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Repairing Plastic Auto Body Parts

Sep 7, 2021 ·

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Plastics have been used in car design since the late 1960s, when a plastic-coated, steel-frame bumper made an appearance on a Pontiac Endura. Since then, there has been increased use of nonstructural and structural reinforced plastics in many different areas of car bodies.

When strength and stability is needed, plastics are mixed with additional fibers. Unreinforced plastics are typically used in places like door trim and body molding.

Regardless of the type of plastic being used and where it’s located, these parts will likely need repair or replacement when a vehicle is involved in an accident. There’s a lot that goes into the process of fixing plastic automotive parts — keep reading to find out more!

Auto Body Plastic Repair Products

With the development of plastic auto body parts, repair products were also designed to be used specifically with the material.

When determining what plastic repair products to use, collision repair technicians typically locate an “identifier” that lets them know what type of polymer was used in the manufacturing of the part. This is typically found via an abbreviation, which can include:

  • PP: polypropylene
  • PO: polyolefin
  • ABS: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
  • PC: polycarbonate
  • PE: polyethylene
  • PVC: polyvinylchloride

These are designated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and are used globally to assist with plastics recycling. Sometimes, polymer blends are used to manufacture parts, and in this case the markings would reflect all plastics used.

Technicians need to determine what the plastic is made from and if it’s fiber-reinforced for the best chance of a successful repair. It also helps them know what repair methods to follow.

Cosmetic Repair vs. Two-Sided Repair

Plastic repair products are helpful for collision repair shops, since they help cut the amount of time it takes to fix a part. Instead of having to order a new part, a collision repair technician can use these products to make a fix without waiting. Using these products is also more cost-effective for customers.

When working on a damaged bumper, the auto body technician will determine what to use depending on whether the damage is cosmetic or if the bumper is torn and will require a two-sided repair. A two-sided repair is needed when the damage goes completely through the surface of the bumper, like a tear or a hole.

Repair adhesives can be used for both cosmetic repairs and two-sided repairs. Plastic welding is also a common technique used by technicians. This process occurs when plastic surfaces are pressed before being exposed to heat and pressure, which allows them to create a molecular bond and join together.

What Technicians Keep in Mind

The right training is needed to know how to repair plastic car body parts using different products and methods. Collision repair technicians are careful to follow the standard operating procedures that come with the different supplies they use.

Precision and skill is important when it comes to repairing plastic parts. Auto body techs know to take their time and focus on getting the job done right the first time.

One of the most important things to consider when repairing plastics is the need to maintain cleanliness during the process. Steps are taken to ensure plastic parts are cleaned before starting the repair process using specialized cleaner products that remove waxes, dirt and road oils. Compressed air can also be used.

Technicians will also ensure they know what plastic is used in a part to see if it is reinforced or nonreinforced.

Common fiber-reinforced plastic parts include hoods and fenders. These fibers can change the density of the part and the repair method being used. Often, the area that is damaged is grinded to relieve stress placed on the plastic.

In nonreinforced plastics, heat is sometimes applied to soften the plastic, and the damage is then pushed out.

After a Repair

Once a repair has been made on a part, the parts typically go through a refinishing process that helps them match with the rest of the vehicle.

A common career path collision repair technicians can take is that of a refinish technician. These techs prepare and apply paint to the repaired parts of vehicles. They mix colors, sand, tint and seal so the repaired area can better blend in with the vehicle’s existing finish.

Collision repair technicians and refinish technicians work together to ensure vehicles are restored properly. Refinish technicians have training and knowledge about what can be used on specific plastics as well to ensure the process goes smoothly!

Learn Plastic Repair Techniques at UTI

Does making repairs to different plastic parts on a vehicle sound interesting to you? If you enjoy working with your hands and have strong attention to detail, a career in collision repair could be a good fit!

The Collision Repair & Refinish Technology (CRRT) program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) could help train you in a variety of methods for making repairs to vehicles damaged in accidents. The program, which takes 51 to 54 weeks to complete, could help give you the hands-on experience necessary for the field.1

Courses cover several topics, including “Exterior Panel Repair I” that teaches students how to identify different automotive plastics and make repairs using different adhesive and welding technologies.

Ready to get started? Request more information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today!

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

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Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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