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Crunch. Uh-oh. Patrick backed into my best friend’s car.

I rang up Eddie Martin, owner and master technician at the Dent Devils (619-726-6767, thedentdevils.com), a paintless dent-removal shop. “People think of us as ‘the body-shop alternative,’” said Martin, “but in reality, the body shop is the alternative to us. Depending on the damage, I bring the car back to factory specs without using paint or Bondo. If a body shop uses Bondo or breaks the paint, then it’s not factory original anymore. On top of that, we’re usually cheaper, faster, and more environmentally friendly.”

It sounded good, so I asked how he managed it. “Paintless dent repair is done with special tools — stainless steel rods and hammers. You go in from the backside of the dent and gently massage or sculpt the metal back into its pre-existing shape. Sometimes, if you can’t access the space behind a dent, there are little pads you can adhere to the outside that will help you pull the metal back into shape — but it all depends. There are so many variables” that determine time required (and therefore cost). Prices start at $85 and go up according to the variables.

Type and severity of dent is the first of those variables. Access is the second. “Some people drill holes to get access — they might put one in a door jamb where it won’t be seen. But I think that’s sloppy, and the car is no longer factory [condition] at that point, so I don’t do that. I’ll pull stuff off the car in order to get to a dent. A roof dent can have a difficult access point, but it depends on the car. If you have a Mercedes with a sunroof, getting the headliner out properly may take hours. A BMW might take only a few minutes.” It takes skill and time to work on a dented door with airbags inside, but a dented Hyundai fender “might take only a few minutes.” Getting an estimate means bringing your car to the shop or emailing photos — one from straight on and one from a sharp side-view.

Sometimes, of course, access is impossible or the metal is overly stretched or kinked. When paintless removal is not an option, that’s when you call the alternative. Martin works in conjunction with Eurotek Auto Collision, downtown (619-239-7843). “And if you bring a car to them and it can be done paintless, they’ll send you to me.”

Martin left me with a warning. “There are scam artists out there doing dent repairs. Make sure anyone doing your repair is registered with the Bureau of Automotive Repair. There’s a link on my site where you can check that. If they don’t take the time to make sure they’re legal, what’s going to stop them from doing a bad repair?” And even a registered repairer might not be completely thorough. “Other shops that offer paintless dent repair subcontract it out; they don’t have a full-time guy like me. But you need experience to see if a problem is just cosmetic or something more serious. One time a Mercedes came in, looking like it just needed cosmetic repair on the bumper. But once the bumper was off, we saw that the crash bar was folded. If the car had been hit again, it would not have withstood the impact.”

Once, Martin did mobile repair. He stopped because “What I can do in my shop to make something 100 percent restored in five minutes might take me two hours and only end up 95 percent if I did it out of the shop.”

But if mobile repair is what you need, you might call Jason Maguire, owner of Dent Medics (858-337-5299, fixthedent.com). “I’ve been doing this for over eight years,” said Maguire. “We can’t replace a body shop, but we can fix a variety of dents — from the size of a dime to the size of a large dinner plate — as long as the metal isn’t stretched and there’s no paint damage. It’s a matter of manipulating the metal by pushing it thousands of times.”

Consider a dime-sized dent in a car door. “I’ll roll down the window, then put an air wedge between the glass and the outer door skin. That creates a quarter-inch gap for access. I use a stainless steel protector to keep the glass safe and then a variety of tools to work the dent away. A small dent with good access may cost $75, though it might go up to $125. A bigger dent with good access might start at $300 and go from there. It’s all a matter of size, depth, and access. A little dent with bad access may cost the same as a bigger dent with good access.” Maguire works from Oceanside to Chula Vista to El Cajon. Call or email pictures to get an estimate.

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