The last half-decade or so has seen quite a few changes in design, color and materials of vehicle interiors. Recent trends have brought interior spaces intended to be more inviting, comfortable and modern.
“Nowadays, when you open the car door, you see big, sweeping full door panels and dashes, big full seats,” says Thad Kresho of Vinyl Pro of Western Pa., New Kensington, Pa. “From that aspect things have changed, but the repair work is basically the same. The most important part is having knowledge. Too many techs start doing jobs and realize they don’t have the knowledge to give a good, effective repair. That’s really important in today’s world.”
There’s nothing for an interior repair technician to worry about when encountering newer-model vehicles, according to interior repair manufacturers. But they do recommend taking additional care in some areas.
“[Newer vehicles] can provide a little more to think about, but not necessarily more to worry about when you’re repairing it,” says Jayson Jones, director of training at M.A.R.S. International, Grand Prairie, Texas. “For the most part, newer seats haven’t really changed how we do business that much. There’s just a little more to think about to be on the safe side, but the actual repairs don’t pose more difficulties than an average seat.”
While potential damage to electronics like sensors and seat heaters may seem the biggest concern, those areas are the least likely for a tech to inadvertantly damage, according to manufacturers.
“When we’re talking vinyl and leather repair, you’re not getting into the sensors and stuff. As far as airbags, you should not do work on those,” Kresho says.
For newer vehicles, it’s the newer materials that can cause the most headaches. Some of the latest-generation fabrics attract and hold stains more easily, and can take more care to clean, sources say.
“Some newer fabrics stain very easily and are not easy to clean,” notes Tom Piontek of Viper Products, Middletown, Conn. “Usually our people will use an extractor to extract as much of the stain out as possible, then use an alcohol-based solution to clean the rest of the seat and get it to dry. They’re not like a standard material; some are similar to nylon, which wants to pick up water spots and stains very easily. It’s definitely challenging, and not that easy to do.”
Vinyl and plastic coatings can also pose a problem, according to Jones. Whether it’s brushed aluminum, vinyl, hard plastic or any of the other materials a tech may find inside a vehicle, he recommends a little extra care.
“Some new things, like brushed aluminum and hard plastic, have material that if you put any kind of solvent on it, it can cause you a problem,” says Jones. “There’s definitely more to think about than just spraying dye over the repair and hoping it looks great. Coatings are starting to be more delicate than I’ve seen before, especially with hard plastic. On a lot of door panels, some of the vinyl is thinner than it used to be, and you have to be a lot more careful with the application of heat.”
When it comes to vinyl and leather interiors, accurate color matching is always a challenge to technicians-but popular colors in today’s cars might actually make things a bit easier.
“It’s not a new hurdle, but color matching of the leather dyes is difficult,” says Gordie Bortnem of ColorCraft, Brookings, S.D. “There are a lot of systems offering computer-generated color matching. With our system, you mix dyes by eye. It’s not any harder for us, but it might be for a new tech. But there are not as many color options as there were a few years ago. The reds and blues are pretty much gone, although you still see a few light blues. Pretty much everything now is gray, titanium or sand-there’s more in the brown families than the brighter colors you used to see.”
Most interior repair product companies provide training, as well as technical bulletins and new product releases to help keep technicians up-to-date.
“We always recommend that a technician stay on top of training,” says Piontek. “Take an advanced course, learn new techniques and see the new products. Every tech should take some type of training or attend seminars. There are also manufacturers’ newsletters and Web sites. Usually the manufacturers or distributors will put information on their sites or send out info when they release a new product.”
The best way to stay up on products and techniques, manufacturers agree, is training. That can be supplemented by a little bit of your own research.
“Because we have so many people in the field-we have approximately 390 operators-we hear a lot about how the industry changes,” says Jones. “There are also technical bulletins, and a lot of interior repair companies provide tech tips-”but a lot of it is from people making mistakes and sharing it with someone else. Any of the major interior companies have pretty good resources on what to be careful of, and what to stay away from. It’s just a process of doing research and learning what it is you need to watch out for.”
Even a training course, however, will only supplement what you will learn on your own.
“You can take a lot in during a five-day course but it takes a lot of practice too, just like any job,” says Bortnem. “It takes a lot to get good at it.”