While most auto body shop customers we surveyed rated their shops high
for service quality, some didnt fare as well as others. At the time of
our last full, published article, 29 of the 161 shops on our Ratings Tables were rated superior for overall performance by more than 90
percent of their surveyed customers, while others were rated superior
by fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers.
When choosing a shop, you want to deal with people who will explain and
justify exactly what has to be done. If you will be dealing with an insurance
company, an articulate representative at the body shop will be the key
to getting all the work you need performed and paid for.
If there is even a possibility of serious damage to your car, take it to
a shop that rates high for quality, and have the insurer send its estimator
there. That shop will provide a better evaluation of the damage than an
insurance company drive-in appraisal center, and will then serve as your
advocate in dealings with the insurance company.
Since most repairs are paid for by insurance companies, price is less important
than quality to most auto body repair customers. The consumer is usually
concerned only that the prices are acceptable to the insurer. If the customer
is paying for the work, however, price is an important considerationand
we found big shop-to-shop price differences.
Fortunately, we found no relationship between price and customer satisfaction.
Shops with the lowest price index scores actually scored better on customer
survey questions than shops with high price index scores.
Check your car thoroughly before taking it home from the shop. Look and
feel whether repaired surfaces are smooth and paint has the proper gloss
and color. After a major repair, consider hiring an independent appraiser
to inspect the car or taking it to another shop to make sure repairs and
replacements of mechanical components and structural elements have been
Auto bodywork is difficult to do well. Since any blemish shows on the smooth
skin of a car, even ordinary tasks like patching rust spots or blending
paint are challenges. Below the surface, precision is equally criticalwith
less than a sixteenth of an inch of error in the adjustment of a modern
car body frame capable of affecting performance.
Bodywork doesnt require exacting work standards alone; mechanics also
must possess expertise on the properties of metals and plastics; the mechanics
of high-tech suspension and steering systems; modern welding methods; the
art of paint tinting and blending; how to spot accident-related damage
to mechanical, electrical, air-conditioning, and other systems; and much
To find a shop that will provide top-quality repairs, check several points.
Our Ratings Tables indicate how Washington area body shops were rated
by their customers. We survey area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer
Reports subscribers) and ask them to rate shops theyve used as inferior,
adequate, or superior on questions such as doing work properly, promptness,
letting you know cost early, advice on service options and costs, and
overall performance. Our Ratings Tables report the percent of each
shops surveyed customers who rated it superior (as opposed to inferior
or adequate) on each of these questions. The table also reports the percent
of surveyed customers who rated each shop adequate or superior (as
opposed to inferior) for overall performance. (Click here for detailed information about our survey and other
Many of the shops were rated quite high by their customers. At the time
of our last full, published article, 29 of the 161 shops were rated superior
for overall performance by more than 90 percent of their surveyed customers.
But at some shops, things dont go so well. Some shops were rated superior
overall by fewer than 60 percent of surveyed customers, with customers
often complaining about delays and shoddy work.
In addition to ratings from customers, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of
complaints on file with local government consumer protection offices for
a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume of
work shops do. For more information on reported complaint counts and rates,
Theres one important quality factor you can judge for yourself when choosing
a shop: Can the shop make an articulate case to an insurance company for
the repairs you need? Does the shop provide a clear estimate, and can its
representative explain and document the need for each element of the job?
If so, chances are good that the shop will get your insurance company to
pay for all needed work.
Most good body shops are capable of repairing a wide variety of cars. But
it cant hurt to find out if the shop has experience working on yours.
Even some highly popular domestic car models are now made with aluminum
body components that require expertise and special welding equipment to
Shops can use new original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, aftermarket
parts from independent parts manufacturers, or used parts. OEM parts are
usually the most expensive option, which is why insurers often push shops
to use less-expensive aftermarket or used parts.
There is some concern over the quality of non-OEM aftermarket parts. For
many years, aftermarket parts from many manufacturers often didnt fit
correctly. Some were already rusting when they arrived at the shop, and
often they developed rust holes within a year of use.
In recent years, the quality of many aftermarket parts has improved and
in some cases they serve as acceptable substitutes for OEM parts. These
improvements are in large part due to the establishment by auto insurers
of the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA), an independent testing
organization. Manufacturers can seek CAPA certification for individual
parts by submitting them to CAPA for testing; if a part meets CAPA standards,
it will bear a CAPA certification label indicating that it is of comparableor
superiorquality to its OEM counterpart. Unfortunately, less than one-fourth
of parts produced by aftermarket parts manufacturers are CAPA-certified,
and quality varies considerably among the non-certified parts.
Body shop owners told us that the pros and cons of aftermarket parts have
not changed much in recent years. They generally prefer OEM parts, and
complain that many aftermarket parts are made of lighter-weight metal,
have surfaces improperly prepared to ensure paint adherence, and fit poorly,
among other problems. In many cases, the shop can make adjustments to correct
unsatisfactory parts and absorb the labor costs of the extra work. Good
shops simply reject any parts that are not acceptable. One shop owner told
us he rejects about 20 percent of the aftermarket sheet metal (fender,
hood, etc.) parts he receives, either because of defects or because of
poor fit, compared to rejecting less than five percent of OEM parts.
While shop owners usually have no difficulty returning ill-fitting parts
and getting insurers to then pay for OEM parts, such problems can delay
repairs. Sometimes the poor fit is not discovered until after considerable
work has been donefor example, after a fender has been mounted and a headlight
doesnt fit properly.
Used parts usually arent a problem, as long as they fit well and arent
rusted or dented; if you are paying for repairs yourself and a used part
will save you considerable money, theres no reason not to accept it.
Maryland and Virginia laws require shop estimates to disclose which parts
are aftermarket or used parts. (The District did not at the time of this
writing have this requirement.) If aftermarket or used parts are to be
used, ask for a written guarantee for the partand the labor to install
a replacementif the part proves to be defective during the life of the
car. If aftermarket parts are to be used, insist that your body shop (and
the insurance company, if applicable) use CAPA-certified parts, and request
the CAPA label that documents certification.
If you will be getting either aftermarket or used parts, you have an extra
reason to be vigilant about quality: Make sure you are dealing with a high-quality
shop that will not install inferior or ill-fitting parts, and be extra
careful in checking out the quality of completed repairs.
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), a nonprofit
organization that certifies auto mechanics, also tests and certifies auto
body technicians. ASEs Collision Repair and Refinish test series evaluates
mechanics on five types of work: painting and refinishing; nonstructural
analysis and damage repair; structural analysis and damage repair; mechanical
and electrical system repair; and damage analysis and estimating.
To become ASE-certified, a technician must pass one or more of the collision
repair exams and present proof of two years of relevant work experience.
Those who pass the three collision repair tests plus the painting and refinishing
test become ASE-certified Master Collision Repair/Refinishing Technicians.
To remain certified, technicians must be retested every five years, which
forces them to keep up with changing technology.
Many shops display plaques bearing the names of their ASE-certified technicians
and dates of certification. To check for certification if you see no such
plaque, ask to see a technicians credentials.
We asked each shop if it employed at least one ASE-certified technician.
It turns out that shops employing certified technicians do not have higher
customer satisfaction levels than shops with no certified technicianswhich
is not surprising since the proportion of certified technicians at most
shops is low. Nonetheless, we still believe its worth requesting that
a certified technician work on your car. Among the shops on our ratings
table, repair prices at shops with certified technicians were comparable
to the prices of shops with no certified technicians.
The ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Program recognizes shops at which at least
75 percent of technicians are ASE-certified and at least one mechanic is
certified in each area of service the shop offers. Blue Seal shops are
reevaluated annually to determine if they still qualify for certification.
Look for an ASE Blue Seal of Excellence plaque at a shop you are considering
for repair work. To find Blue Seal shops, check www.ase.com.
Also ask to have your vehicle repaired by a technician who has completed
training offered by I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision
Repair), a not-for-profit organization comprised of body shop owners, insurance
companies, automobile manufacturers, and parts suppliers. I-CAR offers
an eight-part collision repair program, which includes courses on identifying
and analyzing damage, welding, straightening techniques, replacement of
structural parts, restoring corrosion protection, suspension, steering,
alignment, plastic repairs, glass replacement, aluminum repair, and working
with electrical parts.
I-CAR awards its Gold Class Professionals designation to businesses that
have met a specified level of training. To find a Gold Class Professionals
repair shop, check the directory on I-CARs website (www.i-car.com).
We asked each shop if it employed at least one technician certified for
completing one or more I-CAR training courses. As with ASE, shops that
employed I-CAR-trained technicians did not receive higher customer ratings
than shops with no I-CAR-trained mechanics on staff.
Ask the shop to show you proof that it carries a current liability insurance
policy and that it is bonded.
Also, look around the property to make sure your car will be secure while
Since most repairs are paid for by insurance companies, for most auto body
repair customers price is less important than quality. The consumer ordinarily
is concerned only that a shops prices are acceptable to the insurer. For
work paid for by the customer, however, price is an important consideration.
Our Ratings Tables show our ratings for price for each shop that was
evaluated in our last full, published article.
Comparing prices for anything takes time and effort, but it is especially
difficult when it comes to bodywork. In most cases, a shop must see the
car to make a proper estimate.
When a specific part has to be replaced and no other work is required,
you can compare prices by phone. If your car needs a new bumper, for example,
you can call around with its make, model, and year, and most shops will
give you an estimate. But the shop will base the estimate on the assumption
that there is no other damageno bent bumper mounts, for instance. You
can also get phone estimates on an all-over paint job, barring any bodywork.
We called shops and asked for their estimates on specific repairs of this
type. Our researchers called as consumers who would be paying out-of-pocket,
and made it clear that they would definitely bring in their cars to take
advantage of the quotes they were given. We used the prices gathered this
way to compute the price index scores reported on the ratings table. Based
on two or three quotes from each shop, the price index scores show how
each shops prices compared to the average price quoted for the same repairs.
For instance, if two shops quoted on the same repairs, and one shop has
a price index score of $110 while a second shop has a score of $100, this
means that the first shops quotes averaged 10 percent higher than the
The price index scores probably vary less than if we had obtained quotes
on more complex jobs for which the shops could justify higher prices by
claiming superior workmanship. Also, shops relative price levels were
not consistent. In many cases, shops with a relatively low price on one
job had high prices on other jobs. So while the price index scores are
not as good a predictor as we would like, shops with low price index scores
are reasonable candidates for you to start with. Also, if you like one
of these shops based on our quality indicators, its low price index score
may give you a leg to stand on if an insurance claims adjuster says the
shop is too expensive.
We found no relationship between price and customer satisfaction. Shops
with the lowest price index scores actually scored better on our customer
survey questions than the shops with high price index scores.
Our Ratings Tables also show the labor rate quoted by each shop for
auto bodywork (rates might be different for painting or frame straightening).
The labor rates range from $38 to $52 per hour.
|Description of job||Low price||Average price||High price
|Replace the passenger side front fender on a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country||$473||$720||$1,163|
|Replace the front bumper cover on a 2008 Toyota Camry||$448||$670||$1,031|
|Replace the trunk lid on a 2009 Honda Accord||$850||$993||$1,380|
|1 The descriptions of repairs are summaries; shops were given additional, detailed instructions. Although our researchers attempted to get quotes for exactly the same job from each shop, in some cases shops may have intended to do different work or use different parts.|
Choosing a good shop is an important step toward obtaining quality service,
but certainly not the only one. How you deal with your shop and, when youre
involved in accidents, with your insurer are equally important.
If your repair will be paid for by your insurance or another partys insurance
(as is more than 80 percent of all bodywork), make sure the insurance company
doesnt cut corners. Your shop can be an expert ally in this effort, but
you yourself must make the right moves.
Always report an accident as soon as possible. If your car suffers only
minor damage, and you are certain there are no structural or other safety-related
problems, follow the instructions of the responsible insurance company.
You probably will be asked to use a drive-in claims center that will provide
an authorized repair-cost figure and the names of body shops willing to
make the repairs for that amount. Using a drive-in service is convenient
and should be satisfactory when there is only cosmetic damage.
Some insurers offer another option: Take your car to a company-designated
shop and have the repairs made with no estimate. This can be a big timesaver
for you and the company, and, again, an acceptable arrangement if you need
only minor repairs.
But if there is even a possibility of more serious damage, take your car
directly to the body shop of your choice and tell the insurer to send its
estimator there. For serious repairs, you need the shop to advocate for
quality. Dont count on your insurance company to look out for your interests.
Also, bringing your car to a body shop rather than an insurance companys
drive-in appraisal center allows the companys adjuster to make a thorough
inspection for hidden damage.
The disadvantage of taking your car to your own shop rather than to the
insurance companys drive-in center or its selected repair facility is
that you might have to wait a few days for the companys adjuster to get
to your shop. In fact, some companies threaten delays as a way to force
you to do what they want. But dont accept a delay without protest; if
a company representative cant promise to send an adjuster out within a
few days, appeal to higher levels in the company. If you are still dissatisfied,
write a letter to the company demanding immediate service and call your
states insurance department (click here for
phone numbers and addresses).
If your car must be towed, a drive-in appraisal center is not really an
option. Have it towed to the shop of your choice and let the shop pay the
towing charges, which they can include in the final repair bill. Also,
find out how much the shop charges for storage in case you must later take
the car elsewhere for service. If the other drivers insurer will be paying
for repairs, let it know that you plan to rent a car and submit a claim
for rental expenses; that often expedites service.
Regardless of where the appraisal is done, the insurer may offer less than
your shops estimate and suggest shops that will make the repairs for its
price. You then have three choices: Take your car to one of the insurers
shops; leave the car at your shop and pay the difference out of your own
pocket; or leave the car at your shop and dispute the insurance companys
If there is a dispute, it is very important to understand where your shop
and the insurer differ. Ask the shop to explain exactly why its estimate
is higher; the difference might represent work that doesnt matter to you.
For example, the shop may insist that certain required parts be new instead
of used, as directed by the insurer. If safety is not at issue, the fight
may not be worth the effort.
If you cant live with the insurers estimate and your claim is on your
own policy, check the policy for an arbitration provision. Arbitration
can be time-consuming (meaning youll probably have to pay repair costs
yourself while arbitration proceeds), but it gives you a good chance to
get a fair shake.
Finally, if your policy contains no arbitration clause, or you are claiming
against another drivers company, you can take your claim to court. For
some problems, you can also get help by complaining to your states insurance
department (see the box to the right for contact information).
Once you and your insurer agree on an estimate, authorize the shop to make
repairs only up to the amount of the estimate. If the shop later discovers
hidden damage, it can renegotiate with you and your insurer for a higher
When the shop tells you your car is ready, inspect it carefullyby eye
and by touch. Examine most carefully the following
Dent and rust removal. Theres more than one way to fix a dent. A good
shop will remove a dent leaving a nearly smooth surface and apply only
a thin skin of plastic filler to completely even it out. Poor shops will
fill in dents with a lot of plastic filler. Although 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 shops also carefully remove all rust before patching rust spots. A
little remaining rust will spread rapidly.
While its hard to tell how a shop did its dent and rust spot repairs,
you will be able to tell whether the shop had done careful work. Examine
repaired areas closely by eye and hand. If you find uneven spots, tell
the shop to do the work again.
Corrosion protection. The components of most cars are made of galvanized
steel, which is steel coated with layers of rust-resistant zinc. But welding,
cutting, and grinding galvanized steel can remove the protective zinc coating,
leaving the area susceptible to corrosion; shops should re-treat these
areas with a protective coating before painting. Depending on what work
the shop needs to perform, it should 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 problem is that once your car is painted, you wont
be able to tell if the shop had correctly applied corrosion protection.
One strategy is to make sure paintwork is covered by a manufacturers lifetime
warranty. All major paint manufacturers provide lifetime product warranties;
if a shop has failed to properly apply corrosion protection and the area
begins to rust, the warranty will let you have the work redone at a shop
of your choice.
Painting. Its easy to spot most paint problems. If paint is sprayed on
too thickly, or if the mixture used is not right for the temperature of
the spraybooth, the paint may drip or sag or have an orange-peel-like texture.
On the other hand, if paint is applied too thinly, it may not have enough
gloss. If dust is not properly controlled, it will show up in the paint
The toughest problem for painters is matching colors, with metallic and
pearl colors especially difficult to match. While you cant expect a perfect
match on an old car, on newer cars it should be very close. Good painters
mix paints using a manufacturers formula, then tinker with the color if
it isnt 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.
But be aware that perfection may not be possible and that repainting is
expensive and time-consuming.
Also check to make sure that every feature of the car works properlydoor
handles, trunk lid, hood, windows, even the stereo and windshield wipersbefore
leaving the shop. Ask for a test drive if the damage was substantial.
If you have had major repairs, consider taking the car to another shop
and paying it to inspect the work. Better yet, hire an independent appraiser
who specializes in post-repair inspections to check the shops work. These
companies charge between $100 and $200 for an inspection. The advantage
of using an independent appraiser is that the inspector can accompany you
to the auto body shop when you pick up your car and point out any deficiencies
on the spot.
If you have consented to use a shop other than your first choice, have
the insurance company give you its own written guarantee of the shops
work. Without a guarantee from the insurance company, you may have no claim
against it if your car is repaired improperly.
Before you take 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, materials, and workmanship, and most high-quality shops offer guarantees
of six months or longer; the length of some guarantees varies by type of
job. Whatever guarantee you get, get it in writing.
Some auto body shops make many customers unhappy. Below is a summary of
the kinds of complaints we receive from surveyed consumers.
1. Work not performed properlyWork was not properly completed on first
attempt, shop performed poor quality body or painting work, or shop was
unable to complete repairs. (Mentioned in 46 percent of complaints)
2. Slow turnaroundShop took an inordinate amount of time to complete work
or work was not completed when promised. (35 percent)
3. Poor customer servicePoor communication, unresponsiveness to complaints,
or unwillingness to correct mistakes or stand behind work. (18 percent)
4. High costsPrices seemed too high for the work performed. (13 percent)
5. Damaged vehicle or missing propertyCar was damaged while in the shop,
or personal property left in vehicle was lost or stolen while car was in
the shop. (8 percent)
6. Incorrect estimatesShops final bill exceeded estimate. (7 percent)
7. Unable to deal effectively with insurer. (5 percent)
8. Poor quality of partsPart(s) replaced prematurely failed or rusted,
or shop chose to use inferior part(s) for job. (3 percent)
9. Performed unnecessary workShop recommended or performed unnecessary
or unauthorized work, or charged for work that was not performed. (2 percent)
10. Difficult to get appointment. (1 percent)
District of Columbia Department of
Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
District of Columbia Office of the
441 4th Street, NW, #11455
Washington, DC 20001
Fairfax County Department of Cable
& Consumer Services
12000 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035
Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs
6751 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
Maryland Consumer Protection
Montgomery County Office of
100 Maryland Avenue, Suite 330
Rockville, MD 20850
Virginia Office of Attorney General
Consumer Protection Section
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
800-552-9963 or 804-786-2042
Better Business Bureau of
1411 K Street, NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
State Insurance Departments
District of Columbia Department of
Insurance, Securities and Banking
810 1st Street, NE, Suite 701
Washington, DC 20002
Maryland Insurance Administration
525 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202
Virginia Bureau of Insurance
P.O. Box 1157
1300 East Main Street, 5th Floor
Richmond, VA 23218
800-552-7945 or 804-371-9741