Because insurance companies pay for most repairs, for most auto body repair customers cost is a less important consideration than quality; consumers ordinarily care only that their shops’ prices are acceptable to the insurer paying the bills. But if you’re picking up the tab—say, because there’s only minor damage or you don’t want to risk higher rates or policy termination by making a claim—how much the shop charges is important.

Our Ratings Tables show our ratings for price for each shop. Our undercover shoppers contacted area shops and asked for their prices for straightforward repairs, telling them we’d pay out-of-pocket.

We used these prices to compute the price comparison scores reported on on Ratings Tables. The price comparison scores show how each shop’s 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 comparison score of $110 while a second shop has a score of $100, this means that the first shop’s quotes averaged 10 percent higher than the second shop’s.

We found no relationship between price and customer satisfaction. Shops with the lowest price comparison scores actually scored better on our customer survey questions than the shops with high price comparison scores.

Our Ratings Tables also show the labor rate quoted by each shop for auto bodywork.

The price comparison 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. But our evaluations of shops’ prices should give you a good place to start by identifying businesses likely to offer low prices. Also, if you like one of these shops based on our quality indicators, its low price comparison score may help you if an insurance claims adjuster says the shop is too expensive.

If your vehicle has suffered even a possibility of serious damage, take your car (or have it towed) directly to a top body shop of your choice. If repairs will be expensive, you’ll want an insurer to help pay for them, and you need a shop that will advocate making sure repairs are done well and with the best replacement parts.

But if repairs are minor, and if your vehicle wasn’t involved in an accident, the auto body industry has finally caught up with the rest of the online-oriented world to make it fairly easy to compare costs from multiple shops.

Until recently, it was difficult to compare prices for bodywork. In most cases, shops had to inspect cars in person to provide accurate estimates.

But we found that many shops will provide cost estimates based on pics customers send of their battered buggies. Most work through to do this—shops can supply you with a link to a web page on the Carwise site where you can send it your snapshots and other info. Or you can go straight to the Carwise website to upload your pics to get back estimates from several local body shops that work with it—an easy way to compare price proposals and identify low-cost help.

If damage is extensive you’ll still have to take your car to a shop to get a precise price. A shop likely can’t tell by pictures alone, for example, whether it must replace just the cover for a damaged bumper or also have to repair underlying components and mounts.

Carwise also collects and displays ratings for body shops listed on its site. Unfortunately, like a lot of websites that purport to report customer feedback on local service providers, almost all of the shops listed by Carwise receive high overall marks (four stars or better). But our own surveys of consumers indicate many are disappointed with the work done by body shops—the feedback we get is far different than Carwise’s picture of nearly unanimous satisfaction with shops.

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