Dent Expert By SAL Pushes The Limits
On Pushing Dents

  In the early days of his dent repair career, SAL Contreras, now known as the Dent Expert and inventor of the Dent Dial PDR tool, admits the young but fast-growing paintless dent repair (PDR) industry beat him up pretty badly as he tried to maneuver his way into a niche that worked for him. In fact, two years into doing primarily wholesale work for car dealerships, he almost quit.

“I started out working for car dealerships around 1990,” he says. “In those days, I had fifty to sixty dealerships who loved to see me come around every week. I was so busy, I would tell them, ‘I can be there at 3:00 but I have another appointment at 3:30,’ and they would tease me about chasing that gravy.” The term “gravy” refers to the quick and easy money PDR techs can make working for body shops and car dealerships.

However, throughout the 1990s, many people were getting into PDR work and based on SAL’s experience working for them, the gravy boats were not “healthy” for a PDR technician who wants to do quality work.
“I was on a car lot one day and there was a tech trying to remove a dent in the top of the fender of an orange Mustang,” he recalls. “In my eyes, he destroyed that fender trying to fix it and I thought to myself, with workmanship that poor, he won’t get paid for it; but I was wrong. To the service manager, it came out better than he expected.

He considered the damage minimal compared to the cost of having it repainted. With the bar set so low, the carpenter and sculptor in me who loves a challenge; loves working with tools; enjoys using welding instruments to work metal; and that part of me that likes to figure out how to make different shapes, decided I couldn’t give it up. I can overcome it.”

SAL admits he never had any formal PDR training, but there really wasn’t much training available in the early 1990s. “At the time, I was a student of the car dealerships,” he says. “Even today, the wholesale market is a straightforward industry, but many good technicians are trapped in bad habits, while theretail market is wide open and waiting.”

SAL’s first venture into the retail was both humbling and inspiring. Located in San Mateo, California, 11 miles from the Pacific Ocean and about 15 minutes south of San Francisco, his company, Dent Expert by SAL is surrounded by successful corporate executives from the Bay area who drive very nice cars.

One of his first retail clients was an elderly lady who hired him to come to her home and repair a dent in a black car her late husband had given her. “When she took me through the kitchen door into the garage, she commented, ‘I can’t wait until you get rid of that thing. Every time I open this door and step out here, I see that dent and it is driving me crazy.’ “I repaired it to the best of my ability, but when the lady came out to see the work, the first thing she said to me was, ‘I can still see it.’ “I knew it wasn’t perfect but I thought I could get away with it
because at the car dealership, it would have been above expectations. So now, here I was with a flaw I couldn’t fix because I didn’t know how. That’s when I decided to study how to move metal, how to get it perfect.”

Today, SAL is known as an extreme PDR technician because he specializes in fixing large dents no one else wants to touch. “It took approaching the metal and the dent entirely differently. It was a slow change, but I was one of the very first to establish a niche market for larger-than-usual PDR and it has really caught on.”
In 1994, SAL started trying his own techniques using his own handmade tools to see if he could perfect the art. Mercedes inspired him because they reached a pinnacle in the design of their vehicles, which are quality engineered so you can take things apart to fix them. “No one wanted to work on big dents on a Honda and Toyota because the metals were thinner and you didn’t have any room to maneuver.

I started studying ways to fix larger damage on those vehicles and found it to be in demand.”

SAL explains that if you take a door off a car and place it on a stand, there is a bigger opening inside the door where you can access it with your hand to fix a dent the size of a quarter. He further noticed that if he used a shoveltype handle with leather wound on the end to make it soft, he could shove it in and push on it and the bigger dents would come right out.

“I found a way to match the shape of the tool to the shape of the dent and then use a softer push to pop it right out,” he says. “With smaller dents, most people are taught the ‘million pushes’ method. Techs use a lot of lighting too, but you have to keep moving it around as you work. Every time you approach the dent area from a different angle, it looks different, so PDR techs, especially the hail dingsters, are okay with blended multiple pushes in order to smooth out the dent, but they often end upwith a bunch of mini craters around it.”

SAL uses larger, massive pushes with a tool he designed himself. The Dent Dial is a bendable flat crowbar with a crook on the end that acts like a fulcrum. Shoved down into the door, the bar bends until you get the right position. The crook has leather and rubber tips that do the pushing, using much better leverage for a wider push. “My pushes are fewer, fatter, and wider,” SAL says. “Many PDR techs are really catching on to it and they like what
they see.”

In fact, Sal’s pushes are cleaner and faster and he gets more money for his work. “While small dent professionals are negotiating down their price as their industry gets watered down, I have customers who are so relieved I could get that dent out without having to take it to the body shop that they will pay more for it because no one else wanted to touch it.” He seems to be on to something!

“One of my clients is a lady who wanted me to get a large dent out of her car before her husband found out. The body shop quoted her $1,500. I did it for $800 and she brought me coffee and cookies while I worked. Not only is the pay better, but the atmosphere and environment are superior to working a car lot,” he laughs.

Another of his proprietary techniques is the use of reflection rather than lights to see the dent from all angles. “I decided that if I want the Porsche owner with a dent as my customer, I have to get it perfect, so I started studying reflection. Looking into a mirror, you can see the distortion in the dent and make out the lows and highs. That was what happened with the elderly lady with the black car. Light is constantly moving but a natural reflection is more consistent.

She was catching the reflection of the dent every time she entered the garage and it enhanced the dent.”
SAL continues, “If I look into the hood of a car, I can watch the line of light through the hood and match different angles to the dent. That’s how I fix it. I don’t rely on lighting like most techs do.” In addition to taking time off from
actual daily PDR work to promote and perfect his Dent Dial tool; in 2008, SAL produced a 5-DVD set of training videos after his one-on-one razzle-dazzle training fizzled. “I did not find myself to be a great teacher, but I produced these videos and put everything I could possibly think of that PDR techs need to know, but probably weren’t taught, into the 1½-hour production,” he says. “While I continue to test the Dent Dial and await my patent, the training video project is on autopilot. The production value isn’t fancy, but hardcore dent techs like it because it covers so much material.”

SAL also won 1st place at the 2015 Dent Olympics after finishing 3rd in 2011, and not even placing in recent years. “I wasn’t going to enter this year because I wanted to concentrate on selling my Dent Dial tool at our exhibit, but my son assured me he could handle it and encouraged me to enter,” he says.
“The competition requires that you go far beyond what you would do for a customer. Customers are fine with 99% but in competition, you have to be 100%! heard my name called, I was shocked!”

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