Why All Auto Body Shops Aren’t Created Equal – How to Find a Mechanic You Can Trust!
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UPDATED: Mar 7, 2021
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The last thing you want to think about after an accident is the reputation of your auto body shop.
You want your car fixed so you can get back on the road.
It should be easy, but let’s be honest: not all auto body shops are created equal.
In fact, choosing the wrong body shop can cost you time and money in faulty repairs.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after getting my car back from the shop is to bring it back in because something wasn’t done right the first time.
That’s why it’s so important to choose a body shop you can trust.
Checking Google reviews is a great way to find a good mechanic. Another feature to check is if the owner has made responses as illustrated above. If you see a lot of owner’s responses, this is a good sign the shop wants to keep a good reputation.
Finding an Auto Body Shop you can Trust
Whether you need to fix minor damage, a deep scratch, or you need serious body work done after an accident, picking a reputable shop will save you from a world of headaches.
Let me explain.
About five years ago, a colleague of mine was out grocery shopping with her family.
When she got back to her car, she saw the damage.
Her front bumper and grille were cracked.
The hood was slightly bent, and deep scratches covered the front of her car.
After driving her family and their newly bought groceries home, she dropped her car off at the nearest body shop.
In the end, she figured all body shops were the same and she just wanted her car fixed.
After a few days of not hearing anything back from the shop, she called and got no answer.
She left a message, but a few more days went by and she still hadn’t heard back.
After a week, she returned to shop to see what was causing the delay.
They told her they were backed up and her car would be looked at shortly.
Her car hadn’t even been looked at yet and her body shop experience was already awful.
Sadly, it only got worse.
Only after another call the next week did she find out what the repair was going to cost, and the shop wasn’t transparent about the breakdown of that cost.
That brings us to the first example of how body shops aren’t created equal: communication.
Depending on the repair, if you bring your vehicle to a mechanic or body shop the cost can be from $50 to $5,000+. Any reputable shop should be able to give you an estimate for free.
Have you ever brought your car to an auto body shop and then waited for days before you heard anything?
It’s easy to feel like you’re being ripped off when you’re left in the dark about the repairs your car needs.
When you bring your car to a body shop, you want to know three things:
1. How bad is the damage and what needs to be fixed or replaced?
2. How much is the repair going to cost?
3. When are you going to get your car back?
You may not get an answer to each of these questions right away.
However, when you bring your car in, the body shop should give you a reasonable time frame for when they will start working on your car.
Expectations of a Reputable Auto Body Shop
Here’s what you can expect from a high quality, reputable auto body shop:
1. They will keep an open line of communication with you throughout the repair process.
2. They will tell you the extent of the damage and give you a breakdown of the price they quoted you.
3. They will be transparent with you about when they expect to finish the repair and if there are any delays.
Below are ways mechanics overcharge customers:
|Charging for unnecessary repairs.|
|Misdiagnosing something that is not faulty.|
|Overcharging for parts or labor.|
|Damaging your car while they have it.|
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My colleague’s repair situation quickly went from bad to worse.
It turns out her local auto body shop had a serious problem with employee turnover.
One of the shop mechanics working on her car quit his job before her repair was finished.
She later found out that not all the shop’s technicians were certified.
There was a breakdown in communication in the shop about parts that needed to be ordered.
It was one mess after another.
Every single issue caused even more delays with her car repair.
The situation with the body shop’s staff highlights the second example of how body shops aren’t created equal.
Your car should be repaired by a body shop you can rely on and trust.
The shop should have a consistent staff of certified professionals working on your car.
At the very least, auto body shop collision technicians and mechanics should be ASE certified.
Image credit: I-Car.com
I-CAR is an organization that certifies and trains collision repair technicians. Try to make sure the repair shop is I-CAR & ASE certified.
Using a body shop that has little technician turnover is vital.
When staffing turnover at a body shop is high, there is a greater chance there will be communication breakdowns and that something will go wrong with your repair.
Before you bring your car to a mechanic for repair, make sure its technicians are properly certified and that the shop treats its staff well.
Get a Second Opinion
Had my colleague looked researched her local body shop before bringing her car there, she might have discovered the troubling issues they had with staffing.
It would have prevented all the headaches she had to deal with when all was said and done.
When she finally picked up her car, she was met with a bill that nobody would be happy paying.
My colleague thought it was more expensive that it should be.
Instead of discussing the bill with her, the shop explained that they used high quality parts and that other issues came up during the repair which required more labor hours.
A great place to check for reviews and experience is Yelp. And look for owner responses as illustrated above.
Frustrated with the experience, she paid the bill and left.
A few weeks later, the transmission in her car died while on the way to work.
She had the car towed to a different mechanic.
That’s when she discovered the hard truth.
Not all body shops are created equal.
The previous shop had taken her for a ride.
The new mechanic discovered that the previous shop had used bottom-dollar, inferior after-market parts while charging her same rate she would have paid for OEM parts.
Of course, they never told her what she was getting.
My colleague had no idea that this body shop was taking advantage of her.
Furthermore, the replacement parts weren’t correctly installed, and the entire repair job was rushed.
In fact, the first body shop did a rush job, incorrectly attaching structural components.
It was likely that, by cutting corners, the first body shop created the problem that caused her transmission to fail.
That brings us to three more examples of how all body shops are not created equal.
Did you know that you have every right to ask your auto body about the parts they use before they start the repair?
A good body shop will be transparent about the replacement parts they are using in your car.
Some mechanics may charge you OEM price and put in an aftermarket part. If the mechanic is going to put in an aftermarket part ask him or her why? If you prefer to have an OEM part installed, request it. Image credit: InterAmerican AutoParts.
They will also have extensive knowledge about what parts offer the best bang for the buck.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts are typically more expensive for good reason: they have passed rigorous industry tests.
A body shop should only rely on after-market parts if the after-market part is proven to perform better than an OEM part, or if an OEM part is no longer available.
Don’t let a body shop tell you otherwise.
If the body shop isn’t transparent about using after-market parts, there is probably a good chance they are cutting corners by using inferior parts to maximize profit.
That’s a sign to go to another shop for your car repair.
A body shop might cut corners and resort to inferior installation of replacement parts if they don’t have enough staffing to meet demand or they have breakdowns in communication between technicians and other staff.
Parts may not be completely installed, or they may be installed in the wrong place.
An improper installation might lead to issues that aren’t discovered immediately but could cause issues down the road.
It could lead to malfunctioning safety mechanisms in the vehicle or cause other systems and parts to fail, which is likely what happened to my colleague’s car.
Illustrated above is an overall review of a repair shop on Angie’s List. Again, there is an owner response and a good indicator the shop wants to keep a good reputation.
Being transparent is one of the most important qualities that a body shop could have, particularly when it comes to what they charge you.
In the case of my colleague, she was billed for additional labor hours despite receiving inferior service.
If a body requires more than labor hours than are typically needed for a repair, they should be open and honest about it.
A reputable body shop will give you an invoice with your bill that has a detailed breakdown of the parts you receive and fees you pay.
A less than reputable shop, like the one my colleague used, might not.
You can confirm up front that you’ll receive a breakdown of the charges before you pay for your repair.
If the body shop balks at the request, it’s a sign that you should take your car elsewhere.
A few years after my colleague had her disastrous experience at her local body shop, I was rear-ended while driving home after work.
The damages weren’t extensive, but the car still needed to be repaired.
Fortunately, my body shop experience was significantly better than that of my colleague.
Like I said, not all body shops are created equal.
Here’s what I did, and what I recommend you do to make sure enjoy peace of mind knowing that the body shop you use for car repairs is reputable and highly trusted.
How to Choose a Body Shop in Your Area:
Take advantage of word of mouth “research” – Talk to friends and family about experiences they have had at body shops.
You might talk with them in person or on social media.
You might ask them questions like:
What body shop did you use?
What did you like about the body shop?
How long did the shop take to repair you car?
How often did the body shop keep you informed about your repair?
What kind of repairs did your car need?
How much did your repairs cost?
When I first moved into my area, I reached out to friends, family, and co-workers in the area.
And I did the following:
- Do your research
- Ask for referrals
- Look up Google reviews
- Find an established shop
- Ask insurance for shop recommendations
- Request a repair time frame
- Inquire about their warranty
- Stop by for a visit
One thing I noticed is people are more likely to remember and want to talk about really bad experiences and really good ones.
Their stories helped me identify the some of the better shops in my area.
It is easier than ever to find out which body shops you should avoid in your area, and which shops come highly recommended.
A quick Google search like “auto body shops near me” will give you a list of body shops in your area and surrounding towns.
After I got recommendations from friends, I decided to do a Google search to see if the results matched my word of mouth recommendations.
I used Google and Yelp reviews to get an idea of the quality of service offered.
These reviews helped me narrow down my list of potential body shops to a select few.
Get an Estimate
After identifying a few highly reputable local auto body shops, I brought my car into one of the shops for an estimate.
The estimate they gave was fair, and I agreed to their recommended repairs.
However, if you aren’t happy with an estimate you get, don’t agree to any repairs.
Simply visit the next body shop on your list.
It’s worthwhile to note that some cars are better serviced and repaired by specialized body shops.
For example, if you drive an exotic or import car, you may want to strictly research shops in your area that specialized in those cars.
Give yourself peace of mind when getting your car repaired.
The last thing you want to worry about after an accident is if you’ll get get ripped off by your local auto body shop.
Don’t wait until you get into an accident to familiarize yourself with the body shops in your area.
Do the research now
If the unexpected and unfortunate happens down the road, you can take comfort in knowing that your car will be repaired by a shop you can rely on and trust.
After all, not all body shops are created equal, so you want to be sure that your car is repaired by the best.
Frequently Ask Questions
Do body shops offer free estimates?
Most body shops will give you a free estimate. At times, you may have to pay a small fee if you don’t get repairs done at the same facility.
How do I choose a good mechanic or body shop?
I would use the big three review sites: Google, Yelp, and Angie’s List. If you ever have a doubt, follow your gut.
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