Buying & Leasing a Car

What You Need to Know About Auto Body Shops

Whether the accident is your fault or the other guy's, make sure you go to an appropriate repair shop -- and ask for what you require.

1. That minor 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. A survey of repair shops in the Washington, D.C., area by Consumers' Checkbook, a consumer-information group, shows that replacing a fender on a 1998 Buick LeSabre can cost as much as $982. A new front bumper on a 2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class can go as high as $1,350.

2. Approved shops are beholden to tight-fisted insurers. Auto insurers contract with providers to repair vehicles for a prenegotiated rate (think of it as managed care for sick cars). And your car could be the victim of cost-cutting. Some practices, such as requiring low hourly rates and making the shop pick up the rental-car tab if a repair takes too long, could tempt shops to cut corners -- by, say, neglecting to align the wheels or using plastic filler in a dent rather than replacing the sheet metal. "Insurers have wired the shops to give them so many discounts that, to stay alive, the shops often do the bare minimum," says Erica Eversman, of Vehicle Information Services. For a list of independent shops that meet certain quality criteria, go to www.assuredperformancecare.com.

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. If you cause an accident, you could be bound by wording in your policy to use aftermarket parts -- or pay the difference for OEM parts. But if someone hits you, tell the shop to use OEM parts.

4. The due date is most likely fiction. Mechanics routinely blame missed deadlines on delays in parts delivery. But the truth is that many of them take on more business than they can handle. Before you commit your business to a shop, check the local Better Business Bureau and government consumer-affairs offices for complaints against it.

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. If you need a minivan while your car is in the shop, make sure you have minivan-size coverage.

6. Your car needs a shop that speaks its language. Many European cars use aluminum and ultra-hard steel that require special equipment to repair. Plus, replacement parts for late-model European vehicles have to be fit with an especially high degree of precision. Shops should be certified by the manufacturer to do the work, meaning that they have specialized training and equipment -- and charge higher rates. Insurers won't necessarily recommend these shops, but they should be willing to pay the tab.

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. Nearly all shops will guarantee their work, and parts makers guarantee their parts, making the insurance warranty all but worthless.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
You Can Appeal a Medicare Premium Surcharge
Medicare

You Can Appeal a Medicare Premium Surcharge

If you meet one of the seven qualifying life events, you have a good chance of getting a higher premium for Medicare Part B and Part D reduced.
June 16, 2021
12 Housing Stocks to Ride the Red-Hot Market
investing

12 Housing Stocks to Ride the Red-Hot Market

The U.S. has a housing shortage and a love affair with home improvement, both of which could create tailwinds for this group of housing stocks.
June 8, 2021

Recommended

Getting a Used Car Deal in a Tight Market
Buying & Leasing a Car

Getting a Used Car Deal in a Tight Market

Cars are scarce and prices have gone up. Use these strategies to find the best values.
April 29, 2021
Get a Good Deal on Car Rentals
Smart Buying

Get a Good Deal on Car Rentals

Get up to speed on how to snag a deal and avoid pesky fees.
March 20, 2021
Save Money With an Electric Car
Buying & Leasing a Car

Save Money With an Electric Car

Although some are still a pricey luxury, we found EVs that are fun, affordable and eligible for tax incentives.
December 26, 2020
11 Winter Car Maintenance Tips
Buying & Leasing a Car

11 Winter Car Maintenance Tips

There's more to getting your car ready for winter than figuring out where the scraper went.
December 9, 2020