Getting past the stigma of repairing plastic automotive parts

by Douglas Craig, Structural Adhesives Applications Engineering Manager & Collision Repair Industry Liaison, LORD Corporation

Douglas Craig, Structural Adhesives Applications Engineering Manager & Collision Repair Industry Liaison

Douglas Craig

Each year, there are thousands of plastic automotive parts that can be repaired – and done so profitably – rather than being replaced. However, there has been a stigma in the automotive repair industry that plastic car parts are not repairable and can only be replaced once they are damaged.

While this might have been true many years ago, recent developments in repair materials and processes have made it much simpler to choose repair over replacement. In the past, some of the repair procedures have been very cumbersome, and the type of plastic material had to be correctly identified in order to determine which repair product to use on the damaged part. The technician had to determine if the plastic material was flexible or semi-flexible, rigid or semi-rigid – and often a consensus could not be reached among several technicians. Adding to this challenge was the lack of any useful repair products for plastic parts.

A new era of repair products – adhesives specifically formulated for repairing bumpers, bumper tabs, emblems, headlamp modules, grilles, cladding, and door trims – has changed this. Now, the technician just chooses among a few products and only needs to know that the part is plastic – not the type of plastic material. Repairing a damaged car part is as simple as identifying the damaged part and choosing a repair adhesive.

The question of “repair vs. replace” can be profitably answered by using repair adhesives. Almost any plastic part can be effectively repaired with an adhesive. Staples – essentially “heated stakes” – is another tool for plastic repairs, which involves pressing the stakes directly into the plastic. Once this part of the procedure is done, the staples need to cool before the ends are removed. “Staples” are a practical plastic repair procedure and useful for repairing parts with large tears. As with all repairs, it is important to follow OEM guidelines when using a stapling procedure for plastic repairs and note that applying adhesives over the staple is not recommended or warrantied by many adhesive manufacturers.

When deciding on whether to repair or replace a part, be sure to consider the cost of the new part, time and labor for repairing the broken part, the age of the vehicle, and the manufacturer and model of the vehicle. For a simple repair on a less-expensive vehicle, it might be worth it to replace the part. If the replacement procedure involves excessive disassembly work, it might also be more beneficial to use a repair adhesive. Customer satisfaction is always of prime importance and the customer should be reassured that a good, reliable repair can be made with quality repair adhesives.

An automotive technician must also decide if a damaged part requires a structural or a cosmetic repair. Appearance is one of the big determining factors when considering structural vs. cosmetic repairs. A structural repair is usually warranted when a part is broken off from another section such as a headlamp mounting tab or torn bumper tab. A repair adhesive may be used to bond the part together.

For example, if the bumper cover is torn through – i.e. punctured – this is a structural repair requiring a backing patch. If the bumper cover sustained scratches only on the surface, this is a cosmetic repair requiring proper preparation, filling, sanding, and repainting. Parts such as bumper tabs and headlamp-mounting tabs can be easily repaired with adhesives.

To learn more about repair adhesives, click here.

Pictured above and below are pre- and post-structural repairs of a bumper using Fusor Repair Adhesives.

Fusor, Lord Fusor, bumper repair, 132/133, 132, 133