By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Your car’s got a wrinkled fender — who are you going to get to fix it? If it’s not done right, the car will look wrong — and then you won’t be happy.
So, what’s the scoop? How do you tell the Good from the Bad — and the Ugly?
* Check the shop’s rep.
Begin with your local Better Business Bureau/consumer regulatory affairs office.
If more than one or two complaints have been lodged over a period of several years, it’s a clue to take your business elsewhere. Look for a shop that consistently wins local BBB awards for exemplary service. These will usually be posted prominently in the shop’s window or office area. Then ask around. Friends, family, people you know — someone will have heard something about the shop — either good or bad. Word gets around (either way). Any shop that’s been there for more than a few years will have happy — or unhappy — customers. The type you find will tell you all you need to know.
* Ask whether the shop will guarantee its work in writing.
If they don’t, Be Gone. Ask to see the warranty coverage offered and read the document carefully. Ask specifically whether the shop will guarantee a color match on repainted areas. The re-sale/trade-in value of your car will plummet if there’s an area that’s obviously been re-sprayed because potential down-the-road buyers will see that as evidence the car was wrecked, even if was just a minor fender bender. A good shop will have the equipment as well as skilled technicians needed to assure a near-perfect color match. Don’t accept anything less.
* Ask whether the shop has experience repairing your specific make/model vehicle.
With certain foreign-car brands (Mercedes, Volvos, etc.) this is especially important because there may be repair procedures specific to that make/model of car, requiring special tools and/or skills to do the job right. A shop not familiar with your vehicle or lacking experience with your particular make/model vehicle might end up doing a not-so-great job.
* Check the techs’ reps.
Ask whether the technicians working on your vehicle have certificates/specific training in paint and bodywork such as those conferred by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence’s Conference on Auto Collision Repair.
* When will the job be done?
The shop should be willing to give you a “complete date” — plus or minus a day or two. Watch out for the open-ended “we’ll get it done.” Letting the shop take its time is one thing; taking a month to do a job that should have taken three or four days is something else.
* How’s the Attitude?
Is the staff professional and courteous? Do they seem happy you’re there? If they’re indifferent or just giving you a bad vibe, beat feet. If they treat you like crap, think about how they’ll probably treat your car. This may be the single most important clue — either way — as to how things are going to go. Listen to your Spider Sense. It is almost always right.
* Check out the other vehicles being worked on.
Are areas not being repaired carefully masked and protected from overspray? Are the interiors of the cars covered with protective plastic? Are damaged vehicles stored under cover, indoors? A shop that isn’t treating its customers’ cars with respect isn’t treating its customers with respect.
* Is the price quoted generally in line with the other estimates you got?
You did get other estimates — right?
Be suspicious of any estimate that radically undercuts the estimates given by other shops; that hints at low-rent repair procedures and/or inferior parts. Or simply shining you on -with a “final price” that ends up being a lot more than you were initially led to believe. A fair shop will give an estimate with a guarantee that the final bill won’t be more than 10 percent of the estimated bill. Get that in writing — or go someplace else.
Finally: Remember that if someone else smashes up your car, in most states you have the right to choose the bodyshop — not the insurance company. In most cases, you are also entitled to have the vehicle repaired using factory original-equipment parts, not lower-priced (and lower-quality) aftermarket replacements. Or used parts.
It’s a good idea to read and thoroughly understand the terms of your insurance coverage today — not the day after you’ve been in an accident. If you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of the policy — including the amount of your deductible — change it now, before you’re stuck working with what you’ve got.