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7 Things Auto Body Shops Won’t Tell You

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Thanks to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance via MSN Money, here are 7 things your auto-body shop won’t tell you. In fact, I could have used this article a few month ago when my car was in for repairs after an accident.

1. That fender bender will be a major expense. If the accident is your fault and you have the typical $500 deductible for a collision, kiss your money goodbye…

2. Approved shops are beholden to tightfisted insurers. Auto insurers contract with providers to repair vehicles for a pre-negotiated rate (think of it as managed care for sick cars). And your car could be the victim of cost cutting…

3. Not all replacement parts are created equal. Original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts are designed to match precisely and may be safer. But insurers prefer that shops use generic or salvage replacement parts because they’re cheaper…

4. The due date is most likely fiction. Mechanics routinely blame missed deadlines on delays in parts delivery. The truth is that many of them take on more business than they can handle…

5. A rented car will cost you. Renting a car for three weeks could cost $1,000 or more. Even if you have optional rental-car insurance (which costs $1 or $2 a month), your daily reimbursement may be limited to the cost of a compact car.

6. Your car needs a shop that speaks its language. Many European cars use aluminum and ultrahard steel that require special equipment to repair… Shops should be certified by the manufacturer to do the work, meaning they must have specialized training and equipment — and charge higher rates.

7. The insurer’s warranty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Insurers sometimes dangle warranties on the parts (for as long as you own the vehicle) to entice you to go to shops in their network. But the body shop’s guarantee is the one that’s important.

Here are some of my thoughts and experience with this advice, first-hand.

1. I knew that if I were in any accident, there would be no getting around paying the full deductible. Any body work is sure to cost more than the $500 deductible. The article cites the cost of replacing a fender on two very different cars: A Buick might cost about $1,000 and a Mercedes up to $1,350. When any semi-serious damage required replacing the fender, there’s no way you can get by paying just part of the deductible.

2. My car insurance company (Liberty Mutual) makes it incredible easy to get back on the road after an accident. They took care of the financial aspect, while basically all I had to do was drop off the car and pick it up. Before doing so, the company provided me with a list of partnered repair facilities. Although I have a Honda, they recommended a repair shop “attached” to a Ford dealership.

They did the work, and on my first inspection, the work looked good. Months later, I could tell that the work was less than perfect. The plastic at the base of the side windows became slightly unglued, for instance.

3. According to the police report, the accident was my fault. The article suggests that insisting on OEM parts if the accident is not one’s fault, but that didn’t apply to me. The shop replaced the two driver’s side door panels, which were salvaged and painted to match my car. With such a cosmetic repair, I have no problem with salvaged parts. There are no dents, and the paint job was good enough.

4. I completely expected the repairs would take longer than the shop originally indicated, so I wasn’t too upset when they delivered almost a week after they promised. The insurance company was paying for my compact rental car. Although it was a little uncomfortable, I survived.

5. Speaking of the rental car, when I picked it up I asked to see if they had something nicer than the Saturn Ion. I might have been willing to pay for the difference.

6. If the work I needed to have done on my Honda Civic extended into some of the more technical parts, I would have felt more comfortable with a Honda dealer.

7. The insurance company and the shop both provided a lifetime guarantee. I am not completely confident in these lifetime guarantees. If I bring the car back to the shop for covered follow-up work, I get the feeling they would “find something” that’s not covered.

I’m glad my car is on the road, approaching 70,000 miles, and giving me no problems whatsoever. I’m looking forward to another 130,000 more.

Updated September 28, 2007 and originally published May 2, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Chris

I was in a front in collision a few years ago when a woman ran a red light in front of me. My experience may have been different because the accident was not my fault, but I was very satisfied with the insurance company.

Her insurance was State Farm, and undoubtedly insurance companies are not equal.

I insisted I take the vehicle to my dealership for the repairs and they had no objection. The rental car I did have a snag on. I insisted I get a comparable vehicle (mine was to be in the shop for a few months) and they agreed and gave me an SUV. At the end, they did try to only pay for the ‘compact’ but after flat refusing to pay based on their comparable vehicle clause they dropped the charges.

I did do some research online at the time and as I recall, insurance companies cannot force you to go to any repair shop unless you’ve agreed to the restriction in your policy (ie, you’re dealing with your insurance not someone else) and I think the comparable size vehicle rental option is common. The number of alloted miles they give you is also very negotiable.

If you are in an accident that is not your fault you have a lot of room to demand top quality service. My body shop was great, and I actually got it 2 weeks late because after they finished the inspector went over it and saw a few things for them to redo.

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avatar EA

4. I had a repair they said would take a couple weeks…in May. In December they were finally finished. Never took the car there again, but had to finish the original repairs there since the insurance company had already paid them.

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avatar Deb

I can not imagine that a vehicle sat in a shop for that lond and you did nothing to get it out? Depending on the labor hours and total cost of the repair, after 6 weeks tops, you should have taken your complaint to the insurance company, asked to see your vehicle and got it out of that shop right away. Was it under investigation or something that actually held up the repair? Was it drivable? All these questions come into play when you have an issue with down time. Sometimes you can’t always blame the repairer.

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avatar MN Body Shop Owner

This is absolutely and completely uncalled for and ridiculous. Unless this was a brand new car with no replacement factory parts available there is no excuse for the delay. There has never been a vehicle in my shop for more than 2 weeks whether it was pre-scheduled or towed in. This definitely give repair shops a bad name. You only make enemies out of your customers when you take on more than you can handle.

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avatar Blain Reinkensmeyer

The rental car numbers threw me off, I thought it was really cheap to rent a car, but apparently I am wrong!

I blame my lack of knowledge on the fact I have never rented a car before as I am not even of age to do so at about 21, lol.

Why do they make it so you have to be 23 anyways? Doesn’t make sense!

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avatar huh ?

Re : Flexo’s honda repair,

maybe you should read your insurance policy and see what they would do for you in an accident, You get what you pay for !

If your not 100 % satisfied then take it back to the shop and have it done correctly. next time do your home work and find a shop on your own. Ask around, or check the better business bureau.

To your dismay the insurance company only owes you basic transportation for a rental, You should be happy you had a car to drive, i laugh at people who drive pieces of crap and expect to receive a new luxury car in trade, lucky they don’t rent old used cars.

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avatar MN Body Shop Owner

I always advise customers that the shops on the insurance company list are not necessarily the best choices. They need to choose what is right for them. I also make sure to let them know that the warranty the insurance company promises is not provided by the insurance company at all. It is a requirement under the contract in order to be on the preferred shop list. Your warranty is always supplied by the shop. Even if my shop would fail to adequately fix a concern, the insurance company will send it to a different shop and mail me the bill. Funny that they get by claiming they offer the warranty! Just a thought. As for getting your vehicle repaired at a repair shop that specializes in your make of vehicle I will say that many shops can handle any of the specialized material on any make and model. And bonus for you, my labor rate doesn’t differ whether it is a Buick or Mercedes. Look for I-CAR and ASE certifications. When in doubt ask that the repairs needed be explained so that you are confident that the shop is equipped and knowledgeable.

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avatar Tinman

Chris you raised a good point for all to take note of. You felt you had more choices because of not being the “at fault” party, ie. not going through your own insurance company. Having been in the collision repair business for over 30 years I have seen people have more problems with there own insurance company than the other party’s. Why do we feel that we must accept less from the people we pay to insure us. Often times we trap ourselves when we shop for lower rates, don’t we all, and signup with a new carrier only to find that cut rates often mean cut services such as inferior parts to those that were on the car at the time of the accident, rental car surprises, etc. The insurance company generally has to pay to restore your car to pre-accident condition, a misnomer in itself because before your car was in the accident it was “accident-free” and even after the repairs, it was now a repaired vehicle. However, if your had OEM(original equipment manufactured) parts on it before the accident, shouldn’t it also have them after the accident. If this is explained to you that this is how your insurance company is “keeping your costs down”, translate “keeping their profits up”, at your expense, then ask yourself this: How often has my premium gone down over the years with my carrier, even without any claims? Is the enormous profit taking by my insurance company done at the expense of my safety? Ask your claims adjuster if the aftermarket sheet metal has been crash tested as the OEM parts were? If they say yes, ask them to produce the results of the test. They can’t do that because they are not crash tested, even parts designated as CAPA approved and DOT approved only have been tested for corrosion and possibly weld strength, not how they stand up in a collision.

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avatar Deb

And also remember that some of the reason your rates go up, isn’t because of the repair or parts but what about the people that sue your company for no or minor injuries thinking they can get a free ride for a while? Insurance companies try to keep the cost low for the repair for many reasons, you need to look at the big picture.

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avatar Car Cam

I recently sent this to the author of “7 things…”

I just came across your “7 things auto-body shops won’t tell you” and as a 2nd generation shop owner and industry writer, I find some of what you say right on target and other things, well, not so much.

I work hard to be an advocate for our industry and so am compelled to give you a few of my thoughts. I hope you find them informative and perhaps you will change some of your beliefs about receiving auto body repair.

Your item #2:

It is true that insurers make “agreements” with shops for pre-negotiated labor rates and set fees for certain operations. However, the insurers then attempt to make these contracted rates “stick” with all shops, from ABC to XYZ. The vast majority of shops are under the thumb of insurers when it comes to reimbursement with or without an “agreement”. However, you are not going to see an honest shop cutting corners by repairing parts they get paid to replace and inferring that this is a common tempted practice makes the entire industry appear questionable, when we are not. Most of us are independent business owners and our reputation with our customer is on the line everyday and everyday shop and after shop is doing the right thing by the customer.

The best place for people to get a referral to a repair shop is from family and friends with similar tastes and expectations when purchasing a service. Another good source is with the independent mechanic they may have a relationship with. The online services such as the one you mention are not hard to get listed on and only require you to pay the fee. I recommend that people check further than those types of listings by going to the BBB website or their state justice department and confirm the business has an honorable reputation. They should also look for certification in welding by I-CAR, and in competence by ASE. I-CAR provides a professional designation if certain levels of training are maintain so a consumer can look for this too, it’s the I-CAR Gold Glass Professional. If a shop doesn’t have an I-CAR certified welder (or equivalent – I don’t know what the equivalent is) and ask to see the documentation, the consumer should move on. ASE certifies competence through testing different aspects of the repair process, such as estimating, collision repair and painting.

Your item #3:

While everything here is as we experience it, there’s a touch more going on. Often in 3rd party claims – when it’s not your fault – it is becoming nearly impossible to get OEM parts for our customer. Insurers are just telling shops and customers that if they don’t like their settlement then go through their own carrier. By doing this the customer is then restricted by their own policy, in turn their insurer goes other the 3rd party insurer to collect and they still don’t have to pay for OEM parts. In addition, usually the only way we can get an insurer to pay for OEM parts is to provide proof that the aftermarket parts do not fit or are of inferior in terms of how they look – like in headlamp reflectors – when compared to the OEM. The way this is accomplished is by actually ordering the specified aftermarket parts, and when they are inferior – which isn’t always the case, but it is more often than not – calling the insurer for OEM parts approval. This in and of itself can easily add a week to the process depending on the insurers requirements for approval, some have to physically inspect the parts on location.

Your item #4:

Mechanics are synonymous with mechanical repair such as engine servicing which is not auto body repair. In auto body repair we have repair technicians; however, it is the estimator or customer service representative that normally communicates with the customer. The items that hamper an accurate delivery date more frequently than not, is not the shop over-scheduling, it is the waiting the shop must do for an insurer to approve things they either did not see or intentionally left off an estimate they prepared and in turn, handed to the customer to take to the body shop. The body shop, if not one of “contracted” providers you warn against earlier, is required, if they want to receive payment, to get approvals for every line item of labor, parts or materials PRIOR to moving ahead to correctly repair the vehicle. This is time-consuming and riddled with delays inflicted upon shops by insurers trying to get out of paying what they should.

Your item #6:

This is true for some of the top-end models in some of the higher-end lines. Not all models of all higher-end lines. Additionally, very few shops will actually have access to the certification process as it may be limited by market by the manufacturer to some extent. The investment, for example, to be Audi certified to repair Audi’s top-end models may exceed $100,000 and require a dedicated area for only that make of vehicle. Obviously, not every shop is in this kind of a repair market and are very qualified through other training and resources to repair nearly every other vehicle. If a consumer does their homework when looking for a shop, if a repairer is not qualified to work on their vehicle, they will tell them so. As an industry we want properly repaired vehicles, happy customers and we don’t want to expose ourselves to something we don’t know how to do. And don’t expect insurers to be willing to pay a higher price for a better repair. There are back yard shops in every community, they get paid the same rates by insurers as those of us who maintain a store front, donate to our communities, train and certify our employees and provide our employees with a benefits package.

I am also a freelance writer in the industry.

Thank you for your time,

Car Cam
Second generation body shop owner

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avatar Dave Medsker

Couple of comments from an Auto Body Shop owner…
The BBB only lists shops in it’s network. No BBB complaint might only mean that the shop declined membership (it’s expensive)
The mechanic referral will direct you to the shop of his friend or the shop that sends him work.
In my shop we often take the insurance money for aftermarket parts and purchase original factory parts and take a small loss(on that one part) in order to turn out high quality work and so we don’t have to fuss with poor fit and corrosion problems.
Attention to detail and a love of the trade are the most important qualities in a technician. Young kids smoking and joking and listening to the music too loud should be avoided.
Make sure the shop repairs to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Most Direct Repair Shops are fair to good, if they weren’t, they would get dropped by the insurance company.
I find the best shops are the ones where the owner is hands on. Also, USAA Stars shops are always the best.
Use my shop and I promise you’ll be happy with your car. :-)
Summerlin Auto Body in Las Vegas.

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avatar MN Body Shop Owner

I can attest to ordering OEM and only being paid for aftermarket. And funny that my husband and I are the only ones who touch the vehicle from start to finish. We actually get jobs based on the fact that we, as owners, are hands-on. We have taken many jobs away from our largest competitors because people are realizing that going with the competitor is too impersonal.

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avatar mark

1. That fender bender will be a major expense.
-Not always. Parts can often be repaired to save costs with no loss of structural quality. You need a shop with expert technicians, and not a shop of hackers that like to keep customers in the dark.

2 Approved shops are beholden to tightfisted insurers
-Not always. Occasionally, insurance companies will actually give the shops a fair rate. reputable shops will not work for pennies on the dollar and cut corners. but many hackers and fly-by-nights at many “pro shops” are surely cutting corners; it is documented.

3 Not all replacement parts are created equal.
-OEM is better, but aftermarket parts installed by an expert tech look perfect and are structurally identical 75% of the time.

4. The due date is most likely fiction.
-make sure you specify to a shop if you have a back up car or if you are renting and flexible or not on the due date. A professional will pick a date and do his best to meet it.

5. A rented car will cost you.
-agreed, sometimes people just dont have sufficient rental coverage

6. Your car needs a shop that speaks its language.
-NOT TRUE. experts can handle all makes and models 99% of the time and if they cant a reputable shop will tell you and not perform shoddy repairs.

7. The insurer’s warranty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
-AGREE 1000%. it is the shops warranty that matters. pick a reputable shop with a great warranty, like ours a 100% satisfaction warranty for as long as you own the vehicle.

Summation: Good thoughts by the article writer but the points are often misguided with incomplete information. With 30 years experience in this business, rest assured that my above post is the whole truth. Period.

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avatar Jim Edington

I’m a shop owner, and I have to disagree (at my peril) with the notion that an insurance company’s warranty doesn’t mean anything… I have repaired cars at my shop that came from other shops who used to be on the insurance company’s program and had since shut down. These were warranty repairs people, and I got paid fully while the customer who used our facility for the warranty work did not have to pay a dime out of their pocket.

Yes, as long as you are a preferred shop for a particular insurance company and you overlook something or do poor work those warranty repairs will be sent back to your shop and you will have to fix them for free. However, I’ve been paid whenever the insurance company chose to use a non-OEM part and then we ended up using OEM because the part was defective and brought back for warranty. Am I missing something???

Signs of a great shop are shops that will 1) Not give you an expected date due for substantial repair orders until the vehicle is torn down and ALL parts are ordered with delivery dates known, 2) Will call you during the repair process to update you on any changes to the completion date, and 3) Will test parts fit before ever accepting parts (yes you can pre-fit a part and return it if it doesn’t fit–take a picture and the insurance company will even pay the shop for pre-fit of a/m or non OEM parts)

I hope consumers are aware that although insurance companies do have a grip on many shops, that grip is limited to maintaining lower cost repairs–certainly not quality of workmanship because it’s the shop that can allow in improper repair slip through its fingers.

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avatar MN Body Shop Owner

I completely agree with test fitting parts and also with earlier mention of refusing to use parts that are not OEM quality or have poor repairs (remanufactured parts). As a rule of thumb I will order the parts sought out by the insurance company and I will also order a new OEM part. This practice prevents any delays in parts delivery. If the part found by the insurance company in not the same quality as what was on the vehicle prior to the accident I will photograph it and use the new OEM. If it is of the same quality then obviously we would use the one the insurance company requested. We will also not use aftermarket parts on any insurance pay job unless the matter has been addressed with the customer prior to repairs as law here says they cannot replace OEM parts with aftermarket unless approved by the customer. Of course there be some language in their policy that states otherwise but we always check before using aftermarket.

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avatar Charles procks

I had an accident in my work vehicle in Apirl and the body shop told me I will have my vehicle back two in half month,and to this date it’s been four months.. Do I have any lost of wages do from time lost?

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avatar MN Body Shop Owner

I would definitely check with the insurance company paying the damages to see what is covered under the policy.

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