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Dent Guys Chase Hail Storms To Find Repair Work


When a severe hailstorm hammers a community, it's often a group of PDR technicians who straighten things out. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck tell us more about the nomadic, little-known world of paintless dent repair.

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Last month, Rutland, Vermont, got hit with something it rarely encounters - big, destructive hail.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Cleanup continues two days after a violent thunderstorm rolled through Vermont's midsection, bringing high winds, heavy rain and some hail.

KECK: While locals were still assessing the damage, dent repair specialists, like Troy Williams of Dallas, Texas, were already on their way.

TROY WILLIAMS: We watch all the weather reports. We have information off the Internet every day and reports that come directly to us - insurance companies that call that you've dealt with over the years.

KECK: Thousands of severe hailstorms pelt the U.S. every year. Williams and Dan Allen (ph) of Jacksonville, Florida, are among the roughly 10,000 dent repair specialists who follow those storms, getting the dings out of hail damaged cars.


DAN ALLEN: Pop. (Laughing) So we have these little tabs that we use, and we put hot glue on them. A lot of people think that the dent just pops up and magically disappears. That's not the case.

KECK: Dan Allen stands on a step ladder, pulling up dents along the rails of a silver SUV.

ALLEN: It is an art. Once you see it, then you understand.

KECK: Allen's been doing paintless dent repair for 22 years. He learned as an apprentice, and says it takes about three years to get really good. Car dealerships and auto body shops depend on guys like Allen, but many say finding qualified help can be tricky.

MIKE PARKER: Pardon the office. This used to be our lunch room. We've had to steal this and make a bunch of offices out of it.

NINA KECK: At Parker's Classic Auto Works, a collision repair business in Rutland, owner Mike Parker says the hail was still coming down when the first PDR guys started calling.

PARKER: Obviously, then it's a race. There's a lot of these people, and it's a race to sign up body shops. It's a race to go to dealerships. It's a race to get buildings - empty buildings.

KECK: Parker had never dealt with severe hail damage before, so he got some advice from a buddy with an auto body shop in the Midwest.

PARKER: If they tell you that they can fix every panel, get them out of there. If they're drilling holes, get them out of there. If they have little tools to make the clear coat rough so you can't see the dent they weren't able to take out, get them out of there.

KECK: Salaries for dent repair range from 30,000 a year to more than 100,000. But not everyone who gets into the business is qualified. No license is required. Dan Allen says the money is good, and he loves the travel, but he admits the lifestyle isn't for everyone.

ALLEN: I'm on the road for 6 - 7 months of the year. Basically it's kind of like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. You know, I make enough money and put in the bank, and then I go home for four or five months. And then I spend, you know, all my time with my family.

KECK: He says many others will keep working and follow the hail season down under to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. For the next month or two, Allen and dozens of other dent repair specialists will call Rutland, Vermont, home - but where they'll head next? Allen just smiles and shrugs. You never know. For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.