auto

Body shop blues: Getting the repairs right

Tara Baukus MelloHaving a car accident is often a big headache -- literally sometimes from the crash itself, but almost always figuratively as well. Making calls to the insurance company, completing mandatory paperwork and being without your car while it's repaired are all nuisances. Ensuring your car is repaired correctly requires more than just handing over the keys to a local body shop. You must make sure you are satisfied; if you have complaints later, you might find yourself in a debate with the body shop or your car insurance company. Here's how to ensure the auto body shop has completed the repairs correctly.

Be proactive from the start. If you don't have personal experience with body shops in your area, ask friends or co-workers for recommendations and read reviews of other customers online. Once you've chosen the body shops to get quotes, have them go through exactly what they see that needs repair and have them explain the repair process. Ask questions if you don't understand any part of the process. A good shop will clearly explain what needs to be done to return your car to its original condition. Ask what the shop's warranty policy is, and get a copy of it in writing.

Tread with caution on the unseen damage issue. Be wary of a shop that hides behind a generic comment about damage the mechanics can't see. While it's true they can't fully see the damage until they begin taking it apart, experienced mechanics have enough knowledge to be able to discuss potential hidden problems based on the existing exterior damage and type of accident. Ask for details if a shop mentions extra charges for unseen damage.

Do a walk-through. When your car is fixed, arrive at the body shop when there is plenty of daylight and have the shop personnel walk you around the car. Ask them to explain everything that was done. Look at the car from every angle, including down the side. Compare various lengths, such as the distance between the tire and the fender or between the door and the body, on both sides of the car to see if they are about the same. Check the color between a panel that was repainted and one that wasn't to see if they match. New paint also should be devoid of runs, specks, bumps and any other imperfections.

Ask for backup. Mechanics use an array of technology to repair a car, and they rely on computers to help them ensure the car is back to manufacturer's specifications. Ask for printouts of the specs when a frame is straightened or a front end is aligned. These printouts should show data for before the procedure and after.

Address concerns right away. If you spot any problems or have any concerns, address them with the shop right away. Leave the car with the body shop as long as you continue to question the quality of the shop's work. Once you're sure of your concerns, take your car elsewhere for a second opinion. If your insurance company is covering the repair cost, notify them of your plans right away. They often will pay for further inspection and repairs at a second facility if your suspicions prove correct. If a problem arises later that you feel is a result of the accident, contact the shop regarding a warranty claim and notify your car insurance company if it was involved in the repair.

Ask the adviser

If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
 

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