How to Find a Good Body Shop

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Your car’s got a wrinkled fender – who are you going to get to fix it? If it’s not done right, the car will look wrong – and then you won’t be happy.

So, what’s the scoop? How do you tell the Good from the Bad – and the Ugly?

Here’s the plan, man:

* Check the shop’s rep.

Begin with your local Better Business Bureau/consumer regulatory affairs office.

If more than one or two complaints have been lodged over a period of several years, it’s a clue to take your business elsewhere. Look for a shop that consistently wins local BBB awards for exemplary service. These will usually be posted prominently in the shop’s window or office area. Then ask around. Friends, family, people you know – someone will have heard something about the shop – either good or bad. Word gets around (either way). Any shop that’s been there for more than a few years will have happy – or unhappy – customers. The type you find will tell you all you need to know.

* Ask whether the shop will guarantee its work in writing.

If they don’t, Be Gone. Ask to see the warranty coverage offered and read the document carefully. Ask specifically whether  the shop will guarantee a color match on repainted areas. The re-sale/trade-in value of your car will plummet if there’s an area that’s obviously been re-sprayed because potential down-the-road buyers will see that as evidence the car was wrecked, even if was just a minor fender bender.  A good shop will have the equipment as well as skilled technicians needed to assure a near-perfect color match. Don’t accept anything less.

* Ask whether the shop has experience repairing your specific make/model vehicle.

With certain foreign-car brands (Mercedes, Volvos, etc.) this is especially important because there may be repair procedures specific to that make/model of car, requiring special tools and/or skills to do the job right. A  shop not familiar with your vehicle or lacking experience with your particular make/model vehicle might end up doing a not-so-great job.

* Check the techs’ reps.

Ask whether the technicians working on your vehicle have certificates/specific training in paint and bodywork such as those conferred by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence’s Conference on Auto Collision Repair.

* When will the job be done? 

The shop should be willing to give you  a “complete date” – plus or minus a day or two. Watch out for the open-ended “we’ll get it done.” Letting the shop take its time is one thing; taking a month to do a job that should have taken three or four days is a bad scene.

* How’s the Attitude?

Is the staff professional and courteous? Do they seem happy you’re there?  If they’re indifferent or just giving you a bad vibe, beat feet.  If they treat you like crap, think about how they’ll probably treat your car. This may be the single most important clue – either way – as to how things are going to go. Listen to your Spider Sense. It is almost always right.

* Check out the other vehicles being worked on.

Are areas not being repaired carefully masked and protected from overspray? Are the interiors of the cars covered with protective plastic? Are damaged vehicles stored under cover, indoors? A shop that isn’t treating its customers’ cars with respect isn’t treating its customers with respect.

* Is the price quoted generally in line with the other estimates you got?

You did get other estimates – right?

Be suspicious of any estimate that radically undercuts the estimates given by other shops; that hints at low-rent repair procedures and/or inferior parts. Or simply shining you on -with a “final price” that ends up being a lot more than you were initially led to believe. A fair shop will give an estimate with a guarantee that the final bill won’t be more than 10 percent of the estimated bill. Get that in writing – or go someplace else.

Finally: Remember that if someone else smashes up your car, in most states you have the right to choose the bodyshop – not the insurance company. In most cases, you are also entitled to have the vehicle repaired using factory original-equipment parts, not lower-priced (and lower-quality) aftermarket replacements. Or used parts. Also: It’s a good idea to read and thoroughly understand the terms of your insurance coverage today – not the day after you’ve been in an accident. If you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of the policy – including the amount of your deductible – change it now, before you’re stuck working with what you’ve got.

Throw it in the Woods?

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I totally agree when you said that the auto shop should be able to take their time responsibly and not take too long than usual. This is important for us because the car that will be the gift for my son next week. It is a vintage car, so it might really take some time to fix. We just want to surprise him with his dream car since he’s been really good in his studies.

  2. I need to get some work done on my truck because the bumper is smashed in and one of the doors is having trouble shutting normally. You make a great point that one of the first things you should find out is if the shop offers a written guarantee. This shows that they are reputable and gives me peace of mind that they will stand behind the quality of their repair.

  3. I really like your tip that a good company will be able to give you an accurate estimate of when they expect the work to be completed, that way you know what to expect. My son recently got his car into a small fender bender, and he wants to take it in somewhere to be fixed. I will be sure to tell my son that he should look for a company that can give him an idea of how long he needs to wait for repairs.

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