mechanic working on the underside of a car

How to choose the best auto body shop

On the Road 3 min read

No one wants to be sidelined after a crash or other damaging event because their vehicle is undrivable. Whether you were in a collision with another car, had an accident with a deer, or got caught driving in a hailstorm, you’ll need to find an auto body shop you can trust to repair your car. When choosing a shop, it’s important to do your homework to find someone who is qualified and will stand behind their work.

We spoke with Richard Reina, product training director, and automotive enthusiast at CARiD, an online auto parts store, to get his take on what to look for when selecting an auto body shop.

Where should I take my car to get fixed?

If your car needs bodywork, you have two main options — the collision repair center at a dealership or an independent auto body shop. Here are some things to consider when making your decision.

Dealer collision repair center

  • Location: Although some dealerships have body shops, not all do. Driving there may not be practical if the closest dealer with a body shop is two hours away.
  • Expertise: Dealers are more familiar with the specific brand(s) and models they sell than independent shops that work on several vehicle types.
  • Parts: Dealerships have better access to factory-authorized parts because they can get them from their local distribution center.

Independent auto body shop

  • Location: You may have better luck finding an independent shop than a dealer collision repair center near you.
  • Cost: Independent shops may use aftermarket parts, which tend to cost less than factory-authorized parts, so you might pay less for repairs.
  • Timing: “If a dealership repair collision center is backed up, you may have better luck finding another body shop nearby that can get to your car more quickly,” says Reina.
  • Expertise: Chances are an independent body shop is repairing many different types of vehicles rather than a single make the way a dealer collision repair center is. “That’s not a bad thing, necessarily,” says Reina. However, he adds, it’s important to ensure the shop is qualified to fix your vehicle.

How to pick an auto body shop

When researching potential body shop options, Reina recommends asking the following questions to help you make your decision.

1. How soon can you start work on my vehicle?

If the shop can’t even begin repairs for another month, you may want to find one that can get you in sooner.

2. How long will it take?

Find out how long repairs will take so that you can arrange for alternate transportation. Suppose your auto insurance policy includes rental car reimbursement coverage. Your insurer may pay for the cost of a rental car – up to a certain amount for a specific number of days – if your vehicle sustains damage in a covered incident.

3. What is the warranty on the work?

You want to know that the shop stands behind their work if something goes wrong after getting your car back.

4. How do you color match?

“With computer-driven color-matching today, the auto body shops do an incredible job of getting the match right,” says Reina. However, metallic and dark-colored cars can be difficult to match. It’s a good idea to ask how they will match your vehicle’s paint color when you bring it in for repairs.

5. Who’s paying for the repairs?

If you’re paying for the repairs, a shop that uses aftermarket car parts may help you save some money. If you’re filing an auto insurance claim , and the insurer pays for the repairs, check to see if they’ll cover the cost at a specific shop. “The insurance company [can] have a say in where they will authorize you to take [your vehicle] to get repaired,” says Reina.

6. Do you use factory-authorized or aftermarket parts?

“A lot of times, aftermarket car parts are the only choices for older cars,” says Reina. If you use aftermarket parts, you’ll need to rely on the auto body shop to help you judge the quality. He said, “if you want factory parts, the insurance company might have to authorize it.”

7. Are you a certified collision facility?

With so many electronic car parts today, automobile manufacturers have taken steps to ensure that mechanics complete repairs correctly. “Many automobile manufacturers have established what are called certified collision repair networks where [body shop employees] take training courses, and they have access to training material to help them understand the complexities of today’s cars,” says Reina.

8. How comfortable are you?

Reina recommends visiting the shop to speak with the people who work there to ensure you are satisfied with your decision. Do they answer your questions thoroughly? Are they courteous? Take the time you need to ensure you find the right solution.

How to find a good body shop

When you need to get your car fixed, you want it done right. One of the best ways to find a good body shop is to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. You can also check out online reviews, but be sure to use credible sites. “I always recommend a grain of salt when reading online reviews,” Reina said.

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