If you are involved in an accident where you are not at fault & know who is responsible for the damages, start by getting as many estimates as you feel comfortable with. Three or four should be plenty. If you have a shop you have dealt with in the past or want to use through a recommendation that is your choice although you should still have more than one estimate on hand. With the help of your repair body shop rep make sure you understand what repair options are best for your vehicle. If you are finding there are major differences from estimate to estimate then you must do some homework. You may find that there is one body shop rep that appeared to be quite knowledgeable & took their time to explain the estimate & options to you. Whomever you felt most comfortable with, go back to see them with all your estimates & have them explain the differences. That person should be happy to point out why there are cost differences so you understand fully before you make your choice of where you will have your car repaired. Keep in mind that it is YOUR choice of where your car will be repaired & not the person who hit your car. If your estimate is fair & only has the damage cost for related items then you are not asking for anything you are not entitled to. You have the right to have your car put back to its pre-accident condition whether through insurance or a private party.
Also, consider the time your car will be out of service. Have your days to repair noted on the estimate so the other party can be prepared to pay for a rental car while yours is in the shop. Ask your body shop rep if they offer to include the rental at a cost in your estimate with full insurance coverage so all your repair costs are together as a package. Some shops may even have rental on sight with a reputable rental company making your situation much easier to deal with.
Lastly, ask your shop if they will take care of allowing the third party to pay them directly. If so this will make it very convenient for you as it will now be a one-stop-shop with all areas covered. All you then have to do is drop your car off, get in your rental & return when the job is complete.
When your estimate is provided your body shop rep should explain in detail what they have quoted to you. They should also advise if there is a likely chance hidden damage may be found or if costs may change. If so this should also be noted on the estimate. If the third party has any questions they could call directly to the repair shop in advance so they can explain directly. If the third party understands & agrees to go forward then proceed. If there are hidden damages then the body shop can make a call very soon at the beginning of the repairs to explain. Once all involved agree to continue then repairs should start again. If there are any concerns they must be dealt with at once or a call to your insurance should be made & a refund would go to the third party. Most times if agreed in advance there are no problems with third-party payment.
Parts replacement choices are many times not fully understood by the consumer. Many feel that anything less than a brand new factory part will result in problems. Although in certain areas of repair this is true, this is not a fact with many others. Of course, a brand new part from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) sounds like the best choice but give this some thought. Let’s say your car requires a headlamp and a bumper for replacement. If you were to replace the bumper with new parts you will buy at least three major components to put it back together. The outer bumper cover, the impact-absorbing cushion & the inner bumper bar. These items if purchased as a recycled or LKQ (Like Kind & Quality - used) part would arrive complete with all the major parts & at least most parts of the bumper assembly. As for the headlamp, the same question comes up. Is it the same as what was on my car before? If the answer is yes then by choosing this option your parts cost savings could be up to 50% or even more.
Now consider Quality. Prior to the accident were your vehicles now damaged parts exactly the same year & the quality of the recycled part available if purchased from a reputable recycler? Once this recycled part is taken apart painted & reassembled, is it any less than you had before? If it is the same then perhaps this is a very good repair choice for your car.
Aftermarket parts are also a misunderstood product sometimes. Consumers may not know there are levels of quality when it comes to this choice. There are also areas where aftermarket parts should never be considered due to safety. A quality shop may refuse if asked to use a part they feel is not proper due to safety or knows from past experience that there is a very good chance for problems.
It goes without saying that quality does cost more. This does not mean that a quality repair cannot vary in price. So, what price is the right choice? Higher? Lower? Midrange? It’s confusing for most consumers and to make it even more confusing, none of these is the right answer. Price does not make for a good repair choice. There are many factors that can come into play when pricing out your repair costs. There are options that should be presented and explained to you as the vehicle owner whether you are paying for the repairs yourself, a third party is paying for your damages or your insurance company is paying.
Parts. If you are paying for your own repairs you may want to consider parts replacement options of either recycled (a used part or LKQ - like Kind & Quality) or a high-quality Certified Aftermarket replacement part in place of brand new factory Original Equipment Manufacturer parts (OEM). If available, these options can turn into large savings for you & many times are a good choice in many applications. Talk with your repair shop rep about these options & about where & how they can be applied to your repair cost. Keep in mind that not all areas of repair will be an option for anything less than new OEM parts due to safety & appearance. Use of aftermarket parts should never be considered for parts replacement for airbags, seat belts, crash sensors, or any other safety-related items. All these parts have storage & handling procedures that must be followed from the time the part is made until it is installed.
If considering aftermarket parts make sure the part offered is a CAPA Certified part (Certified Automotive Parts Association). CAPA is a non-profit organization established in 1987 to develop and oversee a test program guaranteeing the suitability and quality of automotive parts.
There are lesser priced low-quality aftermarket parts available although many repair shops will not offer them for sale due to the obvious problems that may result.
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These same principles of repairs for parts also come into consideration when your insurance company is involved. Some of us have opted to pay additional insurance premiums to allow for new OEM parts when replacement is required. If you do not have this endorsement in your policy then your Insurance provider may use the lesser cost parts to repair your car.
When a third party is paying for the repairs you can opt to choose the OEM parts. This could result in the third party choosing to claim through insurance due to the higher repair cost & possibly resulting in your insurer using the lesser costing parts. Again talk it over carefully with your body shop rep so you understand all your options in advance.
Quality repairs also will result from a body repair shop that educates their staff from the office to the technicians with the latest information on how to repair your vehicle properly. This will certainly cost money & time for both the shop & the employees. Both have a commitment to their trade & want to be the best in the industry. Additional education is available constantly & is required often. Not many consumers would want a non-licensed Technician with no continuing education program in place working on their car. A shop without this commitment to knowledge may allow for a lesser repair cost now, but what will the end result be? Will your car be in an unsafe condition or with related ongoing problems for you the owner or as lease return with problems & more cost to you yet to come?
When considering your repair cost it is always best to ask for a clear explanation of your estimate by your body shop rep so you can make the best choice for yourself with the options made available by the shop. If they have recommendations ask them why. Make sure there are sensible & logical reasons that you fully understand. A lesser cost can be just as good of a job if the right choices are made & quality or safety is not compromised.