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A hailstorm of work
Body shops try to put a dent in backlog of repairs from last week's damaging weather
Keith Preston of Lester Body and Paint Shop points out damage to a Hall County car that was caught in the storm last Saturday in Covington. Each circled spot is a where a hail stone dented the car. - photo by Tom Reed

On a Friday afternoon, Tim Pavlik is giving a Toyota Camry a massage.

But not the kind you would get at a spa.

Pavlik performs paintless dent removal at Lester Body & Paint on Browns Bridge Road.

He has an arsenal of long metal rods with a handle on one end and a hook-like device on the other. Inserting the rod along the interior side of a vehicle panel, he finds the dent and then slowly massages it back to its original smoothness.

For vehicles with hail damage, Pavlik’s massage technique may be the answer to eliminating dings and dents resulting from last weekend’s hail storm.

Keith Preston, a shop manager and estimator at the body shop, said business from the hail storm has been nonstop.

"I didn’t get through writing up estimates from Monday until about 10:30 on Tuesday morning," Preston said.

He’s not alone.

Mike Stovall, body shop manager for Hayes Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Oakwood, said a steady stream of customers brought in hail-damaged cars this week.

"I’m sure it’s going to get crazy," he said. "I’ve got four coming in for repair on Monday."

Preston said hail-related claims for cars being repaired at Lester ranged from $1,500 to $11,500.

Among them is a vehicle parked near the epicenter of the tornado that struck downtown Atlanta on March 14. The vehicle, which was parked in an enclosed parking garage, was damaged by an onslaught of blowing debris. The space between the vehicle’s hood and windshield, where the wipers are housed, was filled with gravel, ceiling material and broken glass. The back window was also shattered in the storm.

The price to repair: $10,700.

Across the lot, a vehicle that rode out the March 15 storm near Covington had circles drawn around each of dozens of small dents, making it look like it had a case of the measles.

The dents were so numerous that the hood and roof of the Toyota 4-Runner will have to be replaced, not to mention numerous dents that will be removed through the paintless process. The total cost: $11,000.

The paintless dent removal process has been around for about 20 years, but has grown in popularity as it generally cuts the repair cost in half and reduces the time in the shop significantly.

Pavlik works full time at Lester Body & Paint. However, Preston said there are numerous dent removal technicians who follow storms and work as contractors for body shops.

"There are so many cars that get damaged in a storm," said Pavlik. "I’ve got several more coming in." Both Preston and Stovall predict that hail damage repairs will keep them busy for the next two months.

Myles Mitchom, a spokesman for State Farm, the largest auto insurer in Georgia, said his company has 5,800 auto claims arising from last weekend’s storms.

Preston said paintless dent removal has been embraced by insurance companies for lowering repair costs. The technology evolves as automakers begin using a thinner, high-strength steel for cars and trucks.

He said in many cases, the paintless dent removal process can be completed in one or two days. Previously, when parts such as fenders and hoods had to be replaced and repainted, the process could take five to six days.