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What is Paintless Dent Repair?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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Paintless dent repair (PDR) is the process for removing dents and other imperfections from the surface of a vehicle without using substances known as body fillers or repainting. If the vehicle's paint is damaged, the vehicle can't be fixed with PDR. The dent is usually repaired from the back, and the main technique is gently pushing the dent out a little bit at a time. Some tools include a special light that allows the technician to see the contours of the area being repaired and a variety of metal picks and rods. Advantages of paintless dent repair include shorter repair times and reduced cost.

Typical dent repair often includes application of a substance called body filler which fills in low spots to make the repair area smooth and even with the rest of the vehicle's surface, and then repainting the area to match the rest of the car's finish. Paintless dent repair avoids these techniques and can only be performed if the paint finish is undamaged. If the paint is cracked, peeling, or missing, attempting to use PDR techniques can make the damage worse; the finished repair will also require repainting anyway.

The primary technique in PDR is to gently push the dent out from behind, often referred to as "massaging" it away. This is a gradual process that is performed in tiny increments to avoid damaging the finish. If the dent is pushed out too abruptly, it increases the chance of the paint separating from the metal due to the force involved. Another reason to work in small steps is to avoid pushing the surface too far in the opposite direction and creating bumps. The repair technician accesses the back of the area being repaired through window openings or by removing trim pieces or interior panels, then slowly pushes the dent back out, working from the outer edge inward to the center a little bit at a time.

A vital tool for paintless dent repair is a light unit that allows the technician to clearly see the contours of the damaged area. The light is long and rod shaped and is placed so that the reflection is seen in the paint surface; it will appear as a broken line over the dent. As the dent is pushed out so that the surface regains its original shape, the reflection straightens until a smooth line is seen. If no power is available for a light, a dent board with dark and light stripes can produce the same effect. Some other necessary tools include specially designed metal picks and rods in a range of sizes to apply gentle pressure and leverage to the dent.

Improved techniques are helping PDR gain popularity as well as expanding the number of qualified technicians. Stronger, more resilient paint finishes on modern cars allow larger dents to be successfully repaired with this method. Repairs can often be completed in an hour or less, and cost much less than traditional methods. Paint matching is difficult, time consuming, and expensive, but paintless dent repair avoids these issues by leaving the original finish intact.

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