Best Practices for Auto Body and Collision Repair

This compilation of Best Management Practices for the Auto Body and Auto Collision Repair industries covers the following areas:

  1. Pollution Prevention
    1. Shop Maintenance
    2. Sanding and Waste Management
    3. Materials Inventory and Waste Reduction
    4. Reducing Chemical Use for Mixing and Painting
    5. Paint Gun Cleaning
  2. Energy Efficiency
    1. Equipment/Facility Changes
  3. Solid Waste Reduction
    1. Waste Reduction
    2. Recycling
    3. Recycled-Content Products
    4. Water Conservation
    5. Employee Awareness


  1. Pollution Prevention
    1. Shop Maintenance
      • Routinely inspect and address all potential sources of leaks, spills, accidents and emissions. (material/waste storage areas, pipes, valves, hoses and process equipment, etc.). Include receiving areas and/or loading docks.
      • Seal shop floor with an impermeable coating such as epoxy.
      • Have no open floor drains in the process area (except designated wash rack). Only wet sand where you can collect sanding waste and where water is routed to the sanitary sewer after pretreatment.
      • All other fluids are cleaned up using dry cleanup methods. Spills are cleaned up with rags if they can be cleaned up with 3 or fewer rags.
      • Larger spills are cleaned up using a hydrophobic mop to collect oil first. Antifreeze is then cleaned up using a regular mop dedicated to antifreeze spills. Rags are then used to dry surface. Oil and antifreeze must be collected and recycled. See “Four Step” Floor Cleanup Best Environmental Practices
      • Conduct preventative maintenance on your spray booth and components by routinely changing filters when needed. Regularly clean fan blades and follow recommended maintenance schedule. Keep spray booth dirt-free and dust-free, and clean booth after each job or cover with plastic.
      • Regularly inspect and clean out separators/clarifiers, at least every six months.
      • Store materials near point of use to avoid spills while transporting them.
      • Store all hazardous materials and waste (including batteries) away from storm and sanitary sewer drains.
      • Place drip trays under leaking autos, such as cars with unclipped hoses, unscrewed filters, or other removed parts, even if you think the leak has ceased. Ideally, drain fluids from the auto immediately upon receiving it and then park it, rather than having a leaking vehicle waiting to be serviced.
      • Use material transfer methods that prevent spillage: spout and funnel when adding fluids to waste drums (close container after adding fluids); pump and spigot when dispensing new product (drain residual from pump back into original container).
      • Drain and replace motor oil, coolant and other fluids in a designated area which is not connected to the storm drain or sanitary sewer.
      • Recover spilled fluids for reuse or recycling (wring from mop, rags or pads/mats, or discharge from vacuum). Place into appropriate waste containers.
      • Use a rag and uniform linen service that recycles its wastewater.
    2. Sanding and Waste Management
      • Sand inside only and in designated areas to avoid spreading waste around the shop and outdoors.
      • Maintain written guidelines for sanding paint waste cleanup and disposal procedures. Train employees to implement these procedures and other pollution prevention practices.
      • Use “dry clean-up” methods such as high intensity particulate arrestor (HEPA) filtered vacuum systems for sanding/paint dust. Avoid excess sweeping of floors which will send small sanding dust particles into the air. Only mop once floors have been vacuumed and are free of liquid spills. Dispose of mop water into sanitary sewer if it meets local discharge limits.
      • Contain all sanding dust and collect as sanding tasks are completed, to prevent tracking to areas inside and outside the shop. Do not wash dust down sewer or storm drains. Dispose of as hazardous waste unless tested and deemed non-hazardous.
      • When wet sanding is required, use a spray bottle on the panel being sanded to minimize wastewater as well as drips and spills. Wring out sanding rags/sponges and collect in a shallow tray or sanding wastewater settling container.
      • Operate a closed wet-sanding system where water is reused instead of discharged.
      • Settle out sanding wastewater or transfer to separate settling unit. Unit should be able to hold double or triple the daily volume, including mop water.
      • Dispose of wet sanding waste/sludge offsite with other waste collections or as hazardous wastes. Only dispose of in the garbage if you have profiled the waste as non-hazardous.
      • Label and appropriately locate settling buckets/units and inform employees to avoid disturbance during settling periods.
      • Remove settled sludge before it exceeds ¼ of the container’s height (use a valve or spigot located no lower than half way down the side of the unit.
    3. Materials Inventory and Waste Reduction
      • Minimize the inventory of fluids and chemicals where feasible. Only stock what you need and order materials on a “just in time” basis.
      • Consider next-day or weekly ordering for custom or slow-moving colors.
      • Require vendors to take back unused samples or off-spec materials and work with vendors to return excess or expired stock.
      • Store materials securely, control access and rotate stock to use oldest product first.
      • Inspect shipments prior to acceptance for opened, damaged or leaking containers. Check expiration date and proper labeling. Store deliveries and supplies under a roof. Recycle empty hazardous materials containers, including drums. Either:
        • Return to supplier for refill.
        • Recondition onsite (permit requirements may apply) or contract with drum reconditioner.
        • Reclaim scrap value onsite or contract with scrap dealer. Recycle and reuse all properly recovered refrigerants from air conditioning systems.
    4. Reducing Chemical Use for Mixing and Painting
      • Track paint use from start to finish by recording estimated amount of paint per job, the actual amount mixed and the amount leftover for each job. Compare estimate with the amount used and troubleshoot ways to reduce leftover paint.
      • Perfect custom color-matches and reduce paint waste by mixing small amounts on a scale and spray out on test panels. Check spray out to the vehicle in natural daylight and view color match from all angles.
      • Maintain a color library using spray-out test panels to record color variants/tints/formulas.
      • For popular colors, save mixed paint for later use on jambs or for more coverage under similar based colors.
      • Use water or water-based solutions rather than paint thinner, acetone or methyl acetate to clean.
      • Use low-VOC paints and paint-related materials.
      • Use a computerized mixing system to track product and VOC usage.
      • Install automatic paint/tint dispensers to minimize over-pours.
      • Use a newer technology high performance spray gun.
      • Obtain hands-on training to improve your spray application technique and transfer efficiency, thus reducing paint waste and VOC emissions.
      • Ensure that coating application methods achieve at least 65% transfer efficiency.
      • Install a mixing bank to keep paint from separating while on the shelf.
      • Minimize paint transfers. Use reusable Teflon mixing cups or disposable paint gun liners (dispose of properly).
      • When possible, plan primer and clear coat work on multiple cars back-to-back.
      • Schedule water-borne primer work for the end of the day.
      • Remove body parts from the vehicle before painting whenever possible for accurate, efficient spraying.
      • Eliminate use of products containing chlorinated solvents, n-hexane, n-bromo-propane and or parachlorobenzotriflouride PCBTF (e.g., aerosol degreasers, brake cleaners, strippers and newer paints/reducers).
      • Reduce the use of aromatic hydrocarbons in reducers, thinners, paints, aerosol degreasers and brake cleaners.
      • Use a brush and rags instead of hose-off degreasers to clean parts prior to painting.
      • Use as little water as possible with an acid-based metal cleaner/conditioner and wipe down area with a rag.
      • Use re-refined oil and antifreeze.
      • Use detergents and scrub wheels instead of using acid-based wheel cleaners.
      • Facility maintenance: Use recycled and low VOC paint and products (adhesives, adhesive removers, cleaning agents, degreasers, etc.).
      • Buy all supplies and product in optimally sized containers.
    5. Paint Gun Cleaning
      • Use disposable cup liners to reduce usage of cleanup solvent, or do the following: Use two-stage spray gun cleaning to extend effectiveness of solvents. Empty paint pot as much as possible, rinse paint pot and equipment with used solvent, and then clean paint equipment with clean solvent. When the two-stage system stops cleaning effectively, replace the first stage solvent with the second stage solvent, and replace the second stage solvent with fresh solvent.
      • Use a system that re-circulates and filters cleaning solution. Enzyme additives can extend life of cleaning solution.
      • Use disposable paint cup liners to avoid the need for cleaning paint guns.
      • Recycle solvent on-site.
      • Use an enclosed automatic gun washing system.
      • Use a low-toxicity, low-vapor pressure cleaning solution in the self-recycling gun washer.
      • Do paint gun cleaning outside the mixing room, or provide adequate ventilation.
      • Use two-stage cleaning or an initial solvent rinse before putting your gun in the automatic rinser to extend the life of the cleaning solvent.
      • Distill or regenerate spent cleaning solutions on-site.
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  3. Energy Conservation
    1. Equipment/Facility Changes:
      • Provide shade for HVAC condenser, especially roof-top fixtures.
      • Control compressor system to ensure operation only during working hours.
      • Buy energy efficient air-compressors and dryer systems when you need to purchase a new one. Replace compressors at the end of rated life or sooner.
      • Replace leaky fittings on motors and hoses.
      • Install an outside air intake for cool weather use (cool air takes less energy to compress).
      • Install Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) motor systems and/or exhaust fan control systems in paint booths.
      • Plug equipment into a time switch to turn off after working hours.
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  5. Solid Waste Reduction
    1. Waste Reduction
      • Replace single use paper car seat/floor cover protectors with reusable cloth covers from a laundry service or reusable plastic covers.
      • Use refillable and pressurized spray cans (e.g., brake cleaners, lubricants, engine degreasers).
      • Donate furniture, supplies, scrap materials, etc., or use a waste exchange program where another business can take your unwanted items.
    2. Recycling
      • Cardboard, newspapers, office/mixed paper, junk mail, glass bottles and jars, metal cans, containers, aluminum foil, plastic bottles and containers
      • Car seat cover and floor mats
      • Empty aerosol cans
      • Tires
      • Metal drums
      • Plastics
      • Scrap metal
      • Pallets
    3. Recycled-Content Products
      • Retreaded tires
      • Tire flaps
      • Carpet, carpet under-cushion or floor mats
      • Sell products made with recycled content
    4. Water Conservation
      • Stop washing vehicles onsite and send them to a washing service that uses a closed loop recycling (zero discharge) system or install your own closed loop recycling system.
      • For hand wash and detailing services, use high-pressure vehicle washing equipment.
    5. Employee Awareness
      • Train your employees on pollution prevention using this checklist. Train new employees upon hire. Keep a log of attendees, training dates and topics.
      • Use employee incentive programs to reduce spills and sloppy work areas (e.g., bonuses/prizes for safety and/or violation-free months, posting photographs of poor/good employee work areas, using employee spill accident record as criteria in determining pay raises).
      • Provide incentive programs to encourage employees to conserve materials and provide their ideas on more efficient use of shop materials such as paint, solvents, masking and sand paper.
      • Give paint technicians advanced training to optimize paint and solvent efficiency.
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Acknowledgement: This compilation of best practices is based upon Green Business Certification Standards provided by the Monterey County Green Business Program.