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North America recorded its first automobile collision in 1891 when John Lambert’s steam carriage hit a tree root in the road and careened into a hitching post. No one was seriously injured, but the carriage was most certainly damaged, and the repairs were problematic, to say the least.
Back then, vehicles were painted through a series of brushed-on layers of oils and paints, interspersed with back-breaking sanding and hand rubbing. The process took more than 50 days to complete.
Spray painting didn’t come into play until 1923, and the original lacquer used on cars was only discovered by accident when a worker at the DuPont film plant left a drum of cotton fibers treated with a nitrate solution on the loading dock one hot weekend. No word on if he was fired for the mistake, but the liquid that was produced changed the way cars were finished.
Changes in auto body repair have continued through the years and Al Descoteau, owner of CARSTAR Terminal Auto Body in Parksville, has watched the industry change and improve to where, to do the job right, today’s shop are required to maintain a dizzying array of tools, equipment and specialized facilities.
They also need highly qualified staff, with years of experience.
“At Terminal, most of our staff have been with us for 10, 15, 20 years…but they all get regular training to stay up to date on the latest techniques,” said Descoteau.
“Vehicles today can be a challenge. You can have three or four different types of steel on a single vehicle and we have to use computers and manufacturer’s specific guidelines to generate a repair plan.”
Tools and training have also changed in the 38 years since Al Descoteau started CARSTAR Terminal Auto Body, but one thing has remained constant.
“People love their vehicles. It’s often one of their most valuable possessions, and when damage occurs, it’s a traumatic experience. My father instilled that in my sister, Sari, and I, and now that we’re running the business on a day to day basis, we have a lot of empathy for the customer. We treat them with respect and make certain that the process is as seamless as possible,” said Mark Descoteau, Al’s son and the co-owner and operator of the business.
Changes in auto body repair have come quickly and have had a major impact on the industry, but it’s the core values and dedication to excellence that makes the difference in any auto body shop, Al explained.
CARSTAR Terminal Auto Body was recently accredited by Certified Collision Care, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, for their excellence in the field. It also received official certification for the repair of Fiat Chrysler automobiles.