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Put It All Together and 'Clip Job' Repair Is Iffy Proposition at Best

May 13, 1999|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mention a "clip job" and most people think of a bad haircut or a crooked salesman hawking a slow computer.

But in the car business, a clip job means something very specific: welding the front or back half of a junkyard car onto your vehicle after it has sustained major damage in a crash.

A Your Wheels reader described how his insurance company wants a body shop to weld half of another car onto his damaged sedan.

"Is this going to be safe?" he asked.

The answer is maybe--or maybe not. It all depends on the knowledge of the body shop technician, the kind of clip job that is being performed and the quality of the clip that is being welded.

A rear clip is generally an easier and less risky job to perform than a front clip. The body shop attaches the entire rear half of a car, including the rear quarter-panels, the trunk lid, a section of a floor pan, the rear suspension system and possibly the entire roof.

A front clip is far more complex, because it involves the entire drive train, steering system, braking system and possibly the dashboard electronics. The job involves making critical engine, transmission, braking and fuel system linkages.

Clip jobs have such poor reputations that some insurance companies refuse to permit them, though other insurers encourage body shops to perform them as a way to hold down costs. Asking your insurance company about its policy regarding clip jobs is an easy way to gauge its commitment to safe, high-quality repairs.

The Automobile Club of Southern California, for example, will "not touch a front-end clip," spokesman Jeff Spring said. "We don't think it can be done well enough to meet our standards. On rear ends, we will do it on a case-by-case basis, and only when we believe it is the right repair for the job. But it is rarely used."

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With any clip job, the issue is ensuring the vehicle's structural integrity, said Ken Zion, a body repair investigator and owner of Automotive Collision Consultants of Long Beach.

"It is an acceptable practice, but the two pieces have to be aligned exactly," Zion said.

Indeed, auto makers generally specify that vehicle unibodies must be aligned to within no more than one-sixteenth of an inch in all dimensions. Without proper jigs and tools, your shop might never get your vehicle aligned properly after a clip job, and it could end up a "dog walker"--traveling sideways a bit.

Another downside of a clip job is that you'll want to ensure that the clip is from a vehicle no older than your own damaged vehicle. Getting a 1992 rear end welded to your '96 or a high-mileage clip to your low-mileage car is problematic at the least.

Are welds strong enough to hold clips onto the car? Yes. Generally, welding on an entire section involves less uncertainty than welding on a large number of smaller pieces, Zion points out. But keep in mind that any collision that inflicts enough damage to require a clip is a major event and may cause long-term problems.

Zion also cautions consumers to make sure that the body shop follows all manufacturers' recommendations when doing a clip job. In many cases, clips can only be welded by violating certain repair procedures recommended by the car maker.

"There are areas on the vehicle that should not be cut that might have to be cut in a clip," Zion said.

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Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Via e-mail: ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com.

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