When Dan Putnam, a Woodinville-based IT professional, had a ding in the door of his 2011 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, he knew exactly how he wanted it repaired — and it wasn't through a traditional auto body shop. He used a mobile dent-repair service.
"For something like this, I wouldn't even consider a traditional body shop," says Putnam, who has experience working in auto-body repair and knows how uncomplicated such repairs can be. "For small dings, it's preferable to go with paintless dent repair."
Putnam emailed a photo of his dent to Ryan Snider Paintless Dent Repair, got a bid and scheduled a time to have the fix completed while he was at work. "It was done in 20 minutes," says Putnam.
Stan Markuze, owner of California-based car-part inventory site PartMyRide.com, has been repairing and rebuilding cars for more than a decade and regularly works with Seattle-based suppliers. He says there are times when a body shop is necessary, "for anything that involves painting or replacing major components." But paintless dent repair is fine if body lines haven't been damaged.
For minor dents, it's often cheaper to avoid an insurance deductible and work directly with a mobile service. For more extensive dents, check your policy. Some insurance companies allow you to get bids and select a service provider.
Mobile dent-repair services have become popular because they're faster for the customer and cheaper for the insurance company. Established dealers and body shops often subcontract with mobile body-repair professionals as part of their service offerings.
Snider works exclusively in paintless dent repair. "The tools are pretty low-tech," he says. "There's no Bondo [body filler] or spraying; I just bend the metal back to its original shape." He can repair most areas of a car, as long as the back of the dent is accessible. The original paint remains intact.
"This is a business that is 100 percent about the person doing the work," says Snider, who went to two master training schools to learn the trade. He serves the greater Seattle and Eastside area.
Some mobile shops, such as Seattle's Sameday offer additional on-the-go fixes for bumper scrapes, scratched alloy wheels, and damaged interior panels and leather.
Mobile service tends to be less expensive than traditional body repair. Snider's prices start at $100 to fix an average ding (nickel- to quarter-size). He gives price breaks for multiple dents, and costs vary depending on where the dents are located and how deep the metal is pushed in.
Sometimes, mobile-service people come to you even if you haven't asked them to. Last September, a man approached Seattle resident Andrew Flannery and his family in a mall parking lot and offered to fix the dents and scratches on their car.
"He said that he provided this service and could do it for a good price," says Flannery. "We declined. Interestingly, he had his wife and kids with him in his car, and his own vehicle wasn't necessarily a beacon of shininess."
Both Snider and Markuze warn against such solicitations. "Say someone comes up to you in a parking lot and claims to be able to fix your scratches," says Snider. "They [typically] take your money, put wax on your car and tell you to wait two hours before taking it off. This is a scam."
Markuze offers a similar caution. "What I want to know is, why is that skilled craftsman in a parking lot?" he says. "Even the smallest independent businesses will have Yelp reviews."
Another important point: "If you go with the parking-lot guy and he fixes your dent to your satisfaction, fine," says Markuze. "But what if he messes it up or damages the paint? That $100 repair you had done in the parking lot could end up costing you $500 when you have to get it fixed at an auto-body shop."