If you run into vehicle issues, your first thoughts will probably go to whether you can get your car fixed and keep driving it. From crashes to oil changes, vehicle maintenance can cost upwards of $9,000, according to AAA, and typically is unavoidable. Putting money into vehicle maintenance helps it last — which is especially important when cars are on the road for an average of 12.2 years, according to CNET, a Red Ventures brand.

But repairs can be expensive, especially with high inflation and remaining supply chain issues increasing costs. Fortunately, by having the right plan you can save some money on your next trip to the auto body shop.

2022 supply chain considerations

“Supply chain issues and lack of availability of certain parts doesn’t only affect new car manufacturers, it’s also related to vehicle service and repair,” says Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. 

Moody explains that parts may be unavailable, which causes delays. Additionally, parts will sell for more money as supply shrinks and the competition for and cost of transporting parts increase.

7 tips to save money on auto body repairs

Auto body repair can be expensive, especially if you want your car to look pristine. But you can cut the cost of repairs by playing it smart and knowing what to ask. With high prices on top of mind, consider these tips to save money.

1. Get multiple estimates

You will have the best chance of finding a good deal on a repair by getting multiple estimates. This can also be helpful if you ever need to go back for additional maintenance because you will already know which places are inexpensive and have the level of service you’re looking for.

To get the best price for maintenance or a repair it is wise to get three to four quotes, recommends Moody. “Plus, it can help you realize that, even though a price seems high, it might be that all shops are charging that due to parts and/or labor shortages,” Moody says.

Bankrate tip

Take advantage of online resources like the Kelley Blue Book service advisor to compare repair prices in your area before you begin shopping.

2. Ask for a labor estimate and cost

You have to pay for both the materials used in the repairs and the cost of labor. Some places won’t give you a good estimate of how much labor a repair will take or the hourly labor rate.

Make sure you ask for this information when you get a quote. Even if you can’t get a hard number, knowing roughly how many hours the repair will take is helpful. Once you have a labor estimate, you can factor it into the full-price estimate for the repair.

3. Provide your own parts

Most body shops have their own sources for getting new parts to repair cars. But these may cost more — this is because the shops can add in a profit margin. Putting in the extra effort and finding your own parts can be worth the work but doesn’t come without risk, Moody says.

“Purchasing your own parts is best for those with a specialty car or those who can and want to do the work themselves,” Moody says. By taking your time and making sure you have the right parts you won’t have to deal with returns — or worse, put you and your passengers in danger.

4. Consider independent and franchise shops

Not only is it important to compare a few estimates but it is best to consider different types of shop options. “It used to be an independent shop was the only way to get a great deal. Today, independent shops do provide a great value but franchise dealerships are becoming competitive,” Moody says.

Many dealerships also offer special benefits via mailer and online coupons and regional specials that drivers in the area frequently need. Don’t write off a dealership for future repairs, especially if you have a remaining vehicle warranty.

5. Get repairs done quickly

If your car needs repairs, it’s important to get the repairs done quickly. If you leave the car as is for a while, it can worsen the damage.

For example, if your car is dented or scratched, that exposes your car to rust and other wear. If you get the repairs done quickly, you can prevent expensive corrosive issues from taking hold.

6. See if your insurance offers discounts

Most insurance companies have a network of auto body shops that they recommend to policyholders needing repairs. You can take your vehicle wherever you see fit, but using a preferred shop could make the process more seamless. 

You’ll likely get a warranty on the repairs. And if there are costs not covered by your insurance provider, excluding the deductible, the shops they recommend may offer discounted rates to you for being a policyholder.

7. Form a relationship with an auto body shop

“A shop (or any service-based store, really) is more likely to treat you well if they know you’re coming back,” Moody explains. This treatment comes with a few benefits, like a priority over other drivers and possible additional discounts.

Having an expert on your side also helps when determining which repairs are most important, especially if you need more than one done.

Spending more now might save you money in the future

As with anything, quality and reputation matter a lot when it comes to car repairs. While you should shop around for a good deal, if one quote comes back far lower than the competition, you might want to think about why that shop charges so much less.

If you get your car repaired by a shop that does poor-quality work, you might find yourself bringing your car back in for repairs to fix their mistakes. So, make sure that the shop you go with does high-quality work that won’t require frequent returns for additional maintenance. Read customer reviews online and ask around among friends, family and coworkers before picking a shop.

Bankrate tip

When shopping for your next car, consider how maintenance costs can add up. Even slight trim differences on a vehicle can mean money saved on future repairs.

What to do if you can’t afford repairs

If you can’t afford auto body repairs or covering the costs will drain your savings account, here are some ideas to get the work done for free or without spending a fortune: 

  • Consider a vocational school. Find an institution that offers auto body repair as an area of study. Some offer programs where students complete your repairs, and you’ll only be responsible for material and supply costs. 
  • Use a mobile mechanic for minor repairs. They typically have low overhead costs and can pass the cost savings on to you. Plus, you can minimize costs even more by providing your own parts. 
  • Barter with a friend or relative. If someone in your network owns a body shop, reach out to see how you can barter. Offering something they need in exchange for free or steeply discounted services is worthwhile to get your car back in tip-top shape. 

You can also open a zero-interest credit card if you have good or excellent credit to finance repair costs. Be sure to pay the balance in full before the promotional APR period ends to avoid paying interest. Personal loans and in-house payment plans are also worth considering if the borrowing costs are reasonable.

The bottom line

If your car gets damaged, you should try to get it repaired as quickly as possible. However, higher than usual prices mean that you shouldn’t bring it to the first shop you see and pay whatever they ask. Taking the time to shop around and putting in some effort can help you save a lot of money.

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