Selecting a good body shop to repair your car can be a challenging experience. If you haven't dealt with major body damage before, then it's likely that you will be faced with a barrage of terminology that you are unfamiliar with. Even though many high-quality body shops do an excellent job of explaining their processes, it can still be intimidating to wade into this new world unprepared. This can be especially difficult if you are repairing damage to your vehicle on your own rather than with the help of an insurance company.
Luckily, finding a collision repair shop to get your ride fixed up and back on the road doesn't have to be difficult. A few simple tips will help you to navigate this process more smoothly and confidently.
Get Multiple Estimates if You Can
Most body shops will provide free estimates, but the traditional advice of seeking out several estimates is not applicable to every situation. If you are working with an insurance company, then often body shops will want to deal with them directly. This can be jarring, but it's also logical; after all, the insurance company is the one paying the tab for the repairs. Shopping around for a body shop and getting estimates is still a good idea, just don't expect to be able to use that information to necessarily provide any negotiating advantage with your insurance company.
On the other hand, multiple estimates are key if you're paying for the repair yourself. In this case, you should try to receive estimates from at least three shops. Consistency in these estimates is a good thing, and you should be wary of estimates that are unusually high or unusually low. A cheap shop isn't necessarily a bad shop, but you should always try to determine why their rates are so unusually low.
Understand the Estimates That You're Given
Simply receiving a dollar figure is never enough information to make an informed choice, especially if the damage to your vehicle is fairly serious. Always be sure that the estimates that you receive are able to answer these questions:
- Will the shop use genuine, OEM, or aftermarket parts? New or used?
- What is the shop's labor rate and what percentage of the work is labor?
- If painting is necessary, what proportion of the cost are paintwork and preparation?
- What painting methods will be used?
Pay special attention to the techniques the shop will use for repainting your vehicle. This is one of the easiest areas to make mistakes in and it is one place that you do not want to try to save money. In fact, it's often much better to save some money by using aftermarket or even used parts rather than settling for inferior paintwork. In particular, be sure that a proper amount of time and attention is paid to paint preparation.
Don't Ignore the Warranty
Body shops should warranty their work (including paintwork) for a minimum of one year. Any less should raise red flags, as should warranties that don't seem to completely cover the work. While you should probably be especially suspicious of cheap shops with seemingly poor warranties, the truth is that any shop with a warranty that doesn't seem up to snuff should be avoided. You should expect longer warranties for paintwork, as substandard paint jobs can often begin to fail after the first year.
Most importantly, be sure to actually use this information. It's easy to feel as though you're doing your due diligence by asking the right questions, but it is equally important to put the answers you receive to good use. Take notes as you receive estimates and take at least an afternoon to review your notes before making a final decision.