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Ask Doug & Kian

Who are Doug and Kian? Doug Snow and Kian Amirkhizi lead a company called MATRI-X. MATRI-X is dedicated to the education and training of interior repair industry technicians. Doug and Kian have a varied and extensive background in training and almost 50 years combined experience as expert repair technicians themselves.  Each are past winners of the Mobile Tech Expos’ Leather Repair Contest.

It was mid-morning on a warm summer day and I was feeling like I was on top of the world...


Having already successfully completed my first repair on the day’s agenda, I had agreed to a request from John, the service writer for the auto dealership I was servicing.  He asked if I would be willing to meet with him along with the customer while assessing the next repair, a seemingly innocuous, albeit slightly unusual request. 


“I’m sure that this repair will be super-easy, for you,” John commented while we waited for the customer to bring her car around to our work area. I experienced the first glint of suspicion following this obvious flattery, and the fact that John seemed like he was trying to hide a mischievous grin.


I bent down to gather my repair kit when a gleam of sunlight caught the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw a shiny, new Chevy Tahoe slowly approaching.  Hmm… Something odd struck me. There was something about the vehicle that was unsettling. As the glare of the sun splashed across the vehicle I finally realized what was bothering me.


This was a brand new car and it was leaning to the driver side. Seriously – it looked like it was missing a pair of tires on the driver’s side - the tilt was that obvious.  I was so intent on the bizarre angle of the vehicle, I didn’t even look inside to see who was driving.


It drove a few more feet as it passed by me and came to a stop next to John’s booth. As the passenger shifted to open the door and release her seat belt, the car began to jolt violently from side to side as if it were a cracker-sized raft on a stormy ocean.


As the door opened I caught my first glimpse of the customer.  She was a pleasant-enough looking woman with a nice smile on her face, but that is not what captured my attention.  The fact is, she was a large woman.  Uhhh…maybe I better elaborate: To say she was heavy would be a slight understatement. In fact, she was enormous. Bigger than most major home appliances, I mean.


Now I don’t mean to express any discrimination against large people.  We are all God’s children, created in his image, and the Good Lord knows we all have problems with how we look versus how we would or should look – but this was ridiculous.  She was beyond huge.  If she stood still I was sure that she would be registered as a National Park.


She swung her pillar-sized legs out of the car and offered me her hand as she introduced herself as Susan.  (I refuse to admit that I expected to see hoofs where instead a pair of stylish shoes resided).  As she turned on the tightly-compressed seat, I thought I heard a barely audible whimper sighed by the collective unconscious of all the Naugha’s in the world as the seat screamed out in agony. My mind started racing, as immediately I felt sorry for the seat that had to support this unbearable weight. “Forget the seat, what about the repair?” I thought.


As she got out of the car (no verbal description could do justice to the maneuver, so picture it yourself if you dare), the car righted itself like a low-rider in Inglewood on Saturday night.  As I began to walk around her to get to the driver’s entrance to the car (no short trip either), John opened the passenger door and leaned inside to show me the miracle I was supposed to perform.  I suppressed a shudder as I saw it was worse than I could had feared…it was a razor-like cut next to a decorative welt on the driver’s side seat.  Her seat.  UNDER her – ALL of her…


I began a brief conversation with John and Susan as I asked about their expectations.  She said that she just wanted to make it look better; after all it was a brand new car. I explained that repairs were seldom perfect, but would probably be unnoticeable to anyone that did not know where the original damage was at.  I wasn’t sure this was what she wanted to hear, it seemed like she wanted this poor tortured surface to look like it was ready for the showroom floor.  I excused myself from the discussion to go look at the repair closer and to think of a possible solution.


I thought to myself if I could somehow make contact with NASA to get that glue that they use to secure the ceramic tiles onto the underbelly of the space shuttle…but then I remembered that some of the tiles fell off during re-entry into our atmosphere, so that wouldn’t be strong enough.  I examined the damage closely again, just to confirm the cut was in the worst possible place. It was obvious that no glue or adhesive had a snowball’s chance in H-E “double hockey sticks” of working in a situation like this. I went inside my truck and searched for my molecular fusing device, then remembered I hadn’t invented it yet.  As my options dwindled I briefly wondered how leather keeps an entire cow bottled up inside of it while alive, but doesn’t hold up here.


The answer was obvious.  Given that this part of the seat was load bearing (and how!), there was no way to achieve the results they expected.  So I called John over and told him that I would be passing on this repair and advised him to have the panel replaced, as no repair would be able to withstand the rigors of virtual livestock transport. He agreed and had the panel replaced. I drove away, knowing that even though I hadn’t cured cancer or anything, I did do the right thing for the client, the dealer and myself, and that felt good.


Only a week later I returned to the dealership.  John came running, panting and all excited about something.  “Hey, you know that fat lady that was here last week?” he asked (out of all breath but bad).


“Yeah,” I replied. 


John continued, “Well, I did what you told me and replaced the panel, ‘cept she comes back and goes right for the car and demands to see the seat.”


“Well what happened?” I asked.  John replied, “She opens the door and looks at the panels and says, ‘Yeah it looks okay but I can still see the repair.’”




John continued, “Yeah, she says she can still see it, even after I tell her that I replaced the panel. In fact, I had to end showin’ her the receipt until she finally believed me.  Crazy, huh? Sometimes there is truly no pleasing someone.”


This is a good lesson for us all – as stated with clenched teeth by Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, “A man’s GOT to know his limitations…”  Sometimes the repair you walk away from can save time, money, frustration, etc.  In Susan’s case, I knew she would want the repair to be more perfect than I could make it, and that it wouldn’t hold up.


There are other cases when I will recommend replacement even if I feel I could do a decent repair. It is especially risky when the vehicle owner seems to prefer a replacement part instead of a repair. When I see this, I always warn the person ordering the repair on the customer’s behalf (service writer, body shop owner, etc.) that no matter how perfect the outcome, the customer still may not be content. (If they still want to proceed with the repair, I let them know that I will still charge the shop for the repair even if the customer isn’t happy in the end.)


Some customers will not be happy unless you replace the part, no matter how good the repair looks. I let the shop make the decision if they want to risk paying me for a repair that the vehicle owner may not accept, or if they prefer to just replace the part. I often use Susan’s story as an illustration.


And – remember that this is indeed a true story (with only slight embellishment). By the way: sorry, Susan if you’re reading this article, nothing personal – but eat a salad once in a while for goodness’ sake…



Whether the Weather Affects Vinyl and Leather Coatings Or Not?


Since in many parts of the country it’s REALLY cold right now, I thought now might be a good time to talk about how the weather affects your work and supplies.


In the good ol’ days when everyone used lacquer coatings, we never had to worry about the coatings freezing. Now with the advent of water-based coatings, this is an issue that aesthetic techs need to consider, since water-based coatings can freeze.  Many people make the mistake of thinking that if the coating freezes, it will be just fine once it returns to normal temperature, but this isn’t always the case. If you think your coating might have frozen, there is way to tell if it’s still good. When it returns to normal temperature, if it is thickened and looks sort of lumpy, like cottage cheese, then we wouldn’t recommend using it (unless you disguise yourself as your competitor and show up at his accounts…just kidding). Sometimes it can fool you if you only look at the surface and find it smooth, but that doesn’t mean everything is good.  Make sure to stir it and make sure that there are no surprises waiting at the bottom.


Another good cold weather tip is that the substrate (the material you are working on) should be warmed up. The ideal temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees. I also like to warm up my coating. For example, when working in a car, I like to turn on the heater, and place the bottle of coating inside the car and let it warm up with the car. Just be sure to remove any spraying devices from the container first. This is because as the coating warms up it expands and it could cause the coating to spontaneously spray out (HINT: if this happens it can ruin a perfectly good day).


Humidity is another important weather-related condition. Humidity can become a factor in a wide range of weather conditions, such as in very hot, humid situations as well as the obvious times when it’s drizzling or raining. In very high humidity, the substrate can become moist, and you must be sure to dry it off completely. You also have to be aware that when you are spraying lacquer-based coatings, moisture can get trapped in the spray, causing blushing (causes the surface to appear cloudy when it’s dry). You can use a “blush retarder” product to help prevent this, but it doesn’t really work if the humidity is too high.


The higher the humidity, the higher the risk. If you must shoot a lacquer-based coating on a very humid day, you must move into a controlled environment. When using water-based coatings, this isn’t as much of a problem. It seems rather silly, but there is another thing that can affect both water & lacquer based coatings in high humidity, and that is your sweat. Be careful that it doesn’t drip off your nose, arm, or who knows what else onto the substrate, because this can ruin your job!


Another weather-related problem is high heat. In high heat (90◦ F to 100◦ F), both water-based and lacquer-based coatings have a tendency to dry in the air as they are being applied. One way you can tell that this is happening is if you feel the area you just sprayed and it feels like sandpaper. Another way is if you can see “threads” in the air where you are spraying. To combat this when using water-based coatings, check with your manufacturer. Many of them will tell you to just add water, and others will tell you to add a blush retarder.


When using lacquer-based coatings in high heat conditions, you must use the manufacturer’s blush retarder.   The idea is to make the coating wetter to slow down the evaporation of your coating. If the sandpaper effect does occur, many people elect to sand it off and shoot it again. I personally don’t agree with this. I think if the dye was that dry when it hit the substrate, it couldn’t have bonded very well. It needs to be wet so that it can create a film on the substrate. I always strip it off completely and start over again if this occurs.


Now let’s discuss aerosols, water and lacquer. Aerosols have fewer problems with freezing, but I would recommend still warming up the substrate and the aerosol as previously described. This is especially good with aerosols because the warmer they are the better they shoot, (up to the 80◦ F mark or so). In high humidity, be sure the surface is dry. Use a hairdryer to remove any moisture. In high heat, cool the surface temperature. Spraying or wiping water on the surface or placing damp towels on it will help.


Lastly, let’s talk about storage. Many of us work out of our trucks, and store supplies in the truck. If you are leaving your truck in a non-temperature controlled environment (like parked in the driveway when it’s snowing outside), you are taking a risk of ruining your supplies. Of course, the first line of defense is to try to park your truck in a temperature-controlled environment. If this isn’t possible, then I would recommend only carrying smaller amounts of supplies on the truck (allowing you to move the supplies to a controlled temperature at night) and leave your larger containers elsewhere where they are safe from extreme weather.


In high heat situations, plastic bottles allow more evaporation. You may want to purchase fluorinated bottles as they allow less evaporation. They are rated 1 through 5, 5 being the best. In high humidity, many of us who have lacquer coatings store them in tin cans. The bad thing about this is they can rust, so be aware that if they are sitting around and rusting, this could cause many problems.


As a final note, when asking your manufacturer about the shelf life of a product, remember that the shelf life is determined under ideal conditions. Any of the conditions described above (cold, heat, humidity), will lessen the shelf life.


Hopefully this will help you when dealing with weather related problems. If you have any suggestions on this subject, contact us at www.thematri-x.com. You’ll find our e-mail links there.    Happy Holidays everyone!!!