Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Joe Pattee works on a hail dent on the hood of a car Tuesday afternoon at Altieri's Auto Inc.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Rich Altieri, left, and his brother Anthony Altieri, right, pose in front of a car that's been mapped for repair.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Tyler Vinchattle does paintless dent repair in the Brown's Ford auto body shop.
Casey Croucher/Recorder staff John Monk repairs a dented roof Tuesday.
By CASEY CROUCHER
Local body shops have been slammed this week almost as hard as the vehicles they are repairing in the wake of last Thursday's hail storm that bruised perhaps as many egos as it did car hoods.
Business owners are reporting hundreds of customers a day, and they're pulling in help from across the state as they keep their doors open longer to meet the demand, and repair the dimples, dings and dents left behind by golf ball and baseball-sized hail.
Vernon O'Brien of Vern's Auto Body & Sales Inc. on West Main Street said he has customers scheduled for repairs through July.
"This is the worst hail storm effects I've ever seen in my 30 years of doing this," O'Brien said. "We're so busy; I know we'll repair at least 200 cars from this storm."
Richard Altieri of Altieri's Auto Inc. on Erie Street said his business has seen such a spike in customers that they've extended their store hours for the time being.
"For our business, the demand for repair work skyrockets when it hails," Altieri said. "You have trouble keeping up -- writing estimates; explaining to customers what to do. So, we've done a few things to help."
That includes extending hours, and hiring hail damage experts from Syracuse, Altieri said.
Derek Brown, president of Brown's Ford in Amsterdam, said he's had staff working 12-hour shifts repairing dealership and customer vehicles. He said the dealership saw about 100 damaged cars; the rest were saved and relocated to shelter.
Each auto body shop goes through a similar process when repairing dents.
The first step is to write an estimate for the damage.
Altieri said writing estimates at the shop for every car would take too much time, so he leaves it up to the insurance companies.
"Writing estimates for all of the cars coming into the shop would be nearly impossible," Altieri said, "so the insurance companies, who have experience with this around the globe, set up catastrophe teams and processes."
Policy holders either go to a catastrophe center, which is just another body shop or a dealership where an estimate is written, and in some cases they write the check right then and there, Altieri said.
But in other cases, insurance companies send their field appraiser out to find the car, identify all the damage, and hand-write an estimate, Altieri said.
He said the shop will occasionally write an estimate for someone, but they usually use the insurance company's estimate as a starting point.
O'Brien said his garage writes up every customer's estimate and compares the estimate with the insurance company's. He said the estimate process takes roughly 30 minutes to complete.
Brown has a catastrophe center at his dealership, where insurance agents busily crunch numbers and assess the damage.
Once the estimate is complete, the customer has been paid, and they decide they want to have their car repaired, Brown said mechanics wash the vehicle and map damages.
"We identify all of the car's damage, and we take the estimate and we verify all the damage. If the estimate is insufficient, which it could be, we adjust the numbers and ask the customer if they still want the repairs done," Altieri said.
In auto body garages, there are two techniques to repair dents in a vehicle: paintless dent repair and the traditional paint technique.
Altieri said paintless dent repair can fix 80 percent of dents, but sometimes dents are too big, and the car's paint was damaged so severely it could cause rust, so shops have to go the traditional route.
Each garage sub-contracts with hail repair experts who know how to accurately complete the paintless dent repair, which requires special lighting on the damaged car, and long rod-like tools that work the dents out of the vehicle.
"This damage can be easily repaired," Brown said, "It just takes a lot of time, patience and special talent."
The traditional process is when a vehicle is sanded and primed before the dent is blocked and painted. The traditional process requires more time and resources, so it's avoided as much as possible, unless the damage is just too severe.
All of the shops are seeing price ranges for repairs between $1,200 and $6,000, and depending on severity the repairs, can be completed anywhere from a day, up to a week.
Brown, O'Brien and Altieri said last week's hail storm created the most damage they've ever seen.
"There was a lighter hail storm in 2005 that caused some work for the shop," Altieri said. "And in the 1970s, during the oil embargo, when gas became harder for people to get, and they stopped driving so much, auto body shops were getting desperate for work. Then, there was a hail storm that caused people to come in, and it helped keep the shop going, but this was the worst storm I've ever seen."
O'Brien said customers have surprisingly been patient throughout the whole process.
"People have been very patient, so it makes the process a lot more pleasant," he said. "Between the estimate process and the actual repair process, people are sometimes surprised at how long this whole thing can take at times, but we're working as quickly and efficiently as we can."