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Unlike general mechanic centers, auto body shops work on the exterior of vehicles. Common jobs they tend to perform include repairing or replacing bumpers and panels after collisions, repairing dents and repainting a car’s body.
Unfortunately, if your car needs exterior work done, the mechanic who fixed your broken A/C system last summer might not be qualified to touch up a scratch in your car’s paint. And the specialization needed to do auto body repair can be expensive, adding sharply to the cost of car ownership.
Cheap body repair can sometimes translate to poor quality work. When you set out to find an auto body shop, instead of going strictly by price, look for a shop that offers affordable services and guarantees quality work.
Here’s what you need to know when looking for a reliable auto body shop.
What type of auto body shop do you need?
To get the right repair at the right price, you’ll first need to select the right type of shop — the best business to fix a dime-sized dent may not be the one you’d choose to correct a mangled bumper.
The first thing to figure out is which type of auto body shop does the repairs you need. The most common types of body shops are:
Dealership repair shops, which specialize in your brand of car.
Independent body shops, which are small businesses that can repair most body damage.
Specialty body shops, which tend to specialize in repairing luxury, classic and high-end sports cars.
Paintless dent repair services, which can repair minor dents when the paint doesn’t need to be touched up.
Aspects like labor rates and available parts will differ from one type of shop to another. So knowing the type of shop you want to use can help you adjust your expectations before talking with a manager or technician.
Once you know what type of repairs you need, you’ll want to consider if you’ll be filing an insurance claim. Most insurance companies want you to use a preferred auto body shop that works with them regularly. While this isn’t required, it can simplify the process for you.
What affects the cost of auto body repairs?
The price of auto body work depends on several factors:
The work being performed. Having a dent repaired or a scratch repainted will cost less than having an entire side panel replaced after a collision.
The vehicle make and model. The newer and more luxurious the vehicle, the more expensive the work is likely to be. This is also true for foreign vehicles. That’s because parts and paint tend to be more expensive for such models.
Individual shop rates. The labor rate you pay and the cost of parts can vary from one shop to the next. This can relate to your location and the technicians’ training and experience.
Because labor rates and auto body shop’s markup rates can vary, it’s a good idea to get several estimates to ensure you’re paying a fair price for the work.
Where to look
No matter what, it’s wise to research more than one auto body repair shop.
You could go from place to place, getting several estimates, but let’s be real: Time is money and that could take all day — maybe several days.
To get a start on picking an auto body shop, narrow your list down to two or three shops you’ll get estimates from.
Word of mouth can be your best friend here. Whittle down your list by asking for referrals from friends, family, coworkers and neighbors. Be sure to ask specifics about what they like, the quality of work and time it took to repair the damage. If you’re going to be filing an insurance claim, ask them if they went through insurance and how that experience was for them.
Check out other drivers’ reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List and Google. Even the best shops will have an occasional unhappy customer, so focus on trends within reviews. Look for any overall positive ratings for shops you haven’t heard of, and check for trends in negative reviews of shops you’ve been referred to.
Publications and sponsorships
Pay attention to auto body shops that advertise in publications like your local newsletter or sponsor events around town. While they are aiming to get more business with the ads and sponsorships, seeing auto body shops mentioned outside of their own employees is a good way to start a list of potential shops.
» MORE: How do I find a good mechanic?
What to look for
Once you have your shortlist of shops, start with the front-runner; you might feel good enough about the first shop that you go ahead without getting a second estimate.
Promising visual cues that are a sign of a professional auto body shop include:
Clean, modern facilities. It should be obvious that the manager or owner takes pride in their shop.
Technicians’ training certificates on the wall. If you don’t see any posted, don’t be afraid to ask about specific experience and training.
Certificates indicate the shop has met stringent standards. These can include AAA’s Approved Auto Body Repair, I-CAR Gold Class, ASE Blue Seal of Excellence
What to ask
Before you agree to having any work done, take the time to get information about shop policies and what you can expect from their services. Questions to ask might include:
Does the shop guarantee its work or offer lifetime warranties? Not all do, but the warranty reflects the quality of materials and paint. If you want a repair that will last the lifetime of the car, ensure the warranty offers that guarantee.
Have they worked on your make and model of vehicle before? Not all auto body shops can repair every vehicle. Talk with them to ensure they have the experience to work on your particular vehicle.
Will they use OEM, aftermarket or used parts? This will heavily affect cost — but you might not want to scrimp here. Though OEM parts are more expensive, some experts recommend them for collision and other auto body repairs.
Can they itemize your estimate? Most auto body shops will offer free estimates after looking at your vehicle, and they should provide you with an itemized estimate that shows the cost of labor along with the individual costs of parts and material. Separating the costs for parts and labor can help you compare in an apples-to-apples manner.
Can they match estimates within reason? If two estimates are very different, however, compare them closely — the cheaper shop might be cutting corners.
Compare your notes
After talking with a few auto body shops, compare your notes to see which one looks like the best option. Things to consider are estimates of work, estimated time for the repair, availability of OEM or aftermarket parts, and technician training and experience.
And don’t overlook your own gut feeling when it comes to working with a shop. If you have a bad feeling when talking with a technician or shop manager, that might be a sign to avoid their services regardless of how good of a deal they offer.