Any deviation from a shop’s written estimate must be approved by the car’s owner, either verbally or in writing. Make sure you get a written estimate or repair order to protect yourself from unexpected charges.
Adam Piper, co-owner of FCC Collision Centers in Santa Clara County, says car owners should be wary of shops that offer to write off insurance deductibles or give deep discounts. “Our industry works on very small margins. If a shop is engaging in those practices, there’s a good chance it’s also doing something that will compromise your car’s repair. That being said, in some cases, the customer may want a less-than-complete cosmetic repair to save money, but they must receive a complete estimate and understand what is being done to their vehicle.”
If your car has sustained structural damage (such as a bent frame) or has a unibody construction that uses exotic metals like boron or extruded aluminum, Mr. Piper advises you visit a large, well-equipped auto body repair shop. “Normal shops can do a good job on small repairs, but for structural damage, make sure the repair is done by highly qualified technicians. Today’s cars are designed to collapse and absorb the impact of a crash to protect their passengers. If these collapsed areas aren’t repaired properly, the car could collapse faster in a subsequent accident, not allow the air bag to deploy in time or transfer more energy into the passenger compartment.”
After your car has been repaired, Mr. Piper says to drive it around for a while. Any deficiencies in the repair will usually be evident during that drive, and it’s better to address any problems right away. “No body shop has a perfect record,” says Mr. Piper, “but almost all will take a car back and fix it if you find something wrong with the repair. All good shops give a lifetime warranty on workmanship. If you’re not satisfied, notify your insurance company. And if insurance didn’t cover the repair, report the shop to the Bureau of Automotive Repair.”