exhaust deposits, road grime, dirt and so forth that could permanently harm the finish and cause corrosion and rust.

Periodic washing removes road film, explains Michael Hinderliter, president of Fort Worth, TX-based Steamaway, a company specializing in truck washing and industrial cleaning services. “Road film is created when a vehicle moves down the road and develops a static charge. This will actually attract pollutants to the surface.

“The pollutants can sometimes be removed easily and other times it takes more elbow grease. It depends a lot on the type of paint and the strength of the static bond.”

Maintenance operations that don’t do their own vehicle washing have the option of using a mobile truck wash or a stationary truck wash. Hinderliter offers the following advice for choosing a reliable provider.

Mobile truck wash:

Get references. Two of the biggest complainants about a mobile service, he says, are they don’t show up as scheduled and they start cleaning well but the quality drops off as time goes by.

Get a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on the wash detergents and watch out for those that are highly acidic or caustic. More aggressive soaps will speed up the wash process but they will also prematurely dull the paint.

Will/Does the service brush the equipment? Brushing will get more of the road film off the trucks.

Does the contractor have insurance? Coverage should include general liability, workers comp, garage keepers (if contractor moves a fleet’s equipment to a wash area) and pollution insurance (helps protect the property/fleet owner in the event of a pollution incident).

Does the contractor collect and dispose of the wash water in accordance with federal, state and local regulations?

How long they have been in business?

How is invoicing handled? Does the invoice have enough detail to verify the accuracy of the invoice?

Stationary truck wash service:

Do they brush?

Where are they located? Location is a key to saving time for the driver.

How many locations do they have? A wide area of coverage is important when the fleet does not come back to its headquarters that often.

Do they take all the common payment methods?

Will they set up an account for monthly billing?


Vehicle wash water is considered an industrial wastewater discharge and must meet special conditions imposed by federal, state and local agencies. If vehicle wash water is allowed to discharge directly into surface water (e.g., streams, lakes and wetlands) or into the same system that drains stormwater, the discharge is subject to federal permit conditions under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

These regulations, which came into existence as part of the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, require vehicle wash water to be separated from stormwater in its collection, treatment and discharge.

Vehicle washing operations that discharge to surface waters risk Notices of Violation and even fines from regulatory agencies. Under the Clean Water Act, fines can be as high as $25,000 per day for negligent violations and as high as $50,000 per day for knowingly violating regulations.