Filler Detective – Best New Car Bodywork Tools at SEMA 2010

Best New Tools from SEMA 2010

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I’m no body man, and I’m not sure I want to be. It’s hard work, takes a long time to learn and it’s probably done wrong as much as it’s done right.

I do know something about inspecting bodywork in preparation for paint or checking a painted car to see if it’s straight.  Straight has different meanings though. To some professional body men and to car owners who’ll only be happy with the best, it means “like a mirror”. I looked at the door shown above for a while cause I knew it had dents in it. These dents had been filled by body filler, probably a ton of it… otherwise, there wouldn’t be much to show for The Filler Detective!

To review, “Body Filler” is the generic term for products such as: Bondo (a 3M product), Putty or spot putty, Feather-Rite or Duraglass from USChemical or Evercoat. Whatever you call it, filler is part of the bodywork process and in very general terms, the less of it you use, the better the bodyman or bodywork. Without going into too much detail on that, thick body filler hides damage that wasn’t repaired correctly. The trouble is, body filler that’s too thick can lead to a host of problems you don’t want… cracking and trapped air or air pockets that show up later as pinholes are the worst of it.

If you’re buying a used car, especially a used hot rod or classic car, the last thing you want is for fresh paint or primer to be hiding ten gallons of body filler. You can count on whatever’s hiding coming out later and costing you a bunch of money, sometimes more than the car’s worth in the first place.

That’s where The Filler Detective comes in… As I learned, “As the lights go up, the price goes down.”

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On the same door, we used the Filler Detective starting in the top corner. The handheld tool is easy to use. Press the felt covered end onto the painted surface and slide it while pushing the button. It’s alot like using a stud finder.  As shown, if there’s no body filler or it’s less than 1/16″ thick, you’ll get a green light like here. (trust me, it’s green)

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Uh-oh! What’s this!?  Look closely and just under the door handle, we found hidden body filler!  Check back to the first picture. See the reflection of the guy walking by? See any distortions or waves there? Neither did I, but there’s 1/8″ of bondo or filler hiding. This might be OK, but let’s keep looking.

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Maybe this is a car you shouldn’t buy. Despite the shinny and flat-looking appearance, there’s 1/4″ or more of body filler on this panel. What’s that hiding? A big dent? Rust? Both? Instead of pulling the dent or banging it out with a hammer and dolly, the painter simply covered it with alot of body filler. Not cool.

So in this case,the painter’s extra time block sanding could have fooled me into thinking the bodywork on this ride was alot better than it actually is. Or you could say, I shouldn’t trust my eyes alone.

As I watched demos at The Filler Detective’s SEMA booth, bunches of people, painters included, tried and failed to spot the hidden dents. I also heard alot of the same questions came up:

  • Is this the same as a paint thickness meter?
    • NO! This isn’t measuring the thickness of the paint, it’s measuring the filler.
    • It’s alot cheaper than a paint thickness meter too (over $600 vs. less than $100)
  • Will it work on Aluminum panels?
    • No. The Filler Detective uses a magnetic field to detect body filler, therefore, ferrous metals only.
  • What kind of body fillers does it work on?
    • Bondo ® 3M™ Bondo Filler®
    • 3M™ A Acryl–Green Spot Putty
    • Feather-Rite ® USChemical®
    • Duraglas®USChemical®
    • Evercoat®Quantum1®
    • U-Pol Flyweight Gold
    • Aluminized Evercoat® Metal-2-Metal™
  • How do I know it’s working? and accurate?
    • The Filler Detective comes with everything you need, including a battery and a gauge for checking accuracy.
    • On one side is metal, on the other is 1/8″ of plastic. Any time you’re wondering, use the gauge to check. The yellow light comes on every time.

I had to try it myself, so I used a panel that wasn’t painted:

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As I swiped the soft felt-covered end over this door, I was happy to see the accuracy of The Filler Detective. Alot of top quality paint jobs have some filler. Filler’s not your enemy, it just needs to be applied correctly.  On the outside edge of the filler where it’s “feathered” with the metal and very thin, the Filler Detective didn’t make a sound and the light stayed green. Piece of cake.

Not bad right? SEMA agreed and awarded the “Best New Tools and Equipment Product” award for SEMA 2010.

Any other unanswered questions might be answered by the video below. Other than that, leave a comment and we’ll tried to get you the info.

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