How To Choose A Body Shop

Tips on where to take your car when you need work done on it.
By Zach Bowman
Odds are you're going to get into a fender bender and need some automotive body work done at least once in your vehicle's life. Colliding with another car or hitting an immobile object is never a pleasant experience, but taking your time and doing a little research when it happens can ensure that the repair process is as painless and, most of all, as least expensive as possible.

If you're able to drive your car home from the accident (read more on what to do if you're in an accident), park it and take a breath. You'll want to get the vehicle's damage repaired as soon as possible, but rushing into an unknown shop is the last thing you want to do.

Talk to the Shop and its Customers
Our advice is to check DriverSide's auto shop ratings and reviews. There, you'll find ratings and reviews of local auto shops - a perfect way to make sure you're getting a quality mechanic to look at your vehicle. There's nothing worse than cold-calling and hoping you'll end up at a place that knows what it is doing.

Once you find one that looks promising, give them a call and ask questions like how long they've been in business, how experienced their team is, if they guarantee their work and whether they use stock replacement or aftermarket parts.

A better indication is the type of work they do, so if you've got the time, ask to come by and see some of their finished products. If they're leery of you poking around, it might be a sign to take your business elsewhere.

The shop should be willing to put you in touch with someone whose vehicle they've worked on in the past. When you get to speak to someone, ask if they were kept up to date on any delays, if they were satisfied with the work and if all of their questions were answered. Obviously, a shop isn't going to put you in contact with a problem customer, but this will at least give you an idea of what to expect from them.

If your car is immobilized by an accident, you may feel like you're at the mercy of the tow truck driver and what they suggest. It's not uncommon for body shops to charge high daily storage fees for vehicles they haven't been contracted to work with, so every day you spend researching the shop will put a small dent in your wallet.

The only other option is to have your crippled ride towed to your home, then re-towed to the shop of your choosing once you've done your research. Neither is an ideal situation, but the quality of post accident body work can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars in resale value in your car.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of taking a day or two to research a shop. If this is the case, contacting your local Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has lodged formal complaints against your potential shop isn't a bad option. Once you've done that, go with your gut feeling. If anything about the shop in question makes you uncomfortable (other than the thought of spending last month's pay) take the car elsewhere. In today's economy, the body shops should be begging for your business.

Review Their Work
Once the work has been done, there are a few of things to look for. First, step back and look at the car as a whole as well as focusing on where the damage occurred. This will allow you to see how well the paint has been matched and identify any glaring problems that you may not have noticed up close. Some paints, such as metallic and metal flakes, are incredibly difficult to match, but in broad daylight it should not be too difficult to tell any difference. Remember, you paid for a good job to be done, not for shoddy work.

Next, take a look at any body panels that have been replaced. All of the gaps around the panel should be the same. Besides a visual check, you can take an old deck of cards and slide just enough between the two panels so that they slide without too much resistance. If they bind at any point, or if the gap gets decidedly larger, the shop should fix it again.

If the damage occurred on or near a door, trunk or hood, you should open and close them repeatedly. They should operate as they did before the accident without any odd squeaking or scraping noises. If they don't, the repair has not been done properly and needs additional attention.

Remember, you have the right to get the shop to address any work you're unsatisfied with. It's your money and your car. No vehicle will ever be exactly the same way it was before an accident but a reliable body shop should be able to get it pretty darn close though.

Ten Questions to Ask a Potential Shop

1. How long have you been in business?
2. How experienced is your team?
3. Can I see some of your work?
4. Can I talk to some of our past customers?
5. Do you guarantee your work?
6. If so, what's included and for how long?
7. What kind of parts do you use?
8. Do you provide loaner cars?
9. Do you work with my insurance?
10. How long do you usually have a vehicle for?

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