Had a fender bender – or worse? Here’s what you need to know to pick the shop that's right for you.
By Peter duPre
Even though you are a good driver, odds are that sooner or later your car will need the services of a competent collision repair shop. It could be that your vehicle was rear ended on the freeway or simply that you scraped a post while backing out of a tight parking space.
Either way, getting a professional repair is important to protect your investment in your vehicle. Get a poor repair job on a minor fender bender and it can lower a vehicle’s resale value by 10 percent or more and make the vehicle difficult to sell. Worse yet, get a bad repair job on a major collision, and you could be stuck with an unsafe rattletrap that has zero resale value.
On the other hand, a vehicle that has been properly repaired by professionals will have no drop in resale, and in some case can actually improve in value.
The key to getting a quality repair is choosing the right shop. The problem is that there are a lot of “Bondo Bandits” out there who do slap-dash repairs that will cause you problems later. Your job when picking a repair shop is to know how to separate the fly-by-niters from the professionals. Here are a few important tips that will help assure that your vehicle is properly repaired the first time out:
- Know Before You Go – Most folks start looking for a collision repair shop after their vehicle has been damaged in a collision. Having your transportation out of commission puts a lot of pressure on you and all too often a hasty choice and a bad repair is the result. The best time to start shopping for a body shop is before you need one. Look up the body shops in your area through an online search service such as ProCarCare. Ask friends where they got their vehicles repaired and check with local consumer agencies such as the Better Business Bureau to see if the recommended shops have a good reputation.
- Visit The Shop Before You Need It – First impressions count and during your first visit to the body shop, look around and see how the shop conducts business. Look for a neat, well-maintained facility. Bodywork is by nature a dirty business, but even so, the shop should have a clean overall appearance and be well organized. Look for certificates, decals, and placards that indicate advanced collision repair training by national organizations such as I-CAR (Inter-Industry ASE Conference on Auto Collision Repair) and ASE (National Association for Automotive Service Excellence). Check for trade association membership; this indicates that the shop is keeping up to date with current repair procedures. It is also a good idea to check for membership in the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and look around for civic and community service association awards. These indicate professionalism and a solid connection with the community.
- See What The Shop Is Repairing -- See what the shop is working on in the repair bays and what’s parked out back. If you see few newer cars but notice a lot of beaters being worked on it is often an indication that the shop does “quick and dirty” repair jobs at lowball prices.
- Ask About Your Vehicle – Ask the shop manager if they have a lot of experience repairing your make and model vehicle. Body shops often specialize on a particular type of vehicle or body repair. Taking your Honda Accord to a shop that specialized in making fiberglass repairs to old Corvettes and Saab Sonnets is a waste of your time.
- Price Isn’t Everything – In the collision repair business it is common for different shop to give dramatically different repair prices for the same job. Choosing a shop simply by picking the one that offers the lowest price is not always the best policy. Lowball pricing often indicates that the shop’s estimator has improperly assessed the vehicle’s damage or that the shop specializes in quickie repair jobs and poor quality. If you get a repair quote significantly cheaper from one shop, ask the estimator to explain why the quote is so inexpensive before you leave your vehicle.
- Ask About Equipment – Performing a quality repair job on today’s vehicles requires the use of some pretty sophisticated equipment. Ask if the shop has a unibody frame repair machine and measuring equipment, MIG welders, a dust-free paint room, and personnel trained in the latest repair techniques
- OEM or Replacement Parts – The parts used to repair your vehicle should be equal in quality to those installed when the vehicle was first assembled. There are three categories of repair parts: (1) OEM (original equipment manufacture) parts are made by the vehicle manufacturer or one of his certified suppliers. (2) Aftermarket or Non-OEM parts are made by various body parts suppliers and are not endorsed by the vehicle manufacturer. Many aftermarket parts meet original factory specifications and will mate perfectly to your vehicle. Some aftermarket parts, however, do will not fit your vehicle properly. (3) Used parts are taken off vehicles previously wrecked or otherwise scrapped. If undamaged, these parts will fit as good as new parts. On some older vehicles, using used parts is often the only alternative as OEM parts may be discontinued. Ask the shop which category of parts they are recommending and why.
- Ask About Warranty – Professional, reputable repair shops will stand behind their repair work by offering a warranty. Usually this warranty is for a specific time – from 30 days to lifetime – and covers the labor, materials used and installation. The actual parts installed will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.