Daniel and Dana Brandt are husband and wife as well as partners in DJ’s Restoration, an auto-body shop. They are shown here with a flame-decorated welding helmet in front of a severely damaged Volkswagen Passat. He said he takes care of customers’ cars as if they were his own. Staff photo by Chris Sturgis.

By Chris Sturgis

Daniel Brandt Jr. is a member of the third generation of his family to repair automobiles.

His grandfather owned Perry Auto in Trenton. His father, Daniel Brandt Sr., has a garage at home where he repairs cars for friends and family and works on lawn mowers.

“I was born and raised in a garage,” he recalled, in the office of DJ’s Restoration, the auto body repair shop he owns with his wife, Dana. “I’m mechanically inclined; I can fix just about anything.”

So when he graduated Ewing High School, he went to work in an auto body shop. Eventually, he listened when friends told him he should go into business for himself.

“I put everything on the line,” he said. I worked crazy hours. It was stressful.”

The hardest part was getting any work done when he had to stop constantly to talk with the insurance companies who pay for many of the jobs. He knew how to fix automobiles, but he needed help with the business end.

“I thought if I came to work everyday and just fixed cars, I could make money,” he said. “But I learned you have to be a business person first.”

Enter Dana Brandt, Daniel’s wife. They married about a year or so after he opened the business 16 years ago, and she started to work part-time in the office, managing insurance claims, doing paperwork and ordering parts.

She said it’s important to help clients through the repair process because they are usually shaken enough by the accident, let alone from suddenly being without a car when they need to get to work. Many of these repair jobs are very expensive. One Honda at the shop was getting $14,000 in repairs and Hummer was getting $27,000 in repairs.

“The Honda was close to a total loss, but not a total loss,” she said.

Five years, ago Dana came to work in the shop full time. In the meantime, the couple has raised two children, Kristine, 19, a student at Mercer County Community College who is studying to be a teacher and Daniel John, a student at Ewing High School.

Brandt said he buys the latest, best equipment and materials to restore each car to pre-collision condition the way he would want his car to look. He has a installed a state of the art booth and requires the use of protective suits and ventilation equipment to protect himself and workers from chemical exposure while painting cars.

“I like working on cars, but I’m not going to kill myself doing it,” Brandt said. He said he also invests in tools that make the job easier, as automotive repair is very rough on the employees’ knees and back.

Brandt has also changed over to the Glasurit 90 Line Waterborne Basecoat paints, which reduce the release of volatile organic compounds into the environment. California is already mandating the use of less-polluting paints, and Brandt said he expects New Jersey to follow suit. The new paint is better for the environment and the employees, without sacrificing a beautiful, protective finish.

Brandt is interested in doing custom paint work, such as air brushing decorations on vehicles or motorcycle gas tanks, proudly displaying the blue and silver flames he added to his own black pickup truck. “It’s something that I want to do a little more of,” he said.

DJ’s Restoration, 244 Stokes Ave., Ewing, can be reached by phone at (609) 530-0901, or visited on the web at djsrestoration.com.