Getting paid for 'finish sand and buff'

Feb. 11, 2014
Getting paid for finish sand and buff comes down to three questions: Is it necessary? Is it included in any other labor operation? And, is there a formula for it?

Shop owners or estimators in my estimating classes will sometimes say, “Mike, this insurance company won’t pay for finish sand and buff.”

I usually preface my answer by saying although there are several terms for this process (“de-nib,” “intrusion removal,” etc.), make sure you’re not calling it, “color sand and buff.” That’s an outdated phrase from the days of lacquer paints, when you had to sand and buff the lacquer finish to bring out its luster and shine. That’s not what we’re talking about.

Getting paid for finish sand and buff comes down to three questions: Is it necessary? Is it included in any other labor operation? And, is there a formula for it?

So is finish sand and buff required to return a vehicle to pre-accident condition? Absolutely. I can tell you I’ve been in three different automaker plants recently, and I’ve seen it being done in all three. You can download a Toyota/Lexus bulletin that backs this up at It states, “Toyota recognizes the reality of paint finish application in the shop environment. In addition to color matching and blending, countermeasures to remove paint process intrusion (dirt nibs) are necessary to achieve an undetectable finish match. This is also common in manufacturing plants when process intrusion is encountered.”

On that same page of my website, there are also statements from all five major paint manufacturers detailing the need for the finish sand and buff process. Axalta’s statement, for example, calls it, “a normal and necessary operation for both OEM

manufacturers and collision repair shops.” If it’s necessary for automakers, who are working with clean body shells in highly specialized paint facilities, Axalta points out, how could it not be for shops, which cannot, “duplicate the application and dirt isolation processes used by the OEMs, and therefore are faced with the inevitable need to remove dust and dirt particles from the finish before the vehicle is delivered to the owner.”

“Some detail work (de-nib and polish/wet sand and buff) can be expected,” Akzo Nobel Coatings’ statement agrees.

“While refinishing automotive panels with zero dirt inclusions is possible in theory, it rarely happens in actual practice,” BASF’s document states. “Following best practices for cleanliness in paint processing areas, and equipment maintenance can minimize this problem and should never be disregarded, but in the overwhelming majority of repairs, some dirt is inevitable.”

And dust and dirt aren’t the only reasons finish sand and buff may be necessary. There can be pre-existing issues with a panel that we have no control over, but that requires finish sand and buff. Let’s say you blend the color on a panel (and clear the entire panel) on which there were some minor stone chips, for example. The clear will puddle in those chips, becoming a real eyesore. So you have to finish sand and buff that.

I’ve been in some urban areas where acid rain or industrial fall-out etches into the finish, causing the substrate to get soft. When you apply a new coat of color or clear over that, that substrate will swell up, creating what looks like a bunch of water spots. Again, this is something beyond the shop’s control and requires finish sand and buff.

The second question you need to answer is if finish sand and buff is included in any other labor operation. It definitively is not. Visit the Database Enhancement Gateway ( to download all three of the major estimating systems guides or procedure pages. All of them clearly list finish sand and buff (or “de-nib”) as a not-included operation. See “P28” on page 16 of Mitchell International’s “P-pages” (,  for example, or “G39” in Motor Information System’s Guide to Estimating (, which is the basis for CCC Information Service’s estimating system).Another indication that it’s a non-included operation is that the estimating system providers have provided formulas for determining estimated time needed for the process. Mitchell, for example, on page 17 of the “P-pages,” says to allow three-tenths per refinish hour to finish sand and buff a panel, and two-tenths per refinish hour to “de-nib and finesse” a panel.

Lastly, email me or my assistant ([email protected]) if you’d like a free copy of the negotiation tools I have built for finish sand and buff. Having the right documentation should help estimators justify the need for this procedure.

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