Over-spray Repair
AAA Insurance

Mere Appearance versus Good Corrosion Protection

G. Starling

Beware... There now exists a very dubious method of overspray repair, which insurance companies favor as a low-cost alternative to repaint. I'd long assumed AAA to be entirely reliable and not-at-all prone to such a scheme. Then came my first encounter with a their local claim representative. Over and above my very well-informed objection, he insisted that repaint would not be approved. Later AAA recanted...some few days after I uploaded this page. Details are provided below. Please note also the update of December 22nd.

I'd parked my beautiful onyx black, '97 Royal Star Tourdeluxe cruiser just outside of where I work, just like always. Unexpectedly, one or more fellow employees decided to take some impromptu spray painting tasks out-of-doors. Of this I was not made aware, nor did I notice it right away. It started out as a mystery. Only later, after my discovery, was I shown a pair of large white silhouettes not four feet from where I was parked.

I do remember noticing that the bike seemed rather too dusty. But it was a windy day and construction was going on just a few hundred feet upwind. I knew better than to brush off outdoor dust by hand. (Abrasive!) It didn't really look right; but the day was late and I had someplace important to go. The riding season in Michigan was at its end. All too soon, I'd be needing to put it away for the winter. Pretty soon I'd give it a really good final cleaning, anyway. I put that off longer than I'd planned, mostly on account of cold and rain.

Come what turned out to be the very last mild day before the snow flew, I laid out tools and commenced to disassemble: saddlebags, back rest, seats, lights, floorboards, fenders and even part of the subframe. Next I brought out the bucket and sponge. That was when I found that most of the "dust" would not wash off. To the touch, it even felt a bit sandpaper-like. I carried the first part out into direct sunlight, and squinting closely discerned the problem: many, many tiny beads of cream white paint! My thoughts at that moment do not bear printing...

After a long, cooling down period, I make a stab at being philosophical: "Hey, this is what insurance is for. Good thing I didn't cheap out on something as important as that!"

"Well," I think, "there's just no help for it but to repaint. But what about the pin striping? Looking closely, I see it's just tape, but underneath the clear coat. That's a problem. You can't just scuff the surface then add an coat over the top of something like that. It would leave an ugly bump. Worse luck... That means it'll surely have to be stripped first. The stripes can be reapplied after...if I want them. Do I want them? The pin stipes don't really add that much. They're so fine you can hardly notice anyay. So why bother? Plain black will look just fine. My old Harley was just plain red; and it looked okay. So fine by me. It'll even save AAA a few pennies. So what the heck. Just strip and repaint it pure onyx, don't even put back those chrome emblems. It'll be a mystery bike! I'll tell folks I planned it that way. Strip and repaint it, that's the ticket. Nothing fancy or too expensive. Why should AAA balk at that? They won't even be charged for dis- and re-assembly. Paint on the chrome and aluminum I'll clean myself, no charge. All I'll have to hit them up for stripping and a very basic black repaint. It's not even metalflake. Color matching onyx black should be easy, and therefor cheap! I'm even in just the right position to arrange something of a very special deal on the first coat of primer. They'll like that." I chose a course determined to give them no cause at all to up my rates. And as for the timing... "Sure glad the riding season is over... Huh? What? Did I say that? Sure doesn't sound like me...."

But I failed to consider the hide-bound rigidity of AAA as explained to me by one Mr. Bob Stickney, Senior Claim Representative. He informed me adamantly that AAA has a policy carved in stone: no repaint for over-spray. Not ever!

AAA instead insists upon a dubious chemical process which first softens up the paint, then abrades away the top layer all the way down to a depth beneath the over-spray, followed up by rebuffing.

Of course, still-wet enamel overspray won't just have lain on top. It will have soaked in a bit. So how much paint will I have left to protect against left-over salt on the roads next spring? Less paint may look pretty all buffed up. But would it still protect as well? The whole concept somehow offends my expectations of top notch service from AAA.

This questionable service is performed by Great Lakes Chemical, at a cost which they estimate to be just slightly above my deductible. Of course! They promise that it will look great. They've done Jaguars and even Harleys. Those customers went away happy. This I do not doubt at all; otherwise they'd be out of business. But what about long-term rust protection? Have the owners of those Jaguars and Harleys ever witnessed a hundred-hour salt-spray test? Well, I have; and Great Lakes' argument fails to convince.

Initially, AAA's Bob Stickney tried to delude me into believing that the process would not remove original paint. Who can believe something as absurd as that? Such a process would be nothing short of magic. I don't quite believe in magic. Am I to credit that AAA's designated experts have data to support this statement? Where are their data? Let AAA post their data up on the web. If they send me the URL, I promise to post a link to it here. Otherwise AAA, lacking data in your files, kindly cease with these very unscientific recommendations. Who can believe it? Folks will think you're lying to them.

So what should I do? Those dusty white specklets dotting the whole of my onyx black cruiser came not from house painters fifty or a hundred feet away; they're from a mere two yards away. And further, they're not latex. They're enamel. This over-spray is firmly bonded. Doubtless Great Lakes can indeed remove it. But how much paint will my fenders be left with?

I just call in my claim and await a visit form the adjustor. But guess what? Even though I had an appointment, Mr. Stickney didn't want to come out and look. He called instead to say that he wasn't coming: over-spray was over-spray, call Great Lakes and then get back to me with their estimate. But having taken the whole day off just to be there for this appointment, I insisted that he not stand me up. Reluctantly, he agreed to show, and took another several hours getting around to it. When he finally did show up, he clearly wasn't interested. He wouldn't listen to my proposal, even though I was trying to arrange it so as to save his company money. He countered my questions with off hand statements that were barely even tangential to the subject. Not since watching that old movie The Flimflam Man have I heard such disconnected rhetoric strung together so as to make apparent sense.

AAA, in the person of it's Senior Claim Representative, obviously didn't care to hear out the thoughts of a long time customer. Now I'm annoyed. So I will make my points publicly. Here they are along with some I uncovered later:

Untruth Number One:

AAA's Bob Stickney tried to tell me that Great Lakes Chemical can easily remove any amount of over-spray from the factory-applied top coat, totally and completely, without harm whatsoever to the original factory paint. This is absurd. Further, it is untrue. He must have judged me an idiot. I am insulted. I telephoned Great Lakes Chemical myself on the morning of December 13th, and spoke first to Todd, and then to Jim Anderson. The latter informed me that the process may be expected to remove, on an average, one quarter mil of the original factory top coat. Anderson said this did not matter, since paint does not need to be thick in order to protect the metal...that certain cars have only a two-mil thickness to begin with. If these numbers are correct, then he would seem to be saying that an eighth, 12.5 percent of the total, does not pose a significant loss.

Does this make sense? Paint is expensive when you multiply it by the number of vehicles that any OEM produces. If that extra quarter mil were truly insignificant, why did not the OEM elect to keep that 12.5 percent savings for themselves?

As I explained to Mr. Stickney, it just so happens that I work in the testing lab of a German automotive company. I have a been there almost ten years. We mostly make doorbeams, subframes, axles and such. We stamp, bend, hydroform, weld, and yes...even paint them. We test every one of these processes, including the paint, right here in town. The priority concern as regards paint thickness is long-term corrosion protection. The big name companies we make parts for insist upon this very strongly. Currently, my own technical speciality is not the corrosion resistance test. But I have often seen the results of just such tests. The minimum benchmark is not zero rust, but rather a maximum allowable amount of rust. Why? Simply because no reasonable thickness of paint can possibly provide absolute protection against corrosion. For total protection, the paint would have to be so extremely thick that it would be impractical. I seem to remember that back in the Navy, they liked paint very thick indeed. There just isn't any such thing as extra thickness. Any loss, even just a quarter mil, must count for something.

For rust protection, thicker is better. Obviously though, paint is much softer than steel. So there must be a compromise. A very thick coat would be hard to buff up and easy to dent. So I assume that OEM's apply what thickness they judge to be an adequate trade off between protection, looks and cost. I expect that they tend to err toward the minimum while aiming at a reasonable degree of protection. If this is so, then any less means less than reasonable...less than minimum. Did I hear right? Was Mr. Stickney trying to tell me that AAA thinks less than minimum ought to be plenty good enough?

Untruth Number Two:

Both AAA and Great Lakes Chemical made the claim that their method was the best available. They stressed the point that stripping and repainting cannot be done nearly as well outside of the factory assembly plant. Perhaps this might be true for cars, but only because a car's painted panels cannot be removed for professional e-coat priming. Didn't Mr. Stickney know that motorcycles are bolted together, rather than welded? He must have, since mine was mostly in pieces when he came to see it. Unbolted parts can quite cheaply be shipped to wherever the necessary service was offered. Great Lakes Chemical claims to have worked on a fair number of motorcycles. I am surprised that they too did not know this. Why would they not know it? Did they really not know it?

Further, AAA and Great Lakes Chemical both insist that OEM-quality surface preparation and priming cannot be performed locally. This is completely untrue. I tried to tell Mr. Stickney so; but he just wouldn't listen. Anyone in the insurance business ought to know that e-coat painting is available several places right here in the state. Like I said, I happen to work at just such a place. In our plant, we do salt spray testing to keep tabs on our in-house e-coat system. We paint with e-coat because it is superior. And we even have an overcapacity for this very excellent process. This is typical, since e-coat systems cannot be enlarged cost-effectively. So typically you install the size system which you think you are going to need later. In the interim, you vend excess capacity as a service.

The conveyor for our e-coat system runs the whole length of the plant. I can walk by anytime and chance to see patio and park chairs, benches, tables and once even motorcycle fenders trundling down that monorail. Interestingly enough, Mr. Stickney told me that he lives just a very short distance from our plant. This was his answer, putting on airs of one well informed, to my interrupted suggestion. I took his statement the other way. To me he seemed rather poorly informed. If I knew my own job as poorly as that, I should have been fired a long time ago.

E-coat painting is also cheap...when you are able to contract it from an OEM. I once arranged for it personally. I paid less than twenty dollars to e-coat an eight-foot-long, very heavy, steel gate post. I went that route because I have found e-coat to be very nearly impervious...at least as far as paint is concerned. Should I need to inspect the metal surface of an e-coated specimen, my only recourse is to bead blast the e-coat away. No solvent I have ever tried will even so much as soften it. I can't even chip the stuff away. And it's so hard that hand sanding takes forever. After long years, I have developed a near-total faith in e-coat. I've no faith whatever in the solvent/abrasive technique offered by Great Lakes Chemical and recommended in full by AAA. To be fair, I did ask Great Lakes to send me test data in their favor. They declined. Perhaps they didn't have any, at least not any they were willing to share with me. I was supposed to take them at their word. Not very encouraging...

E-coat isn't perfect though. The one bad thing you can say about e-coat is that it is none too pretty. At our plant it is only available in black, with a dull, satiny finish. Nevertheless, we have no difficulty vending contracts, large and small, for this service. Outside clients submit to us all manner of assorted items to be given a protective base coat. For pennies a pound they send us raw stampings and weldments, still all dirty and oily, even perhaps a tiny bit rusty. Our plant returns them clean and black. Tubular products even get painted on their insides! You can't beat that.

A Closing Comment:

When I tried to explain these facts to AAA and Great Lakes Chemical, they couldn't have been more completely disinterested. And it seemed to me that, Mr. Stickney could hardly have been more effusive in recommending what great guys Jim and Todd were at Great Lakes Chemical. He assured me how much I would like them and all. Well, maybe so. But the apparently cosy relationship between these three strikes me as odd. I would have expected a more professional recommendation. Or better yet, a list of several AAA-approved facilities. You've just got to wonder about things like that...

I'm more than just a little bit dissatisfied. No longer do I care to save AAA a single dime. I have long since tended to ignore those little dings in the bumper and the sides on my '86 GMC van...even though I still carry full coverage. The one up front even has a tiny puncture hole from that squarish hunk of steel an oncoming car batted my way on M96 just last spring. I blew it off mostly because I simply didn't have time, and really didn't very much care. My deductible is $250 bucks, and a proper fix would take some days; a can of spray paint costs two bucks, and takes almost not time at all. To me, that old van is just box with wheels on it. But the Royal Star is something else; and I care how it looks! Big ol' dent in the GMC...no problem. Just one tiny dot of white on the Star...really, really big problem. AAA doesn't understand. So now I must reevaluate my relationship with AAA. How to begin?...

Where oh where is my policy?... In the file cabinet. Got it. Hmmm. Ooh, look there! I was such a good customer that I'd even gone and purchased the rental option as a rider for the GMC van! Maybe it is not too late to put in a claim on that last tiny little fender crease... After all, didn't Mr. Stickney say, "AAA is happy to pay all reasonable repair expenses," obviously emphasizing that I was being unreasonable in wanting a repaint. The crease and one or two other miniscule dents: both reasonable claims, I think... I hadn't really thought to bother. But now... And if nothing else, the very next little ding I find, no matter how minor...I'll be calling that one in...and right away, too. And likewise any others that follow. And of course I'll be taking AAA up on that rental, each and every single time. My accumulating deductibles? No very great problem... Thanks to a recent inheritance, everything we own is now paid for. My not-to-be-sneered-at salary just keeps piling up in the bank. Usually, I am pretty cheap. I rather dislike wasting money on extravegant things like totally unwanted repairs on my old junker of a van. I can't expect to get it back. But now it seems a very, very worth while cause indeed. At two hundred fifty bucks a pop, I might just buy a dose or two of satisfaction.


Policy:  7-399-80-99-04
Claim:  FC-287080-M250
Representative:  Bob Stickney, tel. 616-382-8319, fax 616-342-4005, pager 616-474-0362

Great Lakes Chemical:  tel. 616-372-6886  Their web page requires Macromedia Flash plug-in, which Netscape tells me is not available for Windows98. So all I get is a blank yellow screen. I can't even send them e-mail to inform them about this page.


December 16  Dropped off four parts (both fenders and both side covers) for professional stripping and derusting. Cost: $90.
December 17  E-mailed each of the Lycos-listed overspray repair sites to request independent laboratory results of side-by-side hundred-hour salt-spray test. Patiently awaiting their response. Alerted WOOD TV (Channel 8 -- Grand Rapids, MI) which regularly airs an investigative, consumer-complaint program. It's a long-shot...but who knows? Cost: nothing.
December 19  Created "robots.txt" file (spider bait) and added the keywords "AAA, Insurance" to the META tag for "index.html" file. Uploaded and tested both. Then spent half a morning submitting main URL to every free search engine I could find. Filed on-line complaint form with Michigan Attorney General's office requesting that AAA & Great Lakes make available certified data via an independent laboratory for before-and-after corrosion resistance. Cost: nothing.
December 22  Received telephone call from AAA. Mr. Rich Dymond, from the AAA office in Niles, Michigan politely and courteously informed me that upon review of my information (sent to AAA's main web-page e-mail link, with an attached link to this web-page) he agrees on behalf of AAA that repainting is recommended and will be authorized for my claim.
December 24  Received polite letter from AAA confirming the agreement noted above. Here is an OCR scan of the letter.


What is e-coat? Link #1
What is e-coat? Link #2
What is e-coat? Link #3

A big semi-local e-coat business. Not where I work...
And another one in Ohio.
Not so local, small-job e-coat house.

Technique eats into factory-applied paint by 2/100ths inches. This is what they elect to advertise; and doubtless true in at least some cases. But what are the chances it represents worst case...or even average?