How to choose the right auto body shop
It's stressful enough having a car accident, dealing with your auto insurance company and worrying about how to get around. The last thing you need is to get the runaround from the auto body shop tasked with fixing your car. Like any business, auto body shops run the gamut of quality, so save yourself the headache by doing a bit of research before you choose an auto body shop to help ensure that your car repairs are completed correctly, on time and with no hassle.
Repairs from a car accident are likely to cost thousands of dollars, and it's smart to use an auto body shop that comes highly recommended. If your car insurance is covering the majority of the repair costs, you may be inclined to go with the authorized repair facility closest to you, considering their list of facilities as a recommendation. Not so fast.
While an auto insurance company will remove a facility if it gets complaints, its list does not constitute a recommendation. Instead, get the info for several auto body shops from your insurance company and then ask friends and neighbors for feedback about any of the shops they've used. Take a few minutes to do an Internet search on each shop, searching for customer reviews.
When you arrive for your estimate, take a few minutes to learn more about the shop. Look for the shop's business license on the wall and ask to see it if it's not there. Ask how long the shop has been in business and if it's always been in that location. Auto body shops that haven't been in business for long or those that have moved from one town to another may indicate a less-than-reputable business. Find out how long the owner or general manager has been with the company and if he has skills in auto body repair as well as managing a shop. While the owner or manager doesn't have to have a background in repair to have a great business, this knowledge certainly is helpful to ensure quality work.
Also, pay attention to the number of people working in the auto body shop's office. The more office staff, the higher the shop's overhead. Overhead costs also can vary widely in the same town, depending on the shop's location. Auto body shops with higher overhead will sometimes tack on additional repairs that are in the gray area of the project to help increase their profit margin. In some cases, they may charge for these services but not actually complete them. For details, read "3 tips to avoid the auto body shop rip-off."
Finally, when you receive your estimate, ask about the auto body shop's warranty for its work. Look for a shop that provides a written warranty for at least one year on the parts as well as the work. A two-year warranty on the body work and three years on paint is ideal. However, be cautious if an auto body shop offers a lifetime warranty, as this type of warranty isn't realistic and usually comes with many exclusions.
When you do choose an auto body shop to get your car repaired, read "Body shop blues: Getting the repairs right" for tips on how to ensure your car is repaired properly.
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So this week I crashed my car. I'm perfectly fine and so is the other driver. But my car has some ugly "injuries" and suddenly I have to try to follow the advice I give to consumers all the time. Getting in a car accident is bad enough, but some consumers feel like fate comes crashing down on them a second time when they go to get their car repaired.
Shoddy work. Junkyard parts. Insurance-company influence. But even if your car is a tangle of metal, like something from a bad dream, getting it fixed doesn't have to be a nightmare. The key is in choosing the right auto body shop. It's an important choice because for most of us our car is our second biggest investment after our home.
Insurance companies are not supposed to force you to use their chosen shop. That's called "steering." But most insurers keep a list of approved shops that they've worked with in the past. And it's one way to narrow your choices down. Once you have that list, ask friends, colleagues -- your mechanic -- if they can recommend any of the shops on the list. If not, maybe they have another strong recommendation.
Next, check out the reputations of the shops people have recommended by calling or going online. Contact your local Better Business Bureau (BBB), your county consumer affairs office (if there is one) and your state consumer protection office. You should be able to find out the number of complaints, the nature of those complaints and how they were resolved.
Find out whether the body shop belongs to any professional organizations. For example, shops that belong to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) pledge to uphold a code of ethics. You can call (800) ASA-SHOP for a referral. Some auto body shops also belong to ACRA -- America's Collision Repair Association. See if the technicians are certified to do body work by ASE -- Automotive Service Excellence.
Some insurance companies allow certain shops to do their own adjusting work, rather than waiting for an adjuster from the insurance company to come out and look at your car. This could save you time. Plus, since the auto body shop wants to make money and wants to do a thorough job, if they do their own adjusting you may get the better benefit of the doubt.
Once you go to the shop, make sure it has a professional appearance and works on newer, nicer cars. Ask the shop if it regularly works on your make and model and has the equipment recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.
Some insurance companies pressure customers to accept generic parts. Auto body experts say most of these parts are of lighter weight than the originals. If you must use generic body parts, ask about the CAPA seal of approval. CAPA is the Certified Automotive Parts Association, a group that tests auto parts.
You may also run into junkyard parts. If your car is fairly new, don't accept junkyard parts. If you have an older car, it's not as much of a problem.
When it's time to pick up your car, study it carefully. Test every single button, switch and lock in the car to make sure it works -- even the stereo. Make sure the doors, hood and trunk open and close smoothly. Examine the paint in bright sunlight to make sure the color matches. I once had to have major body work on a car after somebody fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into it as it sat parallel parked on the street. For three months afterward, I discovered additional problems because I didn't test every last thing before I left the body shop.
To Be a Savvy Consumer:
Carefully choose which collision repair facility will work on your car.
Don't feel pressured to accept generic parts or junkyard parts. Remember, the body shop works for you, not your insurance company.
Put your car through its paces before you take it home.
Where to Complain:
If you're unhappy with an auto body shop, report them to any professional organizations they belong to and file a complaint with your county or state consumer protection office. Also file a complaint with the BBB.