About a month and a half ago, I parked my car out in the street instead of my driveway so that I wouldn't get sap from the pine trees on my roof. I had just washed and vacuumed it, cleaning it up for the first time since the end of winter. As I was getting ready to take it out on an afternoon cruise, my doorbell rang and as I went to answer it I saw that it was my next door neighbor. I immediately knew what happened before he even had a chance to tell me. He had accidentally backed into my car, my precious, just washed, freshly vacuumed car.
Accidents happen, and in my case, my neighbor came right over and provided his insurance information, so there was really no reason to stay upset, but auto body repair is usually more expensive than any of us expects, and my accident was no exception. For a relatively small dent in my bumper and rear quarter-panel, the total damages exceeded $2000. Thankfully, it was covered by his insurance, so all it cost me was the inconvenience of dropping off and picking up my car from the facility. But not everyone is that lucky, especially when the accident is their own fault, and they are on the hook for deductibles, and increased premiums. And if you don't have insurance coverage and get into a car accident, you can probably forget about going on vacation for the next few years.
So what is it that makes auto body repair so expensive, and is there any way to save money on it?
First, let's dispel the myth that a body shop makes a significant amount of money on each job. This may have been the case at some point, but if you've ever dealt with insurance companies personally, you can imagine just how tough they are at negotiating. And since body shops mostly conduct business through insurance providers, they are essentially at the whim of a third party who sets pricing. The insurance company uses estimate guides to determine labor times, which does not always reflect the reality of someone performing the actual work. Imagine if your boss paid you based on how much a guide estimated it should take you to complete your work, not a pleasant thought, is it? This, coupled with the fact that there is so much competition means the profit margins for auto body repair shops aren't very high, ranging below 10% for even well-run shops.
So why does something that seems as easy as replacing some panels and painting them to match cost so much money to begin with? Because it's not as easy as it seems! Here are just some examples of the type of work that needs to be done on your standard auto body repair job:
- trim removal
- multiple coats of paint
- wet sanding
- applying clear coat
The above doesn't even take into account any mechanical or structural work that needs to be repaired by the shop. Many times what looks like a simple dent on the outside can hide extensive damage beneath the surface, and isn't visible until the body shop tech removes the body panels and is able to inspect under the dents. Similarly, you may get an estimate that assumes a particular part or panel is salvageable, but when it comes time to do the work, the body shop is simply unable to make it work and has to order a replacement part, adding a significant amount of costs to the bottom line.
The other factors to consider are how expensive auto paint is by itself, and the onerous costs that an auto body repair shop is subject to such as pollution costs, waste disposal fees, environmental regulations, and keeping up to date on the latest manufacturer advancements. It's important tos remember that as vehicles become more advanced, and the products and technologies evolve, a body shop must be able to keep up in order to perform their job properly. All of these costs and measures are in addition to the standard business operating costs of labor, rent, insurance, taxes, marketing, and the like. These costs add up and drive up the price of auto body repair for everyone, making it seem as if it's unusually high.
So how can you save money on auto body repair?
This question will depend on whether or not you're paying for the repairs out of your own pocket or if your insurance company is. If your insurance is covering the cost of the work, you really shouldn't look for the cheapest price, you should instead focus on getting the highest quality work. Good auto body repair will help your vehicle's resale value while poor auto body repair can become an endless nightmare. It's very important to remember that you have the right to choose the repair facility where you want repair your vehicle. Don't automatically assume that the insurance company's preferred facility is the best choice, as they have agreements in place meant to serve the insurance company, not necessarily the customer. In return, the body shop gets a steady stream of business referred by the insurance provider. It's a win-win, for them, not necessarily for you.
In the event that you're paying for the repairs yourself, your best tool will be research. First, ask friends and family to refer you to a reputable shop. Then check reviews on sites like MechanicAdvisor.com, Yelp, and Angie's List. Once you've narrowed it down to several options, ask for estimates and compare them for the best value. Pay attention to how attentive the shops are to your needs and questions, as this may be a good indicator of how the whole process will go. Always keep in mind that if a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Cut-rate prices typically result in cut-rate work, and auto body repair is no exception. So the next time you get into a fender-bender, we hope this information makes you a more informed consumer.
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