THIS MATAWAN AND MIDDLETOWN BUSINESS HAS BEEN FIXING CARS FOR DECADES AND IS NOW FOCUSING ON TECHNOLOGY AND THE RESTORATION OF SOME OF THE INDUSTRY’S HIGHEST END MODELS
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
For more than 40 years, Compact Auto Body has been repairing dents, replacing bumpers, and painting cars, treating collision repair like the science it is. But with the advent of smart cars, electric models, and self-driving vehicles, the Middletown based car shop recently stepped up its game.
“We received our Tesla certification and are now one of only 12 auto body shops in New Jersey licensed to repair those vehicles,” noted Gordon Hilton, company president, who defined his shop’s specialty as restoring to “fresh from the factory” condition.
“Cars have changed so much over the past several years, and the operating systems have become so complex,” Hilton continued. “We make it our goal to stay on top of those changes and align ourselves with the right technology so that we can fix every make and model.”
For Hilton, that diverse ability is steeped in fundamentals.
“We have always based repairs on the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) standards and fixed according to factory specs,” he noted. “For years, many car manufacturers would withhold repair methods for vehicles, but thankfully that is slowly changing.”
Professionally certified by more than a dozen manufacturers, including Cadillac, Jeep, Infiniti, GMC, Honda, Nissan, Acura, and Ford, Compact Auto Body handles both large and small repairs and works with insurance companies to ease what can often be a tedious process.
The shop, which was launched by Hilton’s father, Richard, in 1978, started as a small auto body business on a spare plot of land that used to house a chicken coop.
“He rented a garage from a lady on this same site and repaired damaged vehicles for a word of mouth clientele,” Hilton said. “He had a background in mechanics and knew how to do exterior painting because he used to paint airplanes. His work was good and he is just a really honest guy, so he built a following as the years went on. He worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week.”
Richard bought some adjacent property when it became available and grew the company even further. Gordon joined the business after high school, learning the ins and outs of the field by working as a technician. In 2006, he stepped in to help manage the operation.
“We knocked down the old shop and put up this 12,000 square foot building,” he said. “We added a lot of equipment and have kept on improving ever since.”
Hilton adopted his father’s commitment to customer service and focused on building upon the existing business model.
“The biggest obstacle in the collision industry is learning how to properly deal with the insurance companies, who are paying the bill,” he said. “When my father retired, I made it my goal to keep the level of customer service high, while fostering a good relationship with insurance companies, who understandably want the most for their money. We invested a lot into purchasing all of the right equipment so that repairs are done according to factory specifications.”
Hilton, who just purchased about $100,000 in tools to work on BMW models, said that the investment is well worth it.
“A lot goes into fixing even a small dent,” Hilton said. “BMW will not allow you to fix a bumper without their certification because their self-driving sensors can be confused by a simple second layer of paint. We are now one of only eight certified BMW collision experts in New Jersey, one of just two independent shops with that credit.”
Compact also holds the same status with manufacturers like Subaru and Ford.
“There’s a lot of specialty tools, a lot of knowledge required when it comes to taking out the batteries and changing the panels,” Hilton said. “But we are fully accredited when it comes to working with that technology.”
Hilton offers a lifetime warranty on all repairs, he said, adding that the future of the industry will involve a more hands on role from car companies.
“I think in the next couple of years, we’re going to see a big change in this industry,” he noted. “Honda recently released data that reported less than 10 percent of its cars are being xed properly. And Tesla came out with its own auto insurance last week. I think other car manufacturers are going to follow suit, ensuring that cars are fixed according to standard.”
This is a marked difference from what Hilton’s father dealt with when he launched the business.
“With the old cars, all you had to worry about was the engine,” he laughed. “Now there are multiple space age technologies. But we’re ahead of the curve, learning how to repair all of the new features as they roll them out.”
Compact Auto Body
279 Main Street, Matawan / 732.583.6566 660 Route 35,
Middletown / 732.671.1331 / compactautobody.com