An important step is to choose a high-quality auto body shop to get the best service. How you deal with your shop when you’re involved in an accident and how you deal with your insurer are equally important.
Dealing with Your Insurer
If your insurance company or another party’s insurance is paying for your repair, make sure the insurance company doesn’t cut corners. The body shop you have chosen can play a very important role here.
Remember always report an accident as soon as it happens. So if your car got only some minor damage, and you are convinced that there are no structural or other safety-related problems then just follow the instructions of the your insurance company.
If your car is damaged significantly, take your car directly to a body shop you have chosen yourself and request the insurer to send its estimator there. And of course, for serious repairs, you need the shop to guarantee their work. Don’t count on your insurance company to look out for your interests. Also, bringing your car to a body shop rather than an insurance company’s drive-in appraisal center allows the company’s adjuster to make a thorough inspection for hidden damage.
One of the disadvantages of taking your car to a body shop of your choice rather than one recommended by your insurer is that you may have to wait a few days for the company’s adjuster to get to your shop. In fact, some companies use delays as a way to force you to do what they want. Never accept a delay without understanding exactly what is causing the delay; so if a company representative can’t promise to send an adjuster out within a few days, ask to talk to a supervisor at the company. And if you are still dissatisfied, contact the company and demand immediate service, and call your local insurance ombudsman.
If for any reason your car must be towed, have it towed to the body shop of your choice, and ask the shop to pay the towing charges, which they can include in the final repair bill. Also, you must know how much the body shop charges for storage if you eventually have to take the car elsewhere for service.
Regardless of where the appraisal is done, the insurer may offer less than your shop’s estimate and suggest shops that will repair the car for how much they quoted. You can take your car to one of the insurer’s shops or leave the car at your shop and pay the difference from your own pocket, or even leave the car at the body shop of your choice and dispute the insurance company’s offer.
If there is a dispute, it is so important to understand the difference between the shop and the insurer. Ask the shop to explain exactly why its estimate is higher; the difference might represent work that doesn’t matter to you.
Also, if you cannot live with the insurer’s estimate, and your claim is on your own policy, check the policy for an arbitration provision. Arbitration in most cases is time-consuming (meaning you may have to pay repair costs on your own while the arbitration proceeds), but it may give you a good chance to get a fair settlement.
Conclusion, if your policy contains no arbitration clause, or you are claiming against another driver’s insurance company, another option is to take your claim to court.
Working with the Auto Body Shop chosen
As soon as you and your insurer agree on an estimate, authorize the shop to make repairs only up to the amount of the estimate. But if the shop later discovers hidden damage, it can renegotiate with you and your insurer for a higher price.
Be careful, before you drive the car away from the shop, ask the shop for a guarantee. You are likely to get a minimum of 30 days’ guarantee against defects in parts and materials workmanship (most high-quality shops offer guarantees of six months or longer). Usually, the length of some guarantees varies by type of job. Whatever guarantee you get, get it in writing.
When the shop tells you your car is ready, inspect it carefully (by eye and feel) and pay particular attention to the following:
1. Dent and Rust Removal
There’s more than one way to fix a dent. A reputable body shop will remove a dent by leaving a very smooth surface and applying only a thin skin of plastic filler to completely even it out. Low quality body shops will fill in dents with a lot of plastic filler. Even though the filler hardens and can be smoothed out to look like metal after being painted, the hardened plastic is brittle and may fall out or crack after another impact. Also, thick plastic patches tend to form webs of hairline cracks, which show through the paint after a few years.
Good body shops also carefully remove all rust before patching rust spots. A little remaining rust will spread rapidly.
While it’s hard to tell how a body shop did its dent and rust spot repairs properly, you will be able to tell whether the shop did careful work or not. Carefully examine repaired areas closely by eye and hand. If you find any uneven spots, tell the shop to do the work again.
2. Corrosion Protection
Welding, cutting, and grinding galvanized steel can remove its protective coating, leaving the area susceptible to corrosion; shops should re-treat these areas with a protective coating before painting. Sometimes depending on what work the shop needs to perform, it must apply an etch primer, epoxy primer, or weld-through primer before painting the area.
Although this is a job some shops try to skimp on, quality shops will do it the right way. The main problem is that once your car is painted, you will not be able to tell if the shop had correctly applied corrosion protection. One strategy is to make sure paintwork is covered by a manufacturer’s lifetime warranty. We know that all major paint manufacturers provide lifetime product warranties, but if a shop has failed to properly apply corrosion protection and the area begins to rust, the warranty will let you redo the work at a shop of your choice.
It’s easy to spot most paint problems. If the paint is sprayed on too thickly, or if the mixture used is not right for the temperature of the spray booth, the paint may drip or sag or have an orange-peel-like texture. On the other hand, if the paint is applied too thinly, it may not have enough gloss. If dust is not properly controlled, it will show up in the paint surface.
The toughest problem for painters is matching colors, with metallic and pearl colors especially difficult to match. While you can’t expect a perfect match on an old car, on newer cars it should be very close. Good painters mix paints using a manufacturer’s formula, then tinker with the color if it isn’t quite right. They also merge the new color with the original by spraying lightly over portions of old paint adjacent to newly painted panels.
If you are not satisfied with a paint job, insist that the shop do it again. Be aware that perfection may not be possible and that repainting is relatively expensive and time-consuming.
Take a test drive if the damage was substantial. The car should function as it did before the accident. Check to see that the wheels are aligned properly by ensuring that the car doesn’t pull to one side of the road or the other.
Verify that every feature of the car works as it did before the repairs like door handles trunk lid, hood, windows, even the sound system and windshield wipers. Do all of these before leaving the shop.